- Review Price: £99.99
A few weeks ago we took a look at the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin iPod Speaker Dock and wow, was it impressive. However, as Riyad said then and I’m about to reiterate: there are many of you reading this right now who will think than £400 is a simply ludicrous amount of money to spend on an iPod dock. I could argue about its relative value until I’m blue in the face but, when all is said and done, £400 is a fair chunk of money and one that makes it a wonderful but largely niche product.
What we want, then, is a set of speakers that come in at a decent fraction of the price of the B&Ws without sacrificing too much in the way of features or quality. It’s a trick that’s easier said than done, but Gear4 thinks it has the solution with its BassStation iPod Speaker dock.
A quick glance at the BassStation immediately betrays where the design team got its inspiration. From the boxy bread-bin shape to the handles in either side and top-mounted iPod Dock, this is an imitation iPod Hi-Fi through and through. There are several notable differences between Gear4’s offering and Apple’s, the most important being that Gear4 will actually sell you its speaker unlike Apple, which recently discontinued the iPod Hi-Fi.
Aesthetically, the BassStation definitely wins out. The contrast between the sleek, shiny white frame and the matt black panels works brilliantly. I plugged in an iPhone, an old 20GB 3rd generation iPod and a black Nano into the dock and all three devices looked great. Gear4 supplies a dock insert for every iPod currently released, so you won’t have a problem plugging in yours be it a Mini or a Touch.
Just in front of the iPod dock itself, on the top of the speaker, are three buttons controlling volume and standby power. Incidentally these give fantastic feedback both audibly and physically, which reinforces the impression of the BassStation being a decent quality bit of kit. Moving round to the back there is one small niggle, namely the distinct lack of a video-out connector. However, while I won’t go so far as to say that watching video from an iPod on a TV is a waste of effort (I’ll just heavily imply it instead), I will suggest that anyone wanting to do so would want a smaller dock than the BassStation.
Moving around the back of the BassStation is a split left and right channel audio connector allowing non-Apple MP3 players to be connected using the included auxilary 3.5mm to dual-phono cable. There is also headphone jack, which seems utterly redundant given that the speaker is intended for iPods, which oddly enough already have headphone sockets.
Moving away from the speaker itself and onto the remote we see one of the coolest features of the BassStation. As well as the normal array of play, pause, skip track and volume buttons the remote also boasts bass and treble adjustment and, more notably, allows you to navigate the iPod menu without having to touch the device itself. Supposedly this will work with every iPod branded device save for the iPhone, which I can attest definitely isn’t compatible.
As great as it is being able to use the remote to navigate around the iPod’s menu, though, there is a small problem. Given the size of the screen on many iPods I found that by the time I was close enough to see what menu I was navigating to, I might as well not have bothered with the remote. This was especially true of the Nano, while a 5th gen Video iPod was usable from about 2 meters away. It’s a ten out of ten for effort, then, but only a five for practicality.
Taking a gander inside the box finds a 5in, 15W sub woofer and a pair of 10W tweeters. In theory this should mean a decent bass response without compromising on mid and high range clarity. Power is supplied to the speaker via an external brick and though ,given the size of the box, it would have been nice to see an internal supply, it isn’t really a huge complaint.
The extra cable length means you can at least sit the speaker a fair distance from a socket, which could be considered a bonus. An arguably more tangible plus point is that both a UK and European socket adapter are included in the box, meaning you can use the speaker on the continent if you were so inclined. Not that I’d consider it portable by any stretch of the imagination – those handles are for moving it around the house, not the globe.
To commence the important process of evaluating the sound quality I whisked out Muse’s first album Showbiz, playing through such classic tracks as Sunburn and Unintended. Here the BassStation makes a good show for itself producing the graceful piano, searing guitar riffs and, importantly, Matt Bellamy’s voice with equal panache.
Transitioning across to Pretty. Odd. by Panic At The Disco it struck me that the Gear4 BassStation definitely performs best with mellower, less complicated music – words such as ‘warm’ and ‘smooth’ immediately sprang to mind. This makes it ideal for most pop and rock music, however there is a limit to this otherwise decent performance
Turning the volume up too high definitely introduces a degree of muffling and pretty conclusively destroyed the soundstage being produced. As long as I kept to a reasonable level there were no major problems, and as I was getting close to neighbour-upsetting volume levels before that distortion creeps in I doubt it’s likely to be a problem for anyone actually buying the set unless you’re intent on using it for parties.
Unlike the B&W Zeppelin, though, which seemed somehow capable of producing a breathtaking sound from even a 128k MP3, you’ll definitely want to be playing decent quality (192k minimum) tracks at the least with the BassStation, as you can definitely pick up on the loss of detail with lower quality encodes. Of course with the current raft of iPods packing large storage capacities for very reasonable prices we’d recommend ripping your CDs in a lossless format, ensuring you’re getting the best from your music.
It looks good, it sounds good and it isn’t going to require a re-mortgage, unlike some iPod speaker docks. All in all the Gear4 BassStation would make a great addition to any study or bedroom provided you’re not planning a rave.
Score in detail