Marantz IS301 Wireless iPod Dock Page 2

PERFORMANCE

Given that the IS301's big trick is letting you carry around your iPod, the first thing you notice is how the handset feels. Unfortunately, it feels kind of cheap and plasticky, so that first impression is not a great one. On the plus side, the handset is very light, so carrying it around isn't a burden.

Bluetooth range is listed at 32.8 feet, and I had no problem achieving distances much greater than that and using it in other rooms where walls separated me from the extender. Because the handset is powered by the iPod, it can be a bit of a battery vampire. I could still enjoy several hours worth of music, but leaving the iPod connected to the handset overnight was a recipe for full battery discharge.

While my Video iPod didn't support component-video output, a new (hot pink!) nano I borrowed did. With the nano seated in the dock, videos and pictures played with no problem and picture quality was comparable to what I've seen other iPod docks produce. My biggest complaint is that the IS301 offers no form of onscreen display whatsoever - the only way to select anything is to look at the iPod's display. (If you were having a party, it would be nice to have the option of having the music's album art and metadata up on the TV.) The system does come with a credit card-sized remote control, but since you can't see what you're controlling, it's pretty useless short of just skipping forward and back through tracks, or turning the dock off.

For Marantz receiver owners, the handset and remote include some nifty controls that enable you to power your receiver on/off, change inputs, and raise/lower volume. This means that you don't have to carry around another remote and are free to wander with only the handset. As I happen to own a Marantz pre-amp, I definitely appreciated this option.

When you dock or undock the handset, the music cuts out for about five seconds while transmission is switched from wired to wireless or vice-versa. The handset occasionally lost pairing during the docking/undocking procedure, requiring me to reestablish communication. However, it never lost pairing when playing music wirelessly.

The IS301's sound quality in wireless mode was notably inferior to its wired-mode performance. When wireless, there was an edgy, distorted quality that was most noticeable on pop or rock music - Billy Idol's "Idolize Yourself" was one example - with the high frequencies exhibiting a crackly texture. The iPod's distance from the extender also had no effect on the sound; it was the same whether the Pod was inches or many feet away.

BOTTOM LINE

The IS301 reminds me of a bowl of ice cream: It tastes good and makes you happy, but you can't stop thinking how much better it would be if there was some whipped cream and hot fudge to go with it. I love the idea of roaming around with my iPod in hand, and the IS301 let me do just that. (This capability is especially great for enjoying the Genius feature found on new iPods, which lets you spontaneously produce tailored playlists with the press of a button.)

On the downside, the handset feels cheap and the lack of any onscreen display is disappointing, especially for those times when you want to browse your iPod's photo or video content. And the distortion that I heard when listening in undocked mode precluded the possibility of any serious undocked listening. As cool as the IS301 is, these combined caveats make it difficult to fully recommend.

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