Jane and I are at a crossroads.  Our stereo equipment got fried in a power surge, and now we are trying to decide whether to replace the amp, speakers, CD player and turntable (which necessarily would upgrade all of those parts by converting to newer equipment), or instead buying an iPod, nice docking station, and extra hard drive to store music.  Monetarily it pretty much works out the same, but we just aren’t sure if we want to make the leap of not having an actual amp and speakers.

In particular, if there are any Pipeline People who have experience with docking stations I’d love to hear what you have to say.  I don’t expect my docking station to replicate my old amp and speaker fidelity, but I do expect it to sound very good and have more power than, say, a boom box.

One thing is certain: Electricity killed my stereo!  Now I know how Johnny Depp felt in Cry-Baby.

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20 Responses to Crossroads

  1. Dave R says:

    I struggled for a couple of years with the best way to provide music for our house, since we only have one stereo but serveral rooms where we like to rock our tunes. I made the conversion to digital some years back, after thousands of CD’s had become either stolen, lost, “borrowed”, or scratched beyond use. We finally got an Ipod last summer, and we couldn’t be happier. The system centers on a BOSE dock (retail $300, its the one you’ve probably seen) that provides big, good quality noise out of a small (and dare I see attractive) package. It even comes with a remote. There are plenty of alarm clock/charging stations as well if you want music in the bedroom. We also take the IPOD for long car drives with a FM adapter (they’ve come a long way) and its fantastic to have you entire CD collection in the car without having your entire CD collection in the car. Finally, I’m such a lazy bastard I enjoy not walking across the room to change the CD anymore.

  2. pipelineblog says:

    That’s exactly what I wanted to hear, because it matches my already-conceived notions. Yeah, that BOSE dock is the one I had in mind.

  3. Steim says:

    I’d suggest that if you go with the docking station, you get one where the remote has a display that mimics the display on the iPod. I’m in the market for a docking station myself, so let me know what you end up getting.

    If you end up getting a more traditional stereo setup, I highly recommend Definitive speakers. I’m in love with mine.

  4. Paul says:

    whatever you do, please report back on your results. tracy and i have been trying to figure this one out for two years. we have our old stereo, but it’s just so bulky. at the same time, it’s hard for me to accept that a little bose station can sound anywhere near as good as “real” speakers.

  5. Why not buy a decent set of powered speakers to hook the iPod into? That way you can maintain some of the actual audio quality you are used to and just commit to having a single input device — more expensive than just the Bose dock, but probably more satisfying musically. You could also get a cheap, used computer and use iTunes from that rather than the iPod itself — that would be an easier interface, but you then need to figure out where you’d put a screen/mouse/keyboard, I suppose.

  6. kelly says:

    I would second Nathan’s comment above. The docking station is very sexy, but it doesnt really do anything other than get the output from your ipod and put it into small underpowered speakers. Getting the sound out is only a matter of inserting a plug……whoopee.

    The Bose Companion Five, for example will sound better than the bose docking station. There are also 30-50 dollar docks that are for the inserting if you really want that hand in glove type connection.

    If you still want a little extra oomph and connect things like a CD, DVD, or turntable, not to mention radio. Get a $200 sony reciever and a small pair of $150 bookshelfs from your favorite manufacturer and its likely to still sound better than the small docking stations.

    That damn electricity problem managed to fry your speakers????

  7. pipelineblog says:

    I have no way to confirm if it fried my speakers or not, because the only thing I had to plug them into, the stereo, got fried. The speakers (a nice pair of Advent Heritage speakers I got from Nathan many years ago) have served me well, but between kids, cats, dogs, several moves, and general age, the cabinets have a couple cracks and the speakers themselves are in less than tip-top shape. So, it’s unclear what a “repair” would actually entail, cost, be worth, etc.

    If the speakers do not have a power source, does that mean they can’t be fried? My computer speakers got fried, but they are powered.

    Jane’s leaning against the iPod. Her latest and best argument is that if we don’t go get an amp and speakers and CD player now, we’ll never get them again. Whereas we know we will eventually get an iPod one way or the other. I think she’s mostly searching for a specific reason to front for her general, unspecified opposition to the iPod Transition Plan, but this particular reason is persuasive to me, probably because I’m also not 100% for the Plan.

    I didn’t realize you could get powered speakers of that quality; I’ve always just thought of them as glorified computer speakers (which is also something I plan to buy in the next four days). So you’re saying I could get a pair of nice powered speakers, the iPod, and some interface mechanism, and then I wouldn’t need an amp or docking station…and then later I could add a receiver to that setup and expand to all the options as needed.

    I like that option, because it gives us the two things we want most: A big sound and an iPod, and it doesn’t close off options later.

    This has been an informative conversation.

  8. kelly says:

    The powered speaker set-up basically lacks a switch for multiple input types (CD, DVD, Phono, etc.)…… becauase it terminates in an input plug (generally the mini-headphone type that is compatible with PC’s and iPods). So when you want to run different stuff like a cd player, you’d run into the problem of having to plug the powered speakers into each of the various components, one at a time.

    However, as you mention, you can later buy a reciever……. most are powered, meaning the amplifier integrated into the reciever would be redundant with the powered speaker’s amplifier. Which is no huge loss, given both are not spendy or high fidelity. While you can by an ‘un-powered’ reciever, most powered versions also have a “pre-amp output” that circumvents the internal amplifier. Thus allowing you to connect your powered speakers to the new reciever, and use the reciever to switch between your various components.

    As for your fried speakers, if the jolt of electricity had enough voltage (and it sounds like it might), it could arc through your amp and fry the voice-coils of your speakers. That is fried your computer speakers, makes it seem more than possible. A quick way to tell is to get a 9V battery and scratch one end of each of the speaker wires across the positive and negative terminals, if you hear an output in the speakers (a scratchy sound) then chances are good your voice-coils on the back of the speakers aren’t fried. I would then look for something that puts out sound, to finally test them before making a purchase. In that world you could just buy a reciever and an ipod and be set.

    No insurance money to subsidize the new stereo?

  9. Clint says:

    I run everything through my receiver/amp, like DirecTV, DVD, Wii, etc. I don’t know much about the docking stations discussed above (but I am now very intrigued), but I don’t see how I could have surround sound without my receiver. Obviously, if you don’t worry about surround sound on your TV, or if you can get that through a docking station, then i guess it really doesn’t matter. Based on these responses, I think my IPOD is seriously underused.

  10. notchris says:

    go to Ultimate Electronics. Explain your dilemma. Give them a budget. Bet you will get lots of unique and interesting options.

    That said, Jane is probably right. But, so what? Why do you need them?

  11. pipelineblog says:

    I have a deep mistrust of Ultimate Electronics and similar operations, especially any part that involves “giving them a budget”. But I’ll let the former Ultimate Electronics employee in this discussion weigh in on whether that’s misguided mistrust.

    (Ultimate Electronics used to be Audio King.)

  12. kelly says:

    Well, having worked at Audio King, I can say they do hire honest folks but couldnt vouch for all of them or their most recent incarnation. They work on commission, and my most recent trips to Audio stores here in SF is that if you go to a place like that on any evening or Saturday the sales reps are going to be focused on the big TV sales, and their stereo knowledge is weak. With plasma and LCD’s going mainstream the commission money focuses on those big ticket items. But, if you do get a good sales person, you will at least get some interesting advice and maybe an option you havent considered.

    So I couldn’t help myself and went out and found some stuff worth considering. However, I dont know your price range etc. If it were me, and I were spending less than $1000 but did want quality gear. I would get:

    The Denon DRA-397 reciever. Denon is known for gear that lasts, they make decent solid state amplifiers, and it gives you the switching ability you will want if it expands. It doesn’t make for a home theater amplifier.
    Its $400, and they have a plug in component, the ASD1R, that will “dock” your ipod and let you control it from the remote. You want to plug in a CD, record player, or computer you now have your switch and amp. But your into it for $475. (crutchfield has all that stuff)

    I would pair it with a pair of bookshelf sized speakers, the PSB ALpha B1 for $279 a pair.

    For $750 you’d have a docking station on steriods with expansion ability.

    If you traveledd further down the “features for a little less sound quality” road. The features I think you’d want for later expansion, is a reciever that could decode and process surround sound. If you move it from a listening area and into the entertainment/tv area it makes it more versitle for future family moves.

    I’d buy the Onkyo TX-SR505. It decodes all the recent dolby standards, and should it ever become useful you could use it as a video switch too (switching between your cable, DVD player, etc). Its only $269. It is rated at 7x75W, but thats overstated (and couldnt touch your old rotel for sound quality). They also have a $99 dollar DSA2 iPod dock, that gets you your docking functionality with remote control.

    If you wanted to pursue the home-theater route and stay cost conservative, I’d get the Infinity TSS-450 system on sale for $250 (crutchfield), but not going to blow you away. Or if you wanted to drop coin get the Polk Audio RM6880, but its $629.99 both feature powered subwoofers. In the first set of speakers case you get a decent 5.1 set up for $520, add $100 for the fancy ipod dock (or $10 for just a plug into the stereo ((which is what I use cause I just shuffle the stuff or listen to an album at a time)).

    If you dont want the hassle of surround sound, but may want to upgrade to it later, and the dock is cool. I’d get the Onkyo, the PSB speakers I mentioned with the Denon, and the fancy dock. You are out $600, and its twice the price of just a “docking” station, but the sound will be twice as nice, and leave you some room to expand later. If you had a little more coin and really wanted to rock out with the stereo but hadn’t bought the surround speakers, I’d get a nice subwoofer for $250 or so.

    Plus, 5 years from now I guarentee your IPOD will have changed in a way that makes the docking station obsolete. Something that accepts digital and analog inputs will probably still be useful.

    After looking around though, its touch to spend less than $500 and get anything you are going to like audio quality wise with a reciever included in the haul.

    If the budget were sub $500 I’d buy the powered Sub/Sat combo Nate was mentioning earlier where Bose is an example. Still a lot more and better sound that the straight up dock. But you wont get the slick remote and sexy stand.

    Off high-horse…. (I love to shop for audio gear).

  13. mrfares says:

    We have a “standard” Bose CD player which shakes the house and sounds like the Voice of God. Instead of a dock we used a 6 dollar cable to hook up the iPod to the Aux input and if the cable is long enough you can carry it around kinda like a tethered remote. We use the same jack for the new Nano, the refurbished HP iPod, the Palm Zire72 and for playing the occcasional book on tape through the yellow Walkman Sport’90.
    More importantly, if you get the iPod look for a hardwired car solution. I got one on eBay for 70 bucks that plugs in through the AUX/CD in the Honda miniature van (some dashboard hijinks required) and again, a little balck cable that snakes out of the glove box and plugs into the jackhole.

  14. mrfares says:

    Hey, before you buy anything give me a call. I have some components that might be of use.

  15. Jim says:

    Well, as a certified musicphile but far, far from an audiophile, I can weigh in here to some extent; you’re more of an audiophile than me, but less than Kelly and Nate, who are insane about it, and have too much knowledge.

    Jane’s objection seems silly to me; if you want to stick with the highest possible audio quality, that’s one thing. But to simply say “this is how we’ve always done it” seems to be superficial. At any rate, you must get an iPod and at worst you can get a Monster cord to plug in to your system–I did that for a few years.

    Anyway, I can vouch for the Apple iPod speaker system. It’s the big white and black box; I wavered between it and the Bose, as they are similar prices, but I read enough reviewers who said the Apple was slightly better that I jumped. And I’m happy with it. I have little doubt that the bigger systems that are discussed above will be better sound, but I’m not sure the difference is that high for someone like you. I could be wrong. But I do very much like sound of the thing–I think it’s awesome. In any case, I did do a lot of work on the docking station options, and I’m pretty confident the Apple one is the best, available on their website. I also dig how it looks.

    Then again, if I was stable in one place like you I might go with a full system. The Apple thing does have a small perk–with D batteries it’s portable.

  16. jane says:

    Call me silly and superficial, but I like the sound quality we got out of the old system, and if we don’t replace/replicate it now, I’m pretty damn sure we never will. Dont’ get me wrong, I want an ipod, too. They’re cool and useful and the “future” and all that. Which is why I have do doubt we will get one someday regardless, probably in less than a year.

    Kelly, there is insurance $ involved. We’re looking at about $650, plus more if the speakers are fried. Doug is taking the speakers in today to have them checked out. Thanks for all product suggestions. We will probably be in contact to discuss further once we know what’s up with the speakers.

  17. Jim says:

    No offense intended, Jane. I just don’t get the big deal about saying that because you’ll likely never replace something if you don’t do it now, that you should go ahead and replace it. But if you’ve got 650 bucks to start, then I don’t know.

  18. pipelineblog says:

    This discussion has been largely settled in the following way:

    1. The speakers are still operational, and only need routine foam replacement that befits speakers that are about 15 years old. The guys at the speaker shop were pretty straight-up about the fact that I could probably spend $400 a pair to replace them, but I would still like the ones I have better. They were impressed enough that it impressed me, and I commissioned the repair job immediately. So, no powered speakers for me. Which means I have to drive the speakers with…

    2. An amp, which I am replacing. I did a lot of reading on the interweb, and learned that my now-fried NAD712 was a highly-regarded mid-price piece of equipment. I could buy a used version of what I had for about $150 on the internets, or I could buy a new piece (a Marantz SR-4021 or Integra model are most likely) for about $400. But what I’d really like to do in the next week is come across a nice $800 amp that’s used and on sale for about $400. I have no qualms with buying a used amp if it comes from a good home and a good re-seller, and there are some options here in town.

    3. I’m getting a CD player and possibly a pre-amp from Friend of Pipeline ScottF, in return for some undetermined number of beers, a family dinner, and probably some hi-fidelity listening.

    4. I’m getting an iPod. It’s already on it’s way.

    What I lose in that setup is the turntable and a higher quality CD player. Scott’s generosity allows me to turn that insurance money into the iPod.

    What I gain is the superior sound quality I’ve always enjoyed in my home stereo, which unfortunately I haven’t enjoyed for some time due to the condition of my speakers, which will soon be back in tip-top. Ultimately Jane was right; it didn’t make sense to abandon the power and quality of the mid-level home audio setup we had just to convert to an iPod, when in reality I can have both.

    Sure, I needed, practically, socially, and emotionally, to buy an iPod. But I also need that big amp and speaker setup. I need them not for blasting the windows out, but for quiet moments of listening where we can hear the texture of Sarah Vaughn’s voice, or the impossibly deep bass (even at lower volumes) of Hello Brooklyn. These are things that your average Best Buy amp or docking stations can only hint at. I’m sure the docking stations and whatnot sound very good for their size and cost, but there’s just no way they can produce the sound quality our setup has or will produce, and that means something to us.

    And so continues my on-again, off-again relationship with electricity.

  19. Sean says:

    Anticlimactic at this point, but Gizmodo is running a bracket in which iPod docks go head to head:

  20. martha says:

    the model I have (the Logitech mm50, which I love) lost in the first round. booo!

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