Pros: An all-in-one speaker system with integrated audio, data, and charging iPod dock, delivering appropriately clean, balanced audio for its price, with low distortion. Simple controls and nice design, runs off of wall or battery power, works with all Dock Connecting iPods.
Cons: Though still acceptable in both regards, not as impressive in bass or stereo separation as the larger, less portable options in its price range. Cradle’s flexibility is very limited.
First shown at January’s Las Vegas CES, the Speaker Dock 2 replaces the company’s previously-announced Speaker Dock – a white, iMac G4-like speaker base and iPod cradle – with an edgier, more powerful design. The new system has a chrome base, black mesh speaker grille, and clear-coated white plastic rear; a chrome, clear, and white cradle suspends your iPod above and in-between its two 1.5″ drivers. Power and volume controls are on the front, with ports for power, data synchronization, and audio input on the back. Like other docking audio systems, your iPod charges while the system’s connected to wall power or a computer.
Last year, Nyko announced Speaker Dock, a $90 all-in-one speaker system that mirrored the classic look of Apple’s now-discontinued iMac G4 – the one with the big white base and adjustable metal arm. Speaker Dock placed stereo audio drivers in a four-inch base, and used its arm to hold a plastic iPod cradle with a Dock Connector for charging, audio, and data synchronization. But the audio quality apparently wasn’t that great. So in January, Nyko announced a superior replacement – Speaker Dock 2 (aka Speaker Dock II, $100) – which preserves the base and cradle concept, but makes a number of audio, cosmetic, and functional improvements.
Speaker Dock 2 now includes two 1.5” audio drivers in a larger five-inch base that mixes clear and white plastic, a chrome bottom, and black mesh speaker grille. A matching chrome, clear, and white cradle suspends your iPod above and between the drivers, offering only limited, one-axis (up/down) flexibility; some people would have preferred more of a pivot, but this isn’t a show-stopper. One amber-lit power button and a volume dial are on the front, while ports for power, data synchronization, and audio input are on the back. Nyko includes a white power supply, an audio input cable, and three clear iPod holders, one for full-sized iPods, one for minis, and one for nanos. They’re easy to insert on the cradle, and properly support whichever iPod you’re using.
The biggest surprise is what’s on Speaker Dock 2’s bottom. In-between four gray rubber foot pads is a white battery compartment, which permits four AA batteries (sold separately) to keep the system running for eight continuous hours at its top volume, or up to 20 hours under less demanding usage. To emphasize that point a bit, Speaker Dock 2 is actually portable, if somewhat awkwardly so because of its shape and size. Though we won’t say this about most of the portable speakers we’ve tested, we actually enjoyed running this one off of batteries for purely aesthetic reasons: it looks really cool on a desk without a power cable attached. However, like most other portable speaker systems, the batteries only keep the speakers running, and won’t charge your iPod; only plugging the unit into the wall will do both.
Given the speakers that can be purchased for $100 these days, we were impressed by Speaker Dock 2’s audio quality – Nyko’s achieved balanced, low-distortion sound with little amplifier noise and appropriate stereo separation for its size and price. Its two drivers are positioned to cast music off to the left and right, and do a good job of cleanly replicating most of the audio spectrum – enough that we affirmatively enjoyed the sound before starting comparative testing. Of course, there are other options. For the same general price – more or less depending on where you shop – there are options such as Altec Lansing’s recent inMotion iM11 (iLounge rating: B+), iHome’s iH5 (iLounge rating: A-), JBL’s Creature II (iLounge rating: A), and Macally’s IceTune (iLounge rating: B+), each with its own advantages.
Let’s take the $100 inMotion and $70 IceTune first. Like Speaker Dock 2, Altec’s iM11 is portable, iPod dockable, and runs off of four AA batteries, but it has an advantage for travelers: it folds up to a much smaller and more easily carried size. There’s no doubt you’d prefer its convenience if you really planned to carry speakers around with you every day, unless you use (and have space in) a backpack. IceTune isn’t portable, but it’s inexpensive, has two cabled speakers that can be moved wherever you prefer, and also includes an iPod dock. Simply put, Speaker Dock blows past both of these options in sound quality; compared to each, but particularly the IceTune, Speaker Dock 2 sounds better across the entire spectrum, most noticeably in midrange detail, but also with much less low-end distortion, particularly at high volumes.
Then there’s iHome’s $100 iH5 and JBL’s $100 Creature IIs. If you’re looking for a $100 system with an AM/FM clock radio, iH5’s really the only choice right now, and its sound quality is comparable to Speaker Dock 2’s – a hint less impressive overall, particularly on the high end, though a bit stronger in bass. It’s also substantially larger, and not portable. In this price category, JBL’s Creatures sound the best. They include a standalone subwoofer and two separate satellites, producing user-controlled sound that’s hard to beat on clarity or stereo separation for the price. But they don’t include an iPod dock or a battery powered option, and they’re large – really not easy to move around once set down.
Like all of the $100 speaker systems we’ve tested, Speaker Dock 2 represents a compromise – you can do better on bass with a larger system, and it’s not going to deliver the stereo separation of a multi-component device, but it’s great for what it is: a small all-in-one docking speaker that looks nice holding, charging, and synchronizing any Dock Connector-equipped iPod. You’ll almost certainly have to spend more to get an iPod docking speaker system with better features (remote control, for instance) and sound quality, which makes this a good value in our judgment. Even at its suggested retail price, it’s worthy of our high recommendation and A- rating; if you shop around for it, you may well be even more pleasantly surprised by its quality for the dollar.
Company and Price
Model: Speaker Dock 2
Compatible: iPod 3G, 4G, 5G, mini, nano