Review: Scosche bassDock Speaker Dock for iPad
Released in late 2010 as one of the earliest iPad-specific speaker systems, Altec Lansing's Octiv Stage MP450 helped to establish a design paradigm that has been followed by a handful of other companies: it placed two speakers inside a large, weighted base with an adjustable iPad dock on the top, relying on a wall outlet to power the speakers and the iPad. While Scosche has virtually no track record in Apple speaker systems, it sometimes picks up and rebrands OEM-developed accessories that have potential appeal to its customers, and bassDock ($150) is the latest such acquisition -- virtually identical in concept to Octiv Stage, it arrived earlier this year at the same price and with its own combination of tradeoffs, regrettably missing the one feature that would have made it a superior option.
bassDock ups the ante on Octiv Stage in several ways. First, it packs three speakers rather than two, pairing an unusually large 3” subwoofer with twin 1.6” forward-facing speakers to deliver what Scosche describes as “2.1-channel sound.” Practically speaking, you’re not going to get anything close to a home theater-style 2.1-channel experience out of bassDock, but the dedicated subwoofer does in fact enable this system to deliver cleaner and more powerful bass than Octiv Stage, which sounds comparatively chunky and distorted on the low end. bassDock also has a slightly higher volume level, which it performs without serious distortion. Somewhat surprisingly, however, bassDock’s treble performance isn’t great—it’s recessed somewhat because of the bass—so while we’d give it the edge overall relative to Octiv Stage, Altec’s design does have advantages, and the difference isn’t as profound as it could or should be.
Another improvement can be found in the iPad dock. Scosche’s version uses a similar T-shaped frame, and includes two clips that help to size the frame for smaller second- and third-generation models—these clips work great with bare iPads, and do in fact allow bassDock to accommodate all three iPad generations securely in either landscape or portrait orientation. That said, bassDock’s frame can only be used with the Dock Connector at the bottom or right, whereas Octiv Stage’s also turns to the left, a very tiny difference that will only matter if you really need to have your iPad’s Home Button on the left side or camera on the right for some reason. The reclining mechanisms on each speaker feel a bit stiff, though they’re also firm; bassDock elevates your iPad two inches higher—4.5” versus 2.5” off the surface of a desk.
bassDock’s industrial design is, at least to our eyes, a little nicer than Altec’s as well. Octiv Stage avoided any sort of organic curves, extruding a trapezoid and using a mix of fabric speaker grilles and plastic that were reasonable rather than great. The softer-curved bassDock design similarly includes matte silver and matte black plastics, but also adds glossy black plastic accents, as well as illuminated volume and power buttons that are easier to see and access than Altec’s. Both systems have nothing more than power and auxiliary audio ports on their backs.
Where Scosche really missed the boat with bassDock is in encased iPad compatibility. At a time when virtually every major iPad speaker manufacturer has switched to extended Dock Connector plugs to guarantee that iPads can be used with or without cases, bassDock continues to use a plug that only works with bare devices. This is particularly disappointing given that the frame otherwise can be resized a little to accommodate some cases. It’s also worth noting that unlike Altec, Scosche does not attempt in any way to support iPhones or iPods; the packaging is solely “Made for iPad.” And finally, Octiv Stage included a remote control, but Scosche doesn’t include any extra frills with bassDock.
Overall, Scosche’s bassDock has definite advantages and disadvantages relative to its most similar rival, and though we were tempted to give it a slightly higher rating than Octiv Stage because of its somewhat superior sound, the truth is that these two options are really very comparable—Altec’s version has better treble, an included remote, and an extra rotating position, while bassDock has better bass and volume, a nicer industrial design, and broader iPad generation support. Neither includes the iPad case compatibility we look for in speakers, and they’re both in the same general ballpark in terms of features and performance. This iteration of bassDock merits a limited recommendation, however, we’ll look forward to seeing a future sequel with improved compatibility and hopefully even better features or sound quality.