With the i-deck, UK firm Monitor Audio has improved its already impressive three-part iPod speaker system. New features include an AM/FM radio tuner with RDS and text function, and the capacity to send video out from the system through to a TV (composite RCA and S-Video connectors), so you can watch your iPod’s video collection on the big screen while listening to awesome sound through the speakers.
The i-deck plus looks pretty identical to its predecessor – that’s a good thing, as its distinctive looks helped the system win awards. Available in black or silver-grey, it’s about the same size as a mini CD hi-fi system, with two satellite speakers and a central amplifier unit that integrates an iPod dock. The system weighs 5kg (including the power adaptor) and its dimensions as a whole are 44.4 x 19 x 20cm. Each speaker is around 14 x 19 x 20cm, and it’s sculpted to the system, which leans back at approximately 16º.
Onward and on board
Monitor Audio has made some significant improvements to make the amplifier more usable. Where before it only offered a blue activity light and no on-board controls (meaning if you lost the remote, you couldn’t control the system), it now offers the radio tuner, six pre-set buttons for direct tuning to favourite radio channels which can remember one AM and one FM channel each, and a volume and iPod-menu-navigation control (a central button surrounded by four more buttons for specific use). You’ll also find a selection button to toggle between input types: iPod, radio, line input. The power on/off button and now familiar blue activity light is also on the front. There’s also a small monochromatic screen to show which function you are using, but this doesn’t yet show what’s playing on your iPod.
The supplied radio aerial seemed slightly inadequate for interference-free reception on some channels (specifically London’s XFM), but we found that extending the cable made the radio signal much stronger. All told, on-board controls are a welcome improvement to the system. The i-deck automatically recharges your iPod while it’s in the dock.
The two 18W speakers connect to the amplifier using a pair of 1.5m bare wire cables. They contain separate bass and high-frequency drivers, with the 4in bass driver also supporting mid-range sound. The high frequency sounds are delivered by the company’s signature 14mm gold tweeter, which delivers crystal-clear sound at the high-end. The decision to offer separate speakers means you will enjoy an excellent sound stage, boosted by immaculate sound (thanks to the company’s 30 years of experience in making audiophile speaker systems).
Compared to the preceding system – which was critically acclaimed for sound quality – bass response is significantly improved. it’s much crunchier, with sufficient ‘oomph’, even when you play dub and reggae classics. Classical and folk also sound immaculate, thanks to those high-end gold tweeters. The system has no problem creating a wide breadth of room-filling sound – you’ll raise up to 102dBA if you want to make your ears bleed. Summing up, unlike many systems that make the claim, this one is a contender for becoming your main playback device in the front room. Its sound is one of the best we’ve ever tested in this class.
The new video outputs are fine. As there’s no existing processor (yet) that can be added to these devices to improve picture quality, you’ll enjoy a perfectly serviceable image.
The infrared remote has been improved: the preceding version offered limited control, but the company has taken advantage of Apple’s move to open up iPod navigation to third-party firms, so it lets you navigate your iPod’s playlists and other menus. You’ll need fantastic vision, however, to read what track you have selected on the iPod’s tiny screen from across the room. The remote’s fifteen buttons offer power, menu, menu navigation, fast forward/rewind, shuffle songs on/off, play/pause, and mode and preset radio controls.
Additional features include a 3.5mm line-in port at the back of the system, (a jack is included). This lets you use the system with older iPods and the iPod shuffle as well as other devices, such as a computer or CD player. There’s also a port for the Apple iPod dock connector port, which lets you connect your Mac or PC to the system in order to sync your iPod up when you pop it into the dock.
This is a solid system that adds new features without losing sight of the main function. You get powerful, room-filling sound in an attractively designed package, which makes the i-deck plus one of the best available iPod speakers in its price range. Audio-wise it’s really only beaten by the Klipsch Audio iFi system. Recommended.