Review: i-deck by Monitor Audio

A sound system worth every penny (July 31st, 2006)

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Product Manufacturer: Monitor Audio

Price: $249.00

The Good

  • Incredible sound. Unique design. RF remote.

The Bad

  • Bulky power brick. Not portable, barely moveable.

Without a doubt, the i-deck by Monitor Audio is the best speaker system into which I have ever plugged my iPod. The sound is first rate and its quality rivals or surpasses my home entertainment setup. The design is not without its shortcomings, and that's where it loses 1/2 a star, but if you are looking for a permanent speaker setup for your iPod, this is the best high-end solution I have found.

A True iPod Stereo

The i-deck is a HI FI audio product, and it carries a $249 HI FI price, directly from the manufacturer's website. At this price, the i-deck competes with not only high-end offerings from JBL and Logitech, but also the Bose SoundDock and Apple's iPod Hi-Fi. Though I have never put an iPod Hi-Fi through the paces, I can safely say that the i-deck sounds better than any of the other speakers, including the SoundDock, which costs $50 more.

The SoundDock is an all-in-one unit, while the i-deck is three separate pieces. It's actually four pieces, when you include the incredibly large and heavy power brick, which you must include, because the i-deck is too high-end to run on batteries. It is not a portable unit. You can't even carry it conveniently from room to room. I imagine it installed on an office bookshelf where it will stay forever. In addition, because it can charge and sync the iPod, there really isn't any other reason to move it. (Editor's Note: This is a robust sound system, and its capabilities are wasted in a small office. A conference room is more suitable, or use it as your main home stereo.)

Wear the Remote

The i-deck comes with a simple, thin remote to control volume and skip songs. I would like a place to stick the remote, like the slot on Altec Lansing's iM7, but there is none. The RF 2.4GHz Digital Remote control unit is much better than a line-of-site infrared remote. The company website even playfully suggests putting the iPod on shuffle and walking around with the remote in your pocket. (Editor's Note: The range of the remote is impressive. I used it from the hall on the second floor of my apartment with no problem.)

Interesting Design

Overall, the design of the unit is odd, sort of a late-80s, early-90s form factor. It features three small boxes, all at a slant away from you. It actually looks much bigger in pictures than it is when set up. Each unit is 7.5 high x 5.75 wide. Any dockable iPod fits nicely into a recessed port and inserts for each model ship with the unit. If you own a white iPod, the gray and white units match perfectly. An auxiliary line input on the back, a 3.5mm stereo mini jack, allows you to connect almost any MP3 player.

Looks Aren't Everything

I didn't find it especially attractive, but the sound field it creates is simply astounding. I've talked about the Bose as room filling, the i-deck is mind filling. It fills its space with sound. It never distorts, even at its highest volumes, which are not unpleasantly loud, but could certainly overcome a roomful of people and drive a large gathering. According to Monitor, the Digital-to-Analog Converters carry "the digital files directly to the i-deck's volume control before converting to analog." The result is noise-free playback and a robust sound not heard in most iPod stereos.

The speakers plug into the back of the base unit like old stereos, with wires and plugs. Ilene found that surprising, but everything is clearly marked, so no instructions are needed. The 1.5-meter cable length is based on preserving the best stereo imaging. The ABS plastic speakers sport small clear feet too, so place the units anywhere, or use the wall mounting option.

Exceptional Sound

Sound was clear across a range of tracks. The i-deck especially shone through in songs that required a robust low-end. Though there was no sub-audible kick, the bass was strong and resonant on songs that normally require a subwoofer. I tried Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher," and the i-deck ripped cleanly through the powerful drum solo opening into the wailing highs of the guitar riffs that follow. Hip-hop, such as Mos Def's "Fear Not of Man" were clean and warm. Every bass kick was audible and low, which is a pleasant diversion from the kick-in-the-head subwoofer of my home system. Songs came through with vibrant sound, instead of just pushing air around. I even loaded in a car audio subwoofer test to see how low it could go, and every low pulse was represented fairly.

For testing the i-deck's sound imaging ability, I used a remix of "Wish" by Nine Inch Nails from the Fixed CD. The song flops back and forth so quickly it can make your eyes water on a good setup, and I'm happy to say that listening on the i-deck was every bit as enjoyable as a great pair of headphones. The balance was cleanly separated.

There is a slight impression of hesitation from the high-ends, but I couldn't figure out exactly where. I tried throwing every soprano and wailing guitar I could at the i-deck, and the overall impression was depth and warmth. Perhaps there is a bit of brightness lacking in the sound, but it was so clean it wasn't disappointing.

If you are willing to sacrifice sound for the sake of portability, I could see passing up the i-deck. If you are like me, however, and you select a system for the best possible sound for the price, look no further, because the i-deck is the best sounding system available today. Plus, for you audiophiles out there, this Editor thinks that the i-deck is the first system that actually makes compressed music sound bearable.

by Philip Berne and ilene Hoffman


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