Review Price £199.00
ARCAM drDock - Performance & Verdict
What must be said from the off is the drDock is a product for the mature audiophile. It assumes you already have the high end AV system and/or top notch TV (ideally) with surround sound system… and if you do you will be in dream land.
Arcam has a well established tradition for producing top notch DACs and here it again lives up to its reputation. By taking the circuitry of an Apple device out the equation the drDock's DAC (try saying that 10x fast) is able to process the files without interference. Attach it to a good HiFi with some quality speakers and the DAC adds noticeable richness, drive and detail compared to the bog standard delivery from the iPod/iPhone/iPad alone. Most impressive is the boost to the midrange and bass which bring markedly improved depth and with it a keenly felt layer of emotional involvement. Certainly tracks with high quality encoding (lossless or 360Kbit and 256Kbit) benefit most, but even lowly 128Kbit files are transformed.
Use the digital SPDIF output and you're of course reliant on whatever DAC you use further down the line in your AV setup, but it's a useful addition for if you want to feed your device's audio to multiple rooms, for instance.
As for video you simply connect the drDock to a TV via an HDMI cable (the only cable not supplied by Arcam), select the correct TV input and start video playback. Here Arcam does no massaging of the picture (or audio unless you bypass your TVs audio and plug the analogue outputs straight into your Hi-Fi), but this is understandable as TVs do their own processing and combining the two would likely be messy. As such Arcam gets no specific brownie points as the quality will be down to the quality of the original recording and the TV itself, but the functionality is useful. For example it will output video from YouTube and most video apps, including AirVideo which streams videos of any format from your PC or NAS to an iPhone with live conversation making the drDock something of a stand-in media player. There are exceptions such as Skype video calls and (sadly) Sky Go, but with both apps also not streaming over AirPlay their output is clearly locked down by the developer.
In terms of quality, the drDock outputs your iDevice's natural resolution so pre-Retina Display output is low quality, but an iPhone 4/4S looks good and responds to double tapping on the iPhone to fill the TV screen. Meanwhile the huge 2048 x 1536 of the new iPad is scaled down to fit a 720p or 1080p screen automatically and here results are excellent. There is a gap between it and native HD or Blu-ray content, but it is certainly good enough to enjoy a movie or impress some mates. It may not be as complete as Apple TV (there is no Mirroring), but it is a handy and even faster way of getting video onto your big screen.
What about docking? It does what is says on the tin: connect the drDock via USB to a laptop or PC and it allows devices to sync and charge (excluding iPads which require mains charging). Arguably syncing is a secondary consideration for many these days given the wireless syncing and iCloud automatic backups which are a core part of iOS, but it remains nice to have.
Grumbles? We have a few, but they are a little mean spirited. For example over HDMI the dock only displays video not images so it isn't a complete Apple TV replacement and to hear just audio over your TV it will need to be connected via the analogue outputs meaning you need to switch between inputs for functionality. Then again, if you're using this system to listen to audio through your TV's speakers, you've got your priorities very wrong.
Ideally we'd also like to see a 3.5mm jack for outputting to headphones, though we can't imagine many choosing this option with it plugged into an AV system or TV in the first place.
All of which leaves us with the question of price. The drDock takes a £50 jump from the irDock resulting in an RRP of £200. Casual listeners would no doubt opt for an Apple TV and £100 dock, but for those who value their music it is pretty competitively priced for the functionality and even more so for the performance. Do we recommend the drDock? Whole heartedly.
The Arcam drDock takes a major deviation from its predecessor, the irDock, and in doing so adds greater functionality, improved build quality and more universal docking options. The highlight of this iPhone/iPod dock remains its audio quality with the integrated DAC giving a master class in bolstering audio performance. HDMI will also prove useful for big-screen video playback, especially on Retina Display devices and works as a rudimentary media player. Still audio is the key focus and if you are into it then the drDock makes an ideal iDevice accessory.
Scores In Detail
- Sound Quality