Should you buy an iPod dock or regular PC speakers?
With the advent of modern day iDevice compliant dock speakers, people often blindly opt for the simpler solution rather than look at their daily needs. There is a vast difference between an iPod dock from say a standard 2.1 PC speaker and the difference becomes even more obvious when we delve into the 5.1 channel surround sound. People often mistake an iPod dock for a 2.1 Speaker substitute. While this can work at times if we take a look at some of the more expensive docks, 90 percent of times chances are the iPod dock will not be an equitable substitute for a 2.1 Speaker system.
The most important thing is to understand your use case. Do you want to use it in your office alongside your desktop or do you want primarily hook up your iDevice and you don’t care about a stereophonic audio experience. Do you want something portable that can act like a boombox or you just care about the sound and you don’t want the extra bells and whistles? You may even want something that could enhance the sound of your HDTV, but you’d rather not spend the extra cash on a full home-theater or maybe you just don’t have the space for the extra wire clutter? Do you want wireless audio? Do you want it for gaming purposes?
All of the above are legitimate questions. If you understand your use case, 90 percent of the battle has been won. After this, the next question is one needs to answer is the budget. One will always get a better 2.1 speaker system for much lesser than an iPod dock.
Pay less and get better audio
So if its the sound that matters to you then you can handily go in for a 2.1 channel speaker system like a Logitech Z623 and get great value and a big sonic experience. No iPod dock will be able to replicate such sound in the same price range, or even much more. This is because iPod docks combine multiple speaker elements like drivers, tweeters and woofers in a singular shell for the sake of portability and forgo acoustics and stereo separation. More often than not they will lack in bass and make of for it with excessive mids and highs.
Pay more, get good audio and aesthetics
Of course if you are willing to pay a bomb then docks like the B&W Zeppelin Air and the Philips Fidelio 9800 SoundSphere will offer these features to some extent. But again even in the case of these docks, one forgoes proper stereo separation (Zeppelin Air) and also portability because these are giant speakers that produce a massive soundstage. That said, because of the higher quality drivers, the quality of the audio will be much higher than an average 2.1 channel speaker, but without the benefits of stereo separation.
Docks always win on portability, but sacrifice sound
If portability is paramount then obviously an iPod Dock is the preferred choice, but here also one must tread carefully. Firstly, not all of these docks have built-in batteries, and it is imperative to understand that it is hard to get the audio quality one gets out of a normal 2.1 channel speaker which is also much cheaper. Some docks also ome with added wireless features like AirPlay or Bluetooth.
Audiophiles should care about the sound, not about the looks
If you are an audiophile and you don’t care about extra features like wireless audio, AirPlay, USB connectivity, and remote controls then you may want to look at bookshelf speakers like the AudioEngine A5’s or a pair of M-Audio Studiophille monitors. They may not look interesting, but these speakers will pump audiophile grade audio for much lesser than say a famed audio brand like a Bose, JBL or B&W. Why? Because these companies are solely focused on sound, they don’t invest in speaker design or any other bells and whistles. It’s a case of paying less than half the price and getting twice the sound quality. Another thing to note is that these speakers have built-in amplifiers so one does not need a high-end sound card to eek out every nuance and normally sub-woofers are also not required because they combine full sounding bass and mid-range drivers in addition to tweeters for the high-end.
Surround Sound is a must for Gaming and Entertainment
Again for gaming purposes, one should go for a 2.1 channel speaker system or higher rather than invest in an iPod Dock. If you have the extra cash in the kitty then the Logitech Z906 makes for an awe inspiring 5.1 surround PC speaker system that will not dig a hole in your pockets. Considering the mayhem one creates in modern day first person shooters, sports simulators and other genres a surround sound experience is a must and it will be foolhardy to spend the same amount on say Bose SoundDock 10, that will not even reproduce 25 percent of the frequencies and at the same time will have a much limited soundstage. These days integrated sound cards support surround-sound audio, but if you want more then you could invest in a high-end sound card. Desktop users should opt for an PCMI solution, while Laptop users have to opt for a more portable USB solution.
iPod docks are kings of wireless audio, but there are other ways too
And that can even be true for wireless audio. Why? Because by hooking up ones speaker to an Airport Express one can add AirPlay capabilities to any speaker that has a 3.5mm jack which is a commonality in most speakers. That said, this is a cumbersome process and not recommended for a novice. The results can also often be choppy as it is dependent on the quality of your speakers. Some of the newer iPod docks in the market do make wireless audio a good option, because they not only remove the clutter of wires, they around very good to boot. And these options don’t start from skyrocketing price points but can start as Rs 5,000 if you are looking at a Bluetooth enabled cross platform solution.