If you bought your first docking station a couple of years ago, the technology has already moved on — things have got bigger and beefier.
The “dock” name is even outdated, as most new models no longer need to physically connect to your media player thanks to the rise in popularity of wireless applications such as AirPlay and AllShare. So whether you prefer to stream, or you’re more of a plug and play kind of guy, there’s a digital player for you — and, unlike a separates system, you won’t need an engineering degree to set it up.
Sony XA900 (above)
Meet Sony’s answer to the popular B&W Zeppelin Air (not exactly hot on its heels, granted, but welcome to the party). This music monster has more connections than you could possibly need, including AirPlay and Bluetooth — so virtually all wireless bases are covered, too. Be warned, at 7kg, 60cm long, 20cm wide and 20cm tall the XA900 is a sizeable machine, but fortunately, the finish is professional and clean, so it still manages to look attractive and sleek. At 200W (twin 50W subwoofers and twin 25W satellite speakers), it has more than enough oomph for your average house party, and with Sony’s Clear Phase DSP (digital signal processing), music files ring out with majesty. (£500, sony.co.uk)
Altec Lansing Live 5000
Nearly identical in looks to Altec Lansing’s InAir 500 AirPlay speaker, the Live 5000 can do a lot more than just handle iDevices. Once you plug this into your home network, you’ll be able to hook up Android phones, your PC or Mac, and, yes, your iPhone, too. What’s more, it’s got multi-room capability written all over it.
Linking up a series of these around the house to create a complete house system is a breeze. It features two 3in speakers, two silk dome tweeters and a 4in sub with a passive radiator for bass, all powered by a tri-amp system. That curved shape also adds clarity by preventing sound waves from cancelling each other out. The clincher is a free app that allows anyone to control the system (no matter what device they use) and lets you access online media sources such as Pandora and Rhapsody. (€500, alteclansing.com)
B&O Play Beolit 12
Bang & Olufsen has launched a new brand: B&O Play. The good news here is that Play prices are a little more accessible than those of its older sibling, but attention to quality remains high. Proof of this being the Beolit 12, a nod to B&O’s transistor Beolit radios of the Sixties.
The hefty aluminium body is stylish and solid and the full-grain leather carrying strap should age very well. There’s no docking station as this is meant to use AirPlay wireless wizardry, and it’s also portable, thanks to a rechargeable battery. The sound? Astoundingly punchy for such a small unit — the 120W amplifier driving two 2in tweeters and a 4in woofer can fill a room with ease. (£600 beoplay.com)
This is Samsung’s first foray into digital music players and they know that to compete at the top end, it has to nail superb sound right out of the box. And they have done just that with the DA-E750’s “hybrid vacuum tube”. Basically, this means that as well as the digital amplifier, Samsung has built in traditional valves, which glow reassuringly atop the unit, to give your tunes extra warmth through the 2.1-channel speaker and 100W subwoofer. The good news continues with the fact that this thing is heavy, too — there has been no scrimping on putting it together. One final trick is that the DA-E750 can dock with Samsung and Apple devices, as well as wirelessly streaming from both. It sounds as good as it looks. (£TBA, samsung.com)
House of Marley Bag of Rhythm
Now that’s a proper name for a dock, isn’t it? With heritage like this, House of Marley had better produce something that does justice to Sir Bob’s classics. The Bag of Rhythm cuts a relaxed dash with its canvas bag and birchwood facia, and, looking at the straps, you’ll notice that it’s portable. While not bothering high-end models, it packs in modest twin 1in tweeters, twin 4.5in woofers at 32W, as well as some DSP to get the most out of your media at both high and low volumes. (£280 thehouseofmarley.co.uk)
Photographs by Studio 33