- Review Price: £159.90
Not everyone needs or wants DAB radio. FM does a very good job for most stations and AM is on hand if you want to tune into live sports coverage on Radio 5 Live – seriously, what else is it used for nowadays?
However, though that may be the case for many people, I think it’s fair to say the majority value the convenience and ease of use of DAB, especially with the ability of some radios, like the Pure Tempus-1 S, to record and playback shows at your convenience. Thus, when I was made aware of the Boston Acoustics Duo-i I was somewhat sceptical. Surely no radio-cum-iPod speaker dock in this day and age can compete if it can’t do DAB?
Well, personally, I still maintain that viewpoint, but if you don’t mind making that sacrifice then the Boston Acoustics Duo-i is without doubt the best example of a radio/iPod speaker dock we’ve yet seen.
Ok, so the styling may not be to everyone’s liking and a choice of finishes would be nice. Boston does offer some choice in the form of swappable speaker grills, which come in nine colours including chilli pepper (red) that we’ve used in a number of the other photos here, caramel (caramel), and olive (green), as well as the default grey.
Even with the grey grills in place, though, it has a certain austere charm and an understated elegance that means it should still fit in with most décors. It’s also incredibly well built with not a rough edge, degree of flex or dodgy join anywhere in sight.
The high quality speakers and amplifiers do result in it weighing a hefty 3.7Kg and the deep speaker housings do give it a larger footprint than you might expect, though. Certainly if you plan to have this on a bedside table, you may have to sacrifice your tabletop lamp, for instance. If you can manage to squeeze it on, though, you’ll be very pleased.
That’s because while the Duo-I is in essence just another decent sounding ipod dock-cum-radio, its brilliance comes in all the little details that make it so easy to use.
For a start, the three main controls are all very accurate and slick to use making adjusting things like radio tuning and clock times really quick and easy. A push of the larger central dial turns the Duo-i on and rotating it controls volume. The one on the right then serves the double function of tuning the radio and skipping tracks when using an iPod. Pressing it in also alternates between playing and pausing the iPod and auto-tunes to the next station.
On the left is the mode dial, which is used to navigate the Duo-i’s menu, except it isn’t really a menu but rather a grid of icons (see the video review for a demonstration), which you cycle through using the dial. In this way you can control all the Duo-i’s main functions including switching between inputs, setting the alarms, and activating Sleep mode.
What makes these simple controls really shine, though, is the large clear display that automatically adjusts its brightness depending on lighting conditions, meaning those of you that are light sleepers shouldn’t be disturbed by the Duo-i twinkling away at night. It’s an LCD panel so suffers from the usual problem of slightly poor viewing angles but its use of large, clear, logically positioned icons and text (the clock display is particularly good) means you should have no problem knowing what’s going on, even from the other side of your living room.
We also particularly like the two alarms. At the push of a button you can turn on each alarm independently and you can choose whether to play your ipod, a buzzer or both at once. Each one starts quietly, then ramps up in volume the longer it goes on and, if you haven’t got your ipod plugged in, it’ll play the radio instead. Setting the time is also blessedly quick and easy, which is a godsend when it’s late at night and it’s as much as you can muster just to disrobe and slip between your sheets before drifting off into a long and deep slumber.
As with the Boston Acoustics Solo XT, the Duo-i features a touch-sensitive silver strip that runs round the edge of the speakers. This is used to snooze the alarm and tapping it multiple times will extend your snooze period from 10 minutes upwards in 5 minute intervals.
When you plug in an iPod and switch to the iPod option, it will start playing back straight away, which I guess you could see as either annoying or really convenient. Personally I think it’s great as it results in fewer button presses and, after all, why else would you be plugging it in if you didn’t want it to play?
For controlling the Duo-i from afar, a small remote is included that, despite being a relatively cheap popper-button type, is another master class in good basic design. The most commonly used play and power buttons are distinguished by a bright yellow background that is highly visible in low light, though it isn’t ‘glow in the dark’. The layout also makes it easy to feel your way around it in complete darkness, plus it also happens to fit exactly in the crevice at the top just in front of the iPod dock, which is a convenient storage spot. Oh, and to top it all off, it’s even magnetic.
Back to the radio itself, there are line-in and headphone jacks on the front along with five buttons for assigning radio presets. Adding a preset is much the same as it is on most devices; tune to the station you want and hold down the preset button you’d like to use until the preset logo appears. Ten FM and five AM stations can be stored, which is just about enough.
Round the back there are connections for external AM and FM antennas but there are also internal aerials that do a very good job so you’re unlikely to need these. The iPod dock supports video-out and there’s a composite video-out connection on the back for piping your videos to a TV. Finally, there are a couple of pairs of phono sockets, one of which is a second line-in while the other is a line-out. By pressing the adjacent button this be set to either follow the Duo-i’s volume level or ignore it.
Of course, the last piece of any audio device’s puzzle is its sound quality and here the Duo-i once again excels. Its powerful stereo speakers provide plenty of warm and rich volume to fill a room, though they won’t match a proper Hi-Fi when it comes to cranking out the big beats at your house rave. They’re also lacking in both a full and enveloping stereo effect (due to the close proximity of the two speakers) or the pure clean tone of a proper Hi-Fi – not to mention the true thump of a proper sub.
Bass, though, is well handled with Boston’s BassTrac audio processing constantly keeping levels just right. This is particularly noticeable at low volumes where, on lesser devices, bass will often peter out. With the Duo-i there’s always a satisfying warmth that makes music feel complete.
The overall sound isn’t quite as smooth and refined as that of the Vita Audio R4 but then the R4 leans towards a more traditional ‘Hi-Fi’ sound that cuts back on the bass in favour of treble clarity. Of course, it does cost three times as much (and has more features) so we’d expect that. Likewise, the Meridian F80 takes sound quality to a whole other level but again it costs significantly more.
So, while the Duo-i isn’t setting any new standards with its sound quality, it does give you as much, if not more, than you could expect from a small desktop device. And, for its price, it’s largely without rival.
The Duo-i is a wonderfully realised take on the high-quality desktop radio concept. It has superb sound quality and it’s a pleasure to use. So if you ”can” cope with its lack of DAB radio we cannot recommend this radio highly enough – it really is that good.
Score in detail