REVIEWS / Portable Speaker & iPod Dock Reviews

Marie Georgescu de Hillerin
These portable speaker systems want to be your MP3 player's best friend—especially if it's an iPad. They're also an increasingly popular way of playing music from your mobile phone.

First of all, we listen to a great variety of music. We listen to the different speakers at the same time and we put them on the most similar settings so we can compare. Then we test them one after the other. We switch the inputs in order to track the difference in real time. We also have a look at features, settings and how the systems are powered.

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The idea is simple enough: today, most people keep all of their music on an MP3 player, whether it uses a hard drive or flash memory.  When you're commuting to work or out for a run, all you need is a pair of headphones to enjoy your entire music collection.

But once you're back at home and want to take your headphones off—or even share tunes with your friends and family—then you need a speaker system.  Altec Lansing, Apple and Creative Labs have all noticed this gap in the market.

Power: battery or mains?  Portability or quality?

Most of these mini-speaker systems use batteries but also come with an adaptor to plug them into the mains.  The vast majority are aimed at the iPod, and more recently, the iPhone, and have a docking system that allows you to connect one directly.  If you plug them into the wall, you can also charge your device at the same time.  If your MP3 player doesn't fit in the dock, though, don't worry, as there's always an auxiliary mini-jack input too.

Because these speakers are, by definition, portable and run on batteries, you have to compromise on quality.  You shouldn't expect any miracles, but some products we've tested left us with a pleasant surprise.

If you do use the iPod dock connector, you can avoid carrying sound over the mini-jack output, hopefully maintaining a higher quality. Users of the iPod and iPhone are likely to prefer these docking stations, which are useful both for playing music and recharging their devices.  All of the speaker systems we've tested here are perfectly usable with any brand of MP3 player, though.
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