Monitor Audio is a brand better known for making hi-fi components that iPod add-ons, but it has recently released the i-Deck – a speaker system designed to play your iPod’s music.
Since the advent of the MP3 revolution, audiophiles have been reluctant to trade the convenience of MP3 for the authenticity of full-on hi-fi separates and high-quality amplifiers. For my part, I lost interest in fancy hi-fi equipment because it couldn’t handle the way I store my music. So for years now my computer has taken the place of my hi-fi. Now the separates sit unused and neglected.
Monitor Audio must have realised that for many people convenience is more important than 100 per cent audiophile-friendly equipment. By building a system that integrates the iPod so thoroughly the manufacturer seems to understands what many people really want.
When the system was demonstrated to me, the representative from Monitor Audio was keen to play only Apple Lossless or AIFF files. While I agree that with a high-quality system such as the i-Deck, poor-quality encoding is more obvious than on lesser systems, but few people actually use Apple Lossless encoding because the iPod could carry a fraction of the music that would be possible in AAC or MP3 format. So for the tests we used not just perfect AIFF files, but other more commonly used formats.
The results were frankly spectacular, better than any speaker system I have listened to. I did a head-to-head with the Altec Lansing iM7 speakers and there was a clear difference between them. The base was tighter, and the range was excellent. The iM7 speakers have the advantage of being portable, and cheaper, so they are still a fine choice. But if you want a home system that will take the place of your old hi-fi, the i-Deck is it.
The system consists of a centre piece which holds the iPod and a pair of speakers. All models with the dock connector are supported, though the iPod nano will require a different bezel which will be available soon and will be free. Older iPods and other music players are also supported, but only as auxiliary connections, and can’t be controlled by the remote. The remote control uses RF, rather than infrared, so doesn’t require a line of sight like most other remotes.
While in the dock, the i-Deck charges the iPod. If it is connected to your Mac, it will update tracks too, but this would require your Mac to be close enough to your i-Deck to be connected by USB or FireWire.
The speakers each have 1.5m of cable, so you can get a good spread of sound for maximum stereo goodness. This is achieved with other speaker systems by pointing then in opposite directions. But fully separate speakers can be angled and aimed to create the perfect sweet spot for your listening pleasure.
This is possibly the first time a product has really tried to be a replacement for a home stereo. While I think Monitor Audio has succeeded in creating a very usable, and extremely high-quality sound system. I think there are still refinements to come in this kind of system. In many ways a setup like this could forgo the iPod and connect to a computer directly. But as it stands, it is for now the best iPod speaker system available.