If any trend is becoming apparent with the earliest Lightning connector-equipped docks and speakers, it’s that third-party developers aren’t taking huge risks on bold new concepts quite yet — most releases thus far have been relatively inexpensive speakers that could have been released with Dock Connectors, and in most cases already were. Right on the heels of JBL’s $100 OnBeat Micro and $200 OnBeat Venue LT are two new speakers from Philips: the $80 DS1155 clock dock and $90 DS3205 docking speaker. They’re the most affordable Lightning speakers yet released.
Recycled from earlier Philips Dock Connector designs called the DS1150 and DS3010 respectively, the DS1155 is a UFO-shaped speaker, clock, and night light with a 7” diameter and roughly 2.2” height, while the DS3205 is purely a speaker, shaped somewhat like an 8.2” wide by 6.3” tall angled bowl with a hole in the center. Both are visually dominated by a combination of black fabric and glossy plastic; the DS1155 has a central wood veneer circle and clear plastic iPod/iPhone support jutting out 1.5” beyond the base, while DS3205’s central hole uses silver metallic plastic as a visual accent. Volume down and up buttons are found alongside Philips logos on each unit; DS1155 also hides brightness and clock setting controls underneath its wood circle, and DS3205 has a power button on its top.
It needs to be noted that these speakers are, for now at least, solely for iPhone 5, iPod nano 7G, and iPod touch 5G owners—Philips actually marks each unit’s package with “for iPhone 5” in large letters, while using smaller print to indicate iPod compatibility as well. Due to the curves around their Lightning docks, neither system is physically compatible with the iPad mini or fourth-generation iPad. Moreover, because the docks use the least case-friendly hard plastic supports we’ve yet seen for the new Lightning connector, they are also incompatible with almost every iPhone and iPod case we’ve seen for Apple’s latest devices. Speck’s CandyShell Flip for iPhone 5 is a noteworthy exception, but given that the Lightning-equipped docks on multiple speakers have similar issues, it’s becoming obvious that either Lightning supports or most case designs will need to change to guarantee future compatibility with one another.
The DS1155 and DS3205 are in the same basic performance category as one another and JBL’s similarly-priced OnBeat Micro. Each unit is built with two small speakers that are capable of performing modestly separated stereo sound; OnBeat Micro has four watts of amplification to DS1155’s six watts and DS3205’s ten, numbers that hint at the actual amplitude differences between them. OnBeat Micro can’t fill a small room, but DS1155 comes a little closer, and DS3205 has enough power to pull off that feat, though the peak volume level is a bit distorted—no surprise given the low price points here.
Volume isn’t the key factor we look for in speaker systems, though: clarity and sonic balance are typically more important to us. With each speaker at safe near-field listening volumes, they’re all very similar in clarity to one another, but DS3205 has the best overall sound: while it skews towards bass with a little less treble than OnBeat Micro and DS1155, the extra richness is solid, and gives tracks a lifelike warmth that we enjoyed. While the DS1155 has less bass than the DS3205, it still manages to sound warmer and a bit more balanced than the OnBeat Micro. If the only reason to prefer one of these speakers over the others was sound, the DS3205 would be the top pick, with the DS1155 coming in second, and the OnBeat Micro rating third. This is particularly interesting given that OnBeat Micro costs more than both of its rivals.
But there are other factors that may lead you to consider one speaker over the others. DS3205’s key frill is the ability to run on four self-supplied AA batteries rather than the Philips-supplied wall adapter. Unlike OnBeat Micro, which uses four AAA batteries for five hours of play time, DS3205’s larger batteries promise eight hours of play time with superior sonic quality. The major compromise is in practical portability: with roughly 5” of depth, DS3205 occupies around twice as much physical volume as OnBeat Micro, which will make it harder to toss in a bag and carry around. Additionally, DS3205 doesn’t have a USB port on its back, just a 3.5mm audio port with an included cable; OnBeat Micro does include a USB port for both charging and audio functionality, which enables it to offer backwards compatibility for pre-Lightning devices.
Overall, DS1155 and DS3205 are good budget speakers—their prices are attractive, as as their designs, and their sonic performance with Lightning devices is solid enough to justify either purchase even without considering other frills. DS1155’s shape and possibly its rear USB port will make it appealing to many users, and DS3205’s stronger audio performance for only a $10 premium will win it fans, as well. However, each could be improved with superior case compatibility, and DS1155’s clock and night light features are middling at best; they’re barely good enough to justify their inclusion. Both speakers merit our general recommendation and flat B rating; now that it’s been acquired by Funai, we look forward to seeing what Philips’s consumer division does with its higher-end Apple audio products.
Company and Price
Compatible: iPhone 5, iPod nano 7G, iPod touch 5G