i-deck iPod Music System – Review
Company: Monitor Audio

Price: £249 GBP/ $349 USD

Music, music, music. We all love it, don’t we? Few things can touch you emotionally like a favourite tune, bringing memories and feelings flooding back like they just happened yesterday. Because we can listen to music while doing other things, melodies can get linked to people, places and events like no other entertainment.

That’s why the iPod and iTunes are so great, as the combination allows the user to store and access a wide part of their music collection, and to simply and cost effectively download and listen to songs on a whim. Suddenly remember a favourite track that you last listened to on cassette on a road trip ten years ago? iTunes is your friend there, and the iPod means you won’t ever lose it again.

Share Your Joy

But the iPod has a flaw in this regard; it’s not so easy to share your treasured collection. Of course, you can crank up the speakers on your Mac, or use an Airport Express to send the music to your hi-fi, but all of that technology lacks immediacy. Music should be about the moment! You want to be able to crank up the track that suits your mood, not click your way through lists in front of a monitor.

That’s why you’ll always see a good crowd around iPod speaker sets in any electronics store. There is a bewildering array of speakers on the market that an iPod will slot right into, at a variety of price points. But is it worth buying the top-end units? Should you spend more than your iPod cost on an accessory?

Take the Monitor Audio i-deck, for instance. I first saw this system at the Macworld Expo show in London last October. In the noisy show environment, I was impressed enough to chase down their marketing director for an interview. But how does it sound in the real world, and is it worth £249/$349?

The Skinny

Unlike cheaper all-in-one systems, the i-deck is a three-piece unit: a central amplifier and dock unit, with separate speakers that connect using dual-core speaker wire. The dock section ships with a variety of sleeve adapters to allow all dockable iPods to be used with it, I used my 4Gb Nano for testing. Non-dockable iPods such as 1G units or Shuffles can be connected via an included 3.5mm jack cable to a line-in socket on the back, and there is a dock pass-through connector to allow a docked iPod to be synchronised to a Mac or PC by USB cable. The i-deck will charge a docked iPod regardless, and a basic radio frequency remote control allows volume and track changes.

Monitor Audio is an established UK hi-fi company with a well-regarded reputation for quality sound, and the i-deck is their attempt to bring high fidelity audio production to the iPod. As such, the unit is not intended for portability, having no carrying handle, battery compartment or method for securing the speakers. Instead, the i-deck is intended to be used in one place.

Superior Reproduction

In terms of sound, the i-deck is breathtaking. The fidelity of reproduction is absolutely superb, sounding crystal clear, detailed and tightly controlled. The system reveals depth to songs that are normally noticeable only when using high quality earphones, but the sound detail is enhanced compared to headphones due to the wider stereo separation achievable by the separate speakers in an open room.

I used a variety of AAC files encoded at different bit rates to qualitatively assess the i-deck. On Evanescence’s ‘Tourniquet’, the tight drum lines and soaring vocals were readily apparent, and the improved resolution of a 192 Kbit encoding was clearly audible over a 128Kbit version. The delicate yet complex guitar stringwork on Sting’s ‘Fields of Gold’ was similarly revealed. Lossless audio files particularly shine on this system. Again, the extra resolution can be really differentiated; such is the clarity of the delivery.

As I get older, I find I am less demanding in terms of overall volume than I used to be. Nevertheless, the i-deck is capable of delivering house-filling audio when cranked up all the way, and provided the source audio is clean and well-encoded, distortion does not appear even at the top of the range.

In short, the i-deck absolutely delivers where it counts, in how it sounds. On the down side, it may expose weaknesses in your iTunes collection. There are a lot of poorly encoded digital audio files around, and they will stick out a mile if played back on the i-deck, such is the fidelity of reproduction. Other minor issues are the remote. While the use of RF means it’s not a line of site device, the button feel is a little cheap (the buttons are plastic blisters on the remote’s face) and it would be nice to get some playlist control remotely. As it is, you need to use the iPod’s click wheel for that sort of work. In addition, the i-deck has a very bright blue LED that is rather distracting and that can be only turned off using an awkward to reach rear-mounted power switch.

Is It Worth It?

These are minor quibbles, though. I have not heard a better sounding audio system for the iPod, and in that respect the i-deck fulfills its design purpose admirably. It can certainly function with a hard-disk iPod as a complete replacement for a standard hi-fi system, providing you only want to listen to music and don’t want an FM tuner. However, if you already have an existing hi-fi that you are happy with, you might want to try an iPod dock connected to the line-in port before deciding to buy a separate iPod system. You may find that this arrangement can deliver most of what the i-deck can offer at considerably less cost.

As to the value for money, I believe you get what you pay for and compared to hi-fi systems the i-deck is fairly competitive. There are competitors in the iPod speaker market from Bose and Altec Lansing that are equivalently priced, and the i-deck stacks up very well against them. If you are looking for an extra speaker set for your iPod, and you really love your music, I would urge you to give the i-deck a listen. I’m sure it will enhance that music-memory experience for you.

Accordingly, I rate the i-deck as a four out of five.


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