The iPod dock market has a new, and highly desirable entrant. The Marantz Consolette is the first AirPlay dock from the long-renowned Hi-Fi manufacturer, and it is something more than a little special. Its £900 price may boot the dock out of most people's price range, but few have quite as distinctive a vibe as the Consolette.
The Marantz Consolette is a dock that packs-in a surprisingly amount of technology, given its luxury car dashboard looks. It has Wi-Fi built-in and - very unusually - supports Apple AirPlay as well as DLNA for other devices, and has its own internal internet radio software for use on its own.
Not content to make do with wireless, there's also a pop-out docking port on the front, which has been designed to fit iPads as well as iPods and iPhones. In a very clever design move, this has been incorporated into the glossy black logo section, making it very easy to miss if you don't know it's there.
Marantz says that the Consolette's design is a mash-up of previous Marantz designs - a 1960s Tube amplifier, a 90s CD player and a 60s FM radio. While we think not everyone will love its styling, it's striking and - to some eyes at least - gorgeous. The curved, high-gloss wooden back is a highlight, making it somewhat easier to contemplate that not-far-off-a-grand price.
The front panel is a little unusual. A trio of function buttons to the left of the brushed metal panel is normal enough, but the porthole display and gyro control wheel are pure Marantz. The display is quite small, but uses a high-contrast OLED screen that's very clear from all angles, and the old-school dial-like controller is highly distinctive.
These elements help to give the Consolette a distinct personality that's rare in dock land. Unforunately, we didn't get to see how useful the dial was in sifting through internet radio stations, as it was piping through tunes over AirPlay throughout.
However, it seems as though its wireless skills have been executed superbly. The internet share buttons on the back suggest you'll be able to sync up with an iPhone simply by putting it on the front dock port, pressing the rear button and following on-screen prompts. DLNA support for Android devices and others will come through a Marantz app, which will have to check out in our full review. To interface with other bits of Hi-Fi equipment, there's also a stereo phono input on the back - a much better choice than a weedy little 3.5mm plug in the Consolette's case.
For a device with a trad look, the Marantz Consolette seems to have aced the high-tech angle unusually well. And the dynamic approach to tech continues once you remove the speaker grill.
The Consolette is powered by two 4in bass drivers - standard enough - and a pair of BMR drivers towards each end of the chunky dock. These are flat drivers, and provide much wider dispersion than a cone driver. This should, in theory, remove the directionality problem suffered by most speaker docks.
Our demo time with the Marantz Consolette held this out too. It offers commanding, room-filling sound that's both rich and detailed, sounding full and "large" for its size. We have to give a fair amount of credit for the impressive scale to the BMR drivers - as we saw when we reviewed the SoundScience Frankenspiel FS-1, their output far belies their size.
A highly-recognisable, classy design, excellent sound quality and an impressive feature set jams the Marantz Consolette into an unfortunate category. We want one, but can we warrant spending £900 on a speaker dock? We have our doubts, but we have a feeling the Consolette may become the dock we wish we could afford. We'll be back with more in our full review.
The Marantz Consolette comes in white and black finishes and will be available later this year.