Published on December 19th, 2010 | by Greg0
Audyssey: A New iDock Contender
There are a few types of docking speaker systems out there. We’ve tried most- from the minimalist, battery-powered speakers meant for use while traveling, to the ones meant for the bedside table and even that offer radio and CD capabilities. We’ve seen gimmick versions, and also tested out more complete systems, like the Zeppelin and it’s sibling the Zeppelin Mini which offer serious sound and a pricetag to match. They also may offer USB-connectivity, something few docks do, but is really helpful for an all-in-one solution, allowing you to connect to your computer and sync your device while charging.
The Audyssey South of Market Audio Dock is in the latter category- a powerful, super-solution that also offers a few extra features that break the mold. We didn’t quite buy the marketing speak- it’s not the only dock “made for your iPhone”- but it is a serious contender for our favorite dock in it’s class. A few issues kept us from making it our only dock though- for one, it doesn’t break the laws of physics and is thus as heavy as it is loud (and not particularly portable). Another limitation is that the unit only can offer so much dimensionality; the speakers may be better than many 2.1 systems but the lack of actual physical separation means the sound isn’t quite as convincing in stereo (much less versus, say, a 5.1 system).
Thus, the real competition for this dock is not so much other docks- it blows all but the Zeppelin Mini and original Zeppelin out of the water, and in some ways outdoes even them. The question is, at this weight of nine pounds and price ($400), whether it wouldn’t just make sense to upgrade to a multi-speaker system and a lower-cost dock solution that could plug in. The Audyssey SOMA offers a couple of compelling reasons to choose it over an actual sound system, as we’ll see in a moment, but there is one area we found that made us toss our iPhone in other docks: the styling.
For those not familiar with San Francisco, SOMA is an odd area to select. The Bay Area is a region full of great neighborhoods- Haight Ashbury, Castro, Mission, Nob Hill, North Beach, the Tenderloin. That last one might not be good marketing, but the others have some level of cachet both locally and, to a lesser degree, elsewhere. SoMa, on the hand, is a former industrial area and is fairly lacking in charm. The same can be said to an extent about this Audyssey model, the first in a planned series of several, each to be based on particular neighborhoods from various cities. The Audyssey SOMA isn’t quite ugly- just a bit monolithic and bland, lacking any strong appealing aesthetic. The vertical orientation works OK, but placement of any system matters, and this one was a bit harder than some.
Under the hood, though, lies a bunch of nifty stuff. We’ll start with the most unique points- namely, an iPhone app that allows you to adjust the EQ settings, and A2DP Bluetooth wireless capabilities. That means you can easily use your phone for other things or in other places, and still continue to stream music. So, we tried checking our email and sending some text messages while walking around with our iPhones, and only noticed the quality of the music decrease a bit.
Audyssey is actually best known for their host of audio technologies, like BassXT, Dynamic Voice, Dynamic Volume, and Fast Slope Tone, all of which are essentially different ways to make your songs (or voice) sound better. Everything we tried, from low-bitrate acoustic indie, FLAC lossless classical, even some deep-bass electronic, sounded rich, clear, and sharp. Pumping the volume didn’t distort things too much except in the most sharp, high-pitched tones which sounded a bit off. There is plenty built-in- two woofers, two tweeters, and four different amplifiers, not to mention a built-in microphone that makes it easy to use the unit for VoIP calls (or as a speakerphone, though when docked, audio will still come out of the iPhone’s speakers unfortunately). A quick checklist hits the usual notes- an included remote that is passable, shielded speakers so that you can use your iPhone without going into airplane mode, auxiliary audio inputs via mini-jack. But it’s the extra features that should decide whether the SOMA is right for you.
Available at the moment only at Apple Stores, though available soon on Amazon and from other retailers. $400 buys you one of the best new docks around, perfect for the iPhone user with serious sound needs.