New Bose System Claims to Take iPod Docks to the Next Level
By Jim Bray
Bose considered its latest product a big enough deal to premiere it in New York City and, to paraphrase the song, if they can make it seem like a nifty product there it just may seem like a nifty product anywhere.
Though yet another iPod stand/speaker system may not seem like something worthy of shouting from the towers of Manhattan, Bose’ new SoundDock 10 Digital Music System is a pretty compelling product, a $599 ($680 Canadian) audio system that not only holds your iPod or iPhone, but which the company hopes you'll use as your primary audio system.
Bose invited me to their gala introduction of the SoundDock 10, flying me in to participate in the product launch at a high class restaurant overlooking Central park. It was a decidedly upscale event for a product they undoubtedly hope will generate some decidedly upscale buzz – and decidedly upscale profits.
And it may. When they introduced we media types to the digital music system, I could see why they were shouting about it from the rooftops. It's a pretty neat product.
Initially in their demo, they kept the SoundDock 10 hidden behind a semicircular curtain so all we’d know about it was its sound quality, not how it looked or how big it was – though being a Bose product I figured it would be pretty small in stature, if not performance. It was an effective beginning, too, especially since they kicked things off with the recording of a thunderstorm, complete with bone rattling realism that sounded as if it were coming from an “honest to goodness” audio system with big speakers and big amplifier power.
Then they opened the curtain to reveal that it was “just” an iPod dock/speaker system, though one that obviously thunders – and rocks.
It's heavy as a rock, too, coming in at something like 19 pounds, due in great part to the substantial heft of its newly-designed woofer, a driver that's coupled to a new version of Bose' waveguide technology. Waveguide is an "acoustic transmission line-like" doohickey that's folded inside the unit and which enhances the performance from comparatively small bass speakers such as the one found in the SoundDock 10. It's an idea that's been around in one form or another for ages: about 20 years ago I owned a pair of DCM speakers that used a much less elegant version of the concept to get deep bass from a smallish woofer.
But the bass I heard in the Bose SoundDock 10 demo would have blown away those old and long-gone speakers. It rumbled very nicely.
So much for the bass. There's far more to quality sound than that, of course, and Bose has come up with new, proprietary high/mid range drivers for the SoundDock 10 that feature a cute new name: Twiddlers. Bose aims a pair of these twiddlers directly at the listening area, much like your garden variety speaker is mounted in its cabinet. Bose's twiddlers augmented the woofer nicely in the demonstration, with the combination cranking out clean and very natural-sounding music from low lows to high highs.
The SoundDock also has an anti-vibration structure built in, so the unit won't rattle itself off your shelf when you crank it up, and heat is dissipated by Bose having placed the guts in a manner that creates a "chimney effect" to help keep it cool. Pretty cool idea, eh?
The product introduction interspersed the technical and marketing spiel with some dynamic audio demos featuring vocals, a jazz band, and even a Strauss polka. All of it sounded quite unbelievable considering the size of the unit from which it emanated. You don't get a lot of left/right separation, obviously, since the unit is only 17 inches wide, and Bose has chosen to focus its digital signal processing not on creating a fake soundstage but on helping enhance the detail and definition of the music. It seems to work.
The box plays loudly, too. The Bose folk said that achieving concert hall volume was one of their goals with the system and, though they didn't crank the demo to that kind of level (despite the demo being only a few steps away from Carnegie Hall), I was impressed with just how loudly they did play it, with neither any audible sign of distortion nor of little metal and/or plastic pieces being ejected from the unit and flung across the room.
Not that I expected something like that to happen! This was a demo under controlled conditions, of course, so the company would be pretty sure the system would perform well. And it did, even set up as it was in a dining hall that doesn’t lend itself to critical listening. I can’t wait to try it in my home environment, in my dedicated home theater, my living room and my backyard deck, where the neighbors will participate in the test as well – much to their chagrin, I'm sure.
I also want to try it with my own music, stuff I know well – and with files other than MP3's, which are often compressed and can compromise the ultimate sound quality. I want especially to try some of my favorite DVD-Audio titles.
Which may be possible: Bose has included an auxiliary jack on the back of the SoundDock 10, so you can hook in other devices (such as my portable SIRIUS Stiletto satellite radio, or even a TV or CD/DVD player). It's only a single plug, so you may need to buy an adapter for such uses, but they're available widely.
There’s no digital input, so if you want to bring in signals via an optical or coax connector you’re out of luck. On the other hand, there is a composite video output, so you can hook the SoundDock 10 into a TV and play back the movies, TV shows and other videos you may have stored on your MP3 player – as long as you aren’t picky about the quality of the video. Composite video is as old as the hills and won’t pass anything better than 480i, but that's probably adequate for this application.
And, in a welcome bit of “obsolescence prevention,” Bose has made the docking mechanism interchangeable, so future generations of iPods should still work with it – a good thing, considering that this unit ain’t cheap.
The first interchangeable dock is a $149 Bluetooth accessory that lets you interact with so-enabled devices wirelessly.
The SoundDock 10 also comes with a little infrared remote control that will not only control the Bose, but also handles the basic functions of the iPod or iPhone, such as navigating a playlist.
The SoundDock 10 joins Bose's original SoundDock Series II and SoundDock Portable, which are still available at retail prices of $299 and $399 respectively.
Copyright 2009 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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