Speaker docks are one of the more popular accessories for portable gadgets, especially those that are capable of playing music. The market for iPod, iPad, and iPhone speaker docks in particular has grown exponentially in the past decade. One side effect of this ever expanding offering is that there is now an incredible range of speaker docks available for iOS devices (and others — although the reality of the situation is that the majority of these products ship with Apple dock connectors, using an AUX/headphone jack combo to accommodate everything else), so getting a reasonably-priced, compact speaker dock for the kids, for example, doesn’t have to mean giving up on decent sound capability. There are also a wide variety of form factors available as well, many of which appeal more to the whimsical side. Today, I’m looking at two inexpensive speaker docks that would make great gifts for the tween or teen in your life, an Angry Birds dock from GEAR4 and an iHog system from Speakal.
iHog From Speakal
My tween daughter is a big fan of this system. I have a sizable collection of audio gear lying around the house, including a number of speaker docks, not to mention a steady parade of review products. For the most part her reaction to even the most impressive of these is a pretty solid “meh” even though she’s getting pretty into music — which is probably a good thing, because I’m not forking over $500 for a sound system for her room. The iHog, however, made an impression. She really liked the funky white pig with the glowing green mouth.
In terms of specs, the iHog is pretty good value for the money. The 4.2 pound white plastic unit sports a 20 Watt subwoofer (there is a manual bass adjustment for the subwoofer to move between “solid” and “booming”) and four other speakers giving it a decent range and volume capability for something so compact. The total power output is 28 Watts, more than sufficient to fill a child’s bedroom. The iOS dock allows the iHog to charge supported Apple devices and it does offer a 3.5mm AUX input to hook up anything from a non-Apple smart phone to a TV or portable gaming system. Combined with the included remote, controlling my daughter’s iPod Touch from across the room was easy. For manual control, the iHog’s “ears” double as touch sensitive volume buttons, while there are touch sensitive controls on the front of the unit for controlling play functions. The iHog also packs a rechargeable battery, good for 6 hours or more of portable music. Perfect for kids who like to take their tunes outdoors, to a friend’s house or even to another room, without having to worry about lugging along a power brick and finding a free outlet.
I only had two quibbles with the system. The dock connector blocks the iPod Touch/iPhone Home button, making it difficult to switch functions while the device is docked. The other issue was bass and treble controls, which are accessible only with the remote — lose the remote and and you’ll have to rely on your device’s built-in EQ settings to tailor the sound.
Wired: Pretty good sound for the price, built-in rechargeable battery a big bonus, glowing green mouth adds to the funky appeal, touch sensitive controls make it easy to clean (fewer nooks and crevices), dock holds iOS devices snugly and recharges them.
Tired: Would be nice to have manual bass and treble controls, dock blocks iPhone/iPod Touch Home button.
Angry Birds Black Bird From GEAR4
Last week, we gave away an Angry Birds Black Bird speaker dock to a lucky GeekDad reader and for the past few days, I’ve had the opportunity to test one of these GEAR4 units. There are three different characters available in this series (Red Bird, Black Bird and the green Helmet Pig); each is slightly different in terms of pricing and capability. Like our giveaway, the test unit was a Black Bird, which includes an iPad dock.
There’s not much to say about the appearance — it’s an Angry Birds character, pretty faithfully rendered. Speaker grills drilled in the black plastic underside and sides are the only real concession to functionality, with volume and bass adjustment knobs hidden in the back. The 30 Watt amplifier pumps out enough sound to easily fill a small room and the speakers manage decent quality, although the high end is muddy and distortion kicks in when you really crank it. At this price, you can’t really complain, though — besides looking cool, it does a pretty decent job as a casual speaker dock. A compact remote is included, giving capability to control music playback on your iOS device, although sound controls with the remote are limited to volume. In a concession to reality (an iPad would not only ruin the visual effect, but easily tip over if docked on top of the 3 pound Angry Bird), the docking station is a standalone chunk of plastic, connected permanently by a foot long cable. The dock supports and charges not only an iPad, but a wide range of iOS devices; anything else can be hooked up via a 3.5mm AUX jack/headphone jack combination (cable included). Unfortunately, if you are planning on using this speaker dock with a non-iOS device, the permanent connection means you’re stuck with having the charging dock anyway. The power adapter is a block style that plugs directly into an outlet, meaning that if you have a power bar with tight spacing, it may take up two spots. In an unusual bonus, the adapter includes a variety of snap on outlet prong types, so if you’re traveling overseas and want to take it along, you probably won’t need to buy an adapter.
Angry Birds Black Bird speaker dock from GEAR4 sells for $99.99 at Best Buy (Helmet Pig and Red Bird also available at prices ranging from $79.99 to $99.99).
Wired: It’s an Angry Bird, ability to dock an iPad a plus, not bad sound for the price.
Tired: Lack of treble control, iOS dock attachment can’t be removed, bulky power adapter.
Which of the two represents the best bet for your kid? It all depends on personal preference and budget, although both options provide good value. The Black Bird speaker dock has the licensed character appeal, supports an iPad, has decent enough sound and comes in at a budget friendly sub-$100 MSRP. On the other hand, the iHog has better quality sound (with more adjustment capability), a more polished look and a built-in battery for portability. However, countering the more advanced features is a higher $149.99 MSRP. Either speaker dock would be a good choice for giving an iOS (or portable music device) sporting child the ability to rock their room without headphones — with the Black Bird getting the nod for iPad owners — but when the iHog can be found on sale at under $120, that’s probably the one I’d go for.