SOMA or So What?
Audiophiles will be familiar with Audyssey Laboratories. The company produces calibration technology that analyzes the acoustic properties of a room (or an automobile or even a commercial move theater) and automatically equalizes the sound system for that unique listening environment, compensating for odd dimensions, materials that absorb or reflect sound waves, and more. If you own a mid-range to high-end A/V receiver from Onkyo or Denon, you’ve likely used one of Audyssey’s systems.
If we didn’t know better, we’d swear Audyssey’s iPod dock was designed by the engineering team at Dell’s Alienware division. (Click on the photo to view a full-sized image.)
Because of the company’s reputation for enabling acoustic excellence, we were excited to check out the Audyssey Audio Dock: South of Market Edition, which represents Audyssey’s first foray into building consumer audio devices. As far as iPhone/iPod docks go, it’s surprisingly versatile, offering line-in and line-out jacks, wireless connections via Bluetooth, a USB port for easy syncing with iTunes, and even speakerphone capabilities. Pretty solid, right?
The device’s stylish, slightly bulbous upright composition was designed as an homage to San Francisco’s SOMA district—a hotspot of Internet activity since the mid 1990s; but to us, it looks more like one of Alienware’s PC case enclosures. It’s striking, to be sure, and instantly sets the Audyssey dock apart from most other table-top speaker sets. The black 5x9x9-inch chassis conceals two .75-inch tweeters and two four-inch woofers, which endows the dock with plenty of firepower for such a small-ish footprint.
The woofers surprised us with outstanding bass response at all levels. Audyssey’s core competency of audio calibration and design appear to pay off here. The company’s proprietary BassXT technology is used to essentially overdrive woofer response right to the woofers’ limits, which makes for some impressive results. Here in the Lab, we’ve been listening to a losslessly encoded rip of Warner’s 2005 re-release of Talking Heads: 77, and the Audyssey Audio Dock allowed us to feel and hear the vibrations in Tina Weymouth’s famous bass line in “Psycho Killer” with remarkable clarity. The highs in “Uh Oh, Love Comes To Town”, and “Happy Day” sounded crisp as well. We were also pleased with the Audyssey Dock’s quality at high volumes. Mid-range tones felt a little muted and mushy at higher volumes. Taken as a whole, the sound quality is slightly better than Creative’s ZiiSound D5, but is noticeably less pleasing to our ears than our long-time favorite dock, Bowers & Wilkins’ first-generation Zeppelin. To be fair, the Zeppelin’s price tag is double that of the $400 Audyssey Dock.
If you don’t have an iPhone or iPod, you can connect another source using either the dock’s 1/8-inch line-in or—if your device supports it—Bluetooth. (The dock utilizes the Bluetooth Advanced Audio Distribution Profile, also known as A2DP which provides high quality streaming audio.) We appreciate the growing trend of audio docks delivering wireless audio streaming. They’re ideal in almost every regard and are particularly great for parties and other social gatherings. We tested Creative Labs’ ZiiSound D5 Bluetooth speaker several weeks ago, and found ourselves surprised by the lack of distortion. Unfortunately, we found ourselves stymied when we tried to connect various phones to the Audyssey Audio Dock. Sometimes the phone would pair with the dock, but not connect. Other times, it couldn’t even see the dock at all. This happened about five times out of ten. That’s not good.
When we did get it to work–typically after power-cycling the dock–we were quite pleased with the sound quality. We reasoned that because most mobile devices contain lower-quality audio files, and because the Audyssey doesn’t utilize any enhanced processing, the dock’s relatively high-end speakers would create a mismatch resulting in crappy-sounding music. We were wrong. We’ve become big fans of downloading the user-created mixes on MixCrate.com onto our phones. When we streamed this music to the dock, it sounded vibrant and rich. Did it sound as good as a losslessly encoded rip? No, but it was perfectly listenable, even at high volumes.
If the Bluetooth connection was more reliable, this would be a Kick-Ass product for sure. As it is, the sound quality is high enough that we can still recommend it for audiophiles and/or iPhone owners who don’t want or need a Bluetooth connection to listen to their music. The USB syncing and speakerphone mode make it perfect for iPhone users looking for new desktop speakers.
Audyssey Audio Dock: South of Market Edition
Talking Heads: 77
High-quality sound, excellent bass response, stylish looks.
Unreliable Bluetooth connection; slightly muddy mid-range at high volumes.