Extra-terrestrials haven’t ever been quite as en-vogue as the 90s since The X-Files left the google- box, but iPod docks are doing their best to bring them back into fashion. With designs seemingly inspired by flying saucers, alien heads and ET’s mothership, docks like the TEAC SR80i Mini Aurb and Philips DS9800 are here to add a touch of the other to your living room. Will you flee from their otherworldly vibe?
The TEAC SR80i Mini Aurb is the little brother of the original Aurb SR100i. It’s cheaper, lighter and smaller, and also features the DAB radio missing from the pricier model. The look is similar though – black and silver, shaped like the visible bit of an eye. We’re in two minds about the design. It’s more eye-catching than a drab black box, but when its silvery sections are made from plastic rather than metal, and its display a dated-looking blue LCD affair, we’re less inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt.
Its iPod dock, sitting on top, sticks out a little too clearly when not in use too. There’s a rubber bung you can jam into it to keep dust out of its nooks and crannies, but as this is black – conspicuous next to the silver trim – it’s not much help aesthetically. The SR80i doesn’t have the design confidence of the more imposing SR100i, and its look suffers a bit as a result. To get the design injection living rooms crave though, you usually have to spend more than the £150 asked for here. Whether you like the basic eye-ish design or find it an eyesore is like the Marmite test. Drop us your view in the comments, if you like.
Aside from piping-out tunes from your iPod or iPhone, the TEAC SR80i also offers a DAB radio, FM tuner, USB MP3 playback and a phono auxiliary input. It will output video (in standard def) from your iOS device using the S-video output too. This is a very complete spread of options for a dock like this. All that’s missing is wireless music streaming and internet radio – and frankly both would be a nightmare to use given the interface used here. The two-line display is similar to that found on Pure’s portable DAB radios, but the self-consciously modern design used here begs for something a little more high-tech.
In a move that all-but admits the deficiencies of the archaic-looking LCD display, the TEAC SR80i relies heavily on its remote rather than an on-screen menu system. This puts features like equalisation at your fingertips, but also means you’re stuffed if you lose the remote, as the on-device buttons only give you access to the playback basics.
The ellipse-shaped remote is a cut above the low standards set by the average iPod dock zapper, but it’s still not great. The buttons aren’t discrete, like on a “proper” remote, and a few layout quirks mean it takes a little white to get used to. Still, it is a cut above most docks' remote controls nevertheless.
Whether the remote has us prodding the wrong key occasionally, or the design has us questioning if it has the courage of its convictions, fades into insignificance compared with whether the SR80i sounds good or not.