Hands On With 5 New iPod Docks Page 5

Key Features
$250 kicker.com/
• Speakers two 5-in woofers, two 3?4-in tweeters, passive radiator • Price $250 kicker.com • Amplifier 2 x 20 watts • Connections minijack analog input; composite-video and stereo analog audio output • Dimensions 191?4 x 81?2 x 91?4 in • Weight 91?4 lb • Compatible With: All iPod and iPhone models

KICKER iK501

Kicker is well known in the car-audio world, particularly for its kick-ass subs. But Kicker has also been in the iPod dock market for quite some time. In fact, the iK501 is an upgrade of the company's popular iK500. The iK501 is a pure iPod/iPhone dock; it doesn't diversify into radio or CD playback.

This rather imposing dock has a menacing car-audio vibe to it. In fact, you can buy an optional power adapter from Kicker and run the dock from your car's cigarette lighter. A handle in back expedites mobility. With only one control knob and a small LCD display (you can use this to control volume, bass, and treble, among other things), the operational design is very clean.

Behind each large grille on the iK501 lie a 5-inch woofer and ¾ -inch silk-dome tweeter. And there's a 6 x 6-inch square passive radiator located on the back, where you'll also find an auxiliary minijack input and jacks for composite-video and analog stereo output. The remote is nothing special to look at, but it lets you navigate the iPod menu using its own display, and it controls dock functions as well.

Kicker boasts that the iK501 is a "Livin' Loud" product, and I will not dispute that. Although I did hear distortion when listening at maximum levels, it does play quite loud. More important, it provides good sound quality at more moderate levels. The passive radiator adds an extra kick in the pants - deep monophonic bass is truly unusual for a boombox- type product. The sound quality of the frontfiring speakers is pretty good but not particularly refined. The iK501 delivers acceptable stereo separation, but its surprisingly directional sound means that tonal quality will vary depending on where you sit in front of the unit - especially when you are fairly close to it. Still, all in all, I found it to be a very listenable dock.

The iK501 doesn't mess with frills. It docks your iPod, drives its full-range speaker array with a goodly amount of amplification, and adds a passive radiator for extra loudness. Its black-on-black Darth Vader styling might scare small children, but that's a small price to pay for a good iPod dock. So go ahead - live loud.

BOTTOM LINE

Each of these docks has something good to offer. They occupy a nice spread of price points and features, so your only job is to figure out which one suits your fancy. The Cue Radio Model r1 and s1 speaker is probably the most polished of the bunch. If you're looking for a classy iPod vibe, then look no further. The iHome IP1 was my personal fave. I liked this little beauty's cool styling and warm sound, and can enthusiastically certify and recommend it. The JBL 400P has simplicity on its side. If feature creep gives you the creeps, this straight-arrow dock will do fine. True to its name, the Kicker iK501 delivers kicking sound; its passive woofer has enough oomph to rumble your jungle. You want features? The Philips DCM250 has everything you need and probably more. Factor in the low, low price point, and this emerges as a great little dock for the money.

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