Turn the Monitor Audio i-deck 100 on and you're greeted by one of the oddest power-on chimes we've ever encountered. It emits three successive tones of about half a second in length; starting at 70Hz, then 85Hz and finishing with at 100Hz. It's not in any way unpleasant but it's just very peculiar, and due to the low pitch of the tones it is somewhat reminiscent of being greeted by a fart chorus.
With that awkward moment out the way, you can then navigate to your music and get to enjoying what this dock is all about; its sound quality. And what quality it is.
Thanks largely to its onboard digital sound processor that bypasses your iDevice's mediocre DACs and takes on the task of turning your music files into analogue sound waves all by itself, Monitor Audio has managed to create a very pure crystalline sound that produces masses of detail. This in particular brings acoustic guitar and female vocals to life like no similar sized dock we've heard. The way it reproduces the saccharin sweet tones of Corrine Bailey Rae – Like A Star is quite staggering and La Roux's quirky vocal styling brought a shiver down our collective spines.
Helping to do this is a pinhole microphone that sits on the back of the device and listens to the acoustics of the room, making sure the signal it produces is best suited to the space its in.
However, this detail and clarity, produced from the i-deck's twin pairs of 1in tweeters and 4in woofers isn't matched by the rest of the performance. The biggest problem is the lacking soundstage, which takes the edge off more expansive works – even solo piano and chamber music can sound restrictedly narrow. Were there a bit more stereo presence then this dock could be held up as a great listen for audio purists – those who aren't after booming bass – but as it stands it doesn't quite cut it. Strangely, it manages to fill a room, with some of the atmospherics floating around you to good effect but it just doesn't give you a true sense of presence within the music.
As you may have guessed, a further issue – which is a much more intentional and acceptable one – is that bass isn't very hard hitting. Not that you'd expect huge bass presence from a device of this size but there's a lack of oomph that means anything that requires a bit of gusto falls a little flat. Rock, dance, heavy metal; all left us feeling a bit cold.
This is something Monitor Audio fully accepts though and it points out that the £400 Monitor Audio i-deck 200 is much better suited for those that want a larger overall sound.
Also this is not to say the i-deck 100 can't fill a modest sized room. Again this is helped by that digital processing that this time analyses the music signal and looks for peaks that might distort if played at the current volume then just tones them down a little bit. As such you can maintain an earsplitting overall volume without distortion.
When all is said and done, though, this is a modest-size iPod dock best suited to a modest-size room to be played at modest volume. In other words it's perfect as a premium kitchen or dining room dock. Or at least it would be if it was priced a little more competitively. At £299, it's about £50 too expensive, as the likes of the B&W Zeppelin Mini offer more features, better build quality and equally good sound for the price.
The Monitor Audio i-deck 100 is a very accomplished compact and premium iPod dock, offering stylish design, good build quality and exceptional audio clarity. However, it doesn't quite match a couple of its competitors for build and functionality, and its sound is a little more specialised, with those into their hard hitting pop and rock best steering clear. As such, we feel its £299 asking price is about £50 too expensive.