Review: Yamaha PDX-30 Portable Player Dock for iPhone
After years of almost non-stop speaker releases for the iPod family, the release of the iPhone and iPhone 3G forced stereo dock developers to slow down, and in some cases abandon their upcoming products entirely. Companies blamed the delays on strict standards for eliminating GSM and EDGE-related cell tower interference and the unrelated need to incorporate new Apple chips, but a few audio systems began to trickle out, followed by more. Today, there still aren't a lot of choices, but there are at least several dozen, most from prior major players in the iPod space. Releases picked up when Apple relaxed the cellular interference standards, apparently doing so when the iPhone 3G was released, putting out comparatively little interference unless it was switched into EDGE mode.
Yamaha wasn’t a major iPod speaker maker, but with the recently-released four-driver audio system PDX-30 ($200), it’s obviously ready to take an aggressive stab at the combined iPod and iPhone audio market, though with a few notable wrinkles. The company calls PDX-30 a “portable player dock,” but it’s not the dock that’s portable; rather, it’s a dock for portable iPhone and iPod devices, and runs strictly off of an included wall adapter. Users can choose from four color schemes, including the all-black version shown here, as well as three white models, sold with blue, gray, or pink trim.
The colored portion includes both a top plastic surface and a fabric front speaker grille, which hides both PDX-30’s audio drivers and a yellow power light that illuminates automatically when an iPhone or iPod is docked. Its only integrated controls are volume up and down buttons, which interestingly are mirrored on the iPod or iPhone such that any adjustments made to the device are reflected in the speakers; almost shockingly, there’s literally nothing save the power cord that can be connected to its back. No aux-in, no USB, no video-out, nothing: just power for the speakers and the connected device.
Yamaha also includes a nine-button Infrared remote that’s capable of working reliably 25 feet away in a straight, unobstructed line, and includes menu navigation, volume adjustment, play/pause and track controls. Notably, neither the system nor the remote provides access to bass or treble controls, meaning that unlike Altec Lansing’s comparably priced T612, you’re locked into the sound signature Yamaha has come up with, save for whatever tweaks the iPod or iPhone’s limited integrated EQ settings can make.
That brings us to the good and the bad news with PDX-30. First, there’s the good news: rather than going with only two drivers, Yamaha has included four, two 1.24” midrange drivers, and twin bass drivers that are either 3.15” or 3.25”, depending on whether you believe Yamaha’s box or web site. It backs these speakers with 30 Watts of output power divided by the left and right channels, and the system can be turned up to dangerously loud, room-filling levels. It is to Yamaha’s considerable credit that such volume can be achieved in a relatively compact, handsome package: PDX-30 measures 13.75” wide by 4.25” tall by 4.88” deep, similar in width and height to JBL’s On Stage 400P, but with around 3” less depth. It delivers a lot of power given its size, and Yamaha’s custom-built amplifier both promises and delivers low-distortion audio; cellular interference is only noticeable, and then minor, when an iPhone is in EDGE mode. The amplifier is otherwise pretty clean, except when the volume’s turned up loud.
The bad news isn’t necessarily awful, but it’s not great: Yamaha’s sound signature is fairly bass-heavy, and lacking somewhat in the treble department. When heard without a direct comparison to the aforementioned Altec and JBL systems, the PDX-30 sounds nice, if a little overpowered on the low end, giving beats oomph but also a little too much warmth—many people actually like an audio skew like this, part of the reason PDX-30 still rates our strong general recommendation. But when placed next to either the Altec or JBL, a comparative treble deficiency is also obvious, which initially makes both of these peer systems sound crisper and more defined with high notes and certain instruments. Listening carefully, however, PDX-30’s audio exhibits noticeably less distortion than the physically much larger Altec, particularly in the bass department, and to the extent the On Stage 400P sounds a bit better balanced, it’s also more expensive—in MSRP and the Apple Store, if not elsewhere—and larger.
In other words, given its size and asking price, PDX-30 is a very good option—assuming you like your music bassy. If you’re a fan of jet black, or interested in either the white-on-gray, -blue, or -pink alternatives, you’ll like the clean, modern design and utter simplicity of the cabinet, which is even more visually neutral than the considerably more expensive Bose SoundDock Series 2, as well as sonically similar, apart from modestly diminished treble performance, and the absence of auxiliary audio input. We consider this to be a strong pick for iPhone fans looking to spend $200 on a speaker system, though the On Stage 400P is also worth considering if you can find it for its more frequently discounted price.