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6/10

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There's an age-old argument that has taken place between man and wife up and down the country since time immemorial. One partner wants the TV, hi-fi and home cinema setup at the centre of the living space. The other wants the wires and big black boxes hidden away, out of sight.

The result is usually some form of compromise - with sound, picture quality and toys sacrificed in the name of elegance and the gods of interior design. It's the reason lifestyle systems exist… but has there ever been a product as single-mindedly aimed at the problem as TwinMOS' Boom China? It's an iPod dock - but with a difference. This is a system designed to disappear into your décor like no other. Instead of black, white or any other colour boxes, this 2.1 speaker set has a sub that's designed to look like a Chinese vase.

It looks a bit bonkers - my first reaction was to laugh when I pulled it from the packaging - but I suppose if you happen to have the sort of colour scheme, wallpaper and accessories it fits into, it's pretty convincing as a piece of audio furniture. Adding to the effect is the fact that it doesn't seem to be made plastic, but a heftier, earthenware sort of material. Plus there's an oriental design and Chinese characters adorning the side, and an attractive dark wood plinth base, which also allows sound from the downward firing woofer to escape. But the crowning glory is that the vase can actually be used to put flowers in, water and all.

Let's not forget that the Boom China has a more practical use, though. When it's not sitting quietly in the corner of your kitsch Chinese takeaway-style room with a bunch of daffodils poking out the top, this system is most at home with an iPod in its cradle, kicking out your favourite tunes.

The head unit - where all the action takes place - isn't as nicely put together as the sub, though. It's made from shiny white plastic and, though understated, is definitely more for the iPod than the housewife generation. Its boomerang-like shape that houses four tiny drivers - two either side of the docking cradle - is pretty sleek and low profile, however, and it can count a number of handy features among its specifications.

First up is compatibility with the full iPod range. The BooM China works, not only with the entire range of iPods - right up to the latest, fifth generation players - but also the iPod Touch and iPhone. I tested it with a fifth generation iPod nano and it worked perfectly. You can even plug a shuffle in via the USB socket just behind the main iPod interface.

On the rear of the head unit, as well as the output for the sub is a composite TV output for displaying iPod video on a TV. And owners of other MP3 players who like the idea of having a sub shaped like a vase need not feel left out either. Admittedly it gets in the way of the design ethos somewhat, but you can also hook up any other, non-Apple MP3 player via the Boom's 3.5mm stereo input.

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