A Buying Guide for Audio Docks

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A Buying Guide for Audio Docks

An audio dock is an audio playback device which includes a docking port for a portable audio player, phone or tablet, and which may include other audio sources such as a radio. These come in a number of different forms, aimed at differing market sectors. The vast majority of such docks are fitted with docking ports for the Apple family of devices. No other manufacturer has managed to achieve the same level of universality, leading to virtual dominance over the style of docking port fitted to audio docks and HiFi systems, and very few other brands of portable music players are fitted with docking-style connectors. The most basic form of audio dock is one which delivers a line-level audio output to be fed to a separate amplification and speaker system. This style of dock is most likely to be used as an aftermarket add-on to an existing HiFi system or micro system, as it has no standalone playback capability.

Desktop or Shelf Units

This style of audio dock is designed with permanent or semi-permanent use in the home in mind. Typically around the size of a small radio, and with internal amplification and a pair of speakers, these units can include provision for playback from the mobile device through the dock, and often include other source components such as a radio or CD player. They may be of a one-box design, with source, amplification and speakers all self-contained, or in three-box format, with a central docking and amplification module, and a pair of freestanding speakers. As the latter style grows larger, though, the line between audio docks and small HiFi systems becomes blurred, since many mini and micro HiFi systems now include docking ports.

Portable

Portable docks allow loudspeaker playback while on the move, in hotel rooms for instance. Portable docks tend to be the more compact styles.

Tower

Typically the height of a large floor-standing loudspeaker, the tower style of audio dock is usually fitted with a docking connector at the top, and stands around a metre high.

What To Look For In An Audio Dock

Some of the buying points that a buyer might want to consider when buying an audio dock are itemised below.

Power Output

The power output is not relevant to the line-level style of dock, but is an important consideration for all the other types. The power output essentially determines how loud the dock will be, and can affect the overall sound quality and clarity of the dock. A dock with a higher output, played at lower volume, will have more headroom than one with a lower output played at the same level. Higher figures broadly equate to more volume, and the output should be selected according to the size of the room in which the dock will be used, and how loud the buyer requires the unit to be. There may need to be a trade-off between power output and size, as a higher output will require larger speakers, leading to a larger dock in general.

Other Source Components

As well as the dock, there may be other source components included, such as AM/FM or DAB radio, Internet Radio, or a CD player. The buyer should judge which of the various sources are required, and choose the dock accordingly. Connection to internet radio can be made by connection to a home network, and the method of network connection, and possibly the location of the dock in relation to the network router, should be borne in mind when selecting a dock with this functionality.

Tone Control/Audio Modes

Options may be available for basic bass/treble tone control, or for the selection of various audio modes to modify the tonal quality.

Playlist Management

The most basic of audio docks will merely replay tracks in sequence from the portable audio player, but the more advanced will allow selection of existing playlists, selection by artist, and the various other options available on the portable. These docks are usually those with remote control functionality mirroring that on the portable player, as described below.

Wireless/Wired Networking

Network music players are growing in popularity, and these devices allow music stored on a home network to be replayed via the player. This functionality is spreading to audio docks, and this can be available in both wired (Ethernet) and wireless style. Any audio dock with wired network capability will obviously need to be sited near to an available network point, whereas a wireless unit will be more flexible in location, and the choice between wired and wireless may be influenced by this.

Bluetooth

Many portable music players and audio-capable phones can deliver a signal via Bluetooth, and an audio dock fitted with Bluetooth can enable playback wirelessly from these devices.

Clock/Alarm

A wide variety of audio docks are available in the style of the traditional clock radio alarm, and these will tend to include both radio and alarm clock functionality. Some variants on this theme are fitted with an optional bed shaker to provide a physical as well as audible stimulus. When selecting this style of dock, the clarity of the clock may be a prime consideration, as could the presence or absence of a brightness control for the clock display. Most of these designs will allow the 'alarm' to be the user's choice of music, and the more advanced will bring the music in with an optional and adjustable fade-in, which may be a desirable feature.

USB Input or Memory Card Slot

A USB port or card slot allows the connection of either a USB memory stick or memory card, either of which can hold music files, for playback via the dock. This allows music from PCs or other devices to be moved easily to the dock.

Remote Control

Many audio docks are supplied with remote controls, and the buyer should judge if such a remote control is essential, desirable or unnecessary. If required, the buyer may want to consider the layout and functionality of the remote control. Some remote control designs mimic the touch-wheel design and functionality found on some iPods, and this enables them to mimic the menu navigation found on the iPod itself, with selection of playlists, playback by artist, genre, or album. Others are fitted with basic playback controls, and again, the buyer should establish how important this aspect is, if at all.

Portability

Portable audio docks should obviously be considered primarily on size and shape, in order that they will be an easy fit in the traveller's luggage. A choice of battery or mains operation, possibly with the option of rechargeable batteries, could also be a significant consideration. Portable audio docks are often found in tubular or ovoid shapes to enable them to fit in easily with the remainder of the traveller's luggage.

Finish

Lastly, audio docks are made in all manner of colours, from the all-over black or silver favoured by many of the HiFi manufacturers, through a whole palette of other colours, and even some in natural wood finishes, allowing the dock to be matched to the existing home decor, if necessary or desired.

How to Find Audio Docks on eBay

From the eBay homepage, select Shop by category, and should Sound & Vision be visible from the possible selections on the list, click on it. Otherwise, the list can be expanded with the See all categories button, then select Sound & Vision. From here, click on iPod & MP3 Player Accessories, then Audio Docks & Mini Speakers , and from the Type subcategory, select Audio Docks. It is also possible to locate portable audio docks by looking in Portable Speaker Systems, which can also be located by checking the subcategory type.

Conclusion

Audio docks are available in many forms, and with a variety of source options as well as the dock itself. Hopefully the guidelines above will lead the buyer to a unit that not only fulfils all their immediate requirements, but continues to give them many years of continued listening pleasure.

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