Seeing the success B&W’s had with the Zeppelin and Zeppelin Air, another British hi-fi company wants in on that lucrative iPod dock money-maker. Monitor Audio's i-Deck 200 is a dead ringer for the Zep, with cool curves and audiophile aspirations, albeit without the Wi-Fi and at a lower price.
Just a month after the diminutive i-Deck 100 went on sale, and Monitor Audio’s come out with the larger-scale i-Deck 200, which is simply a bigger, badder dock that bears the promise of filling rooms moreso than their first effort. They don’t wish to put it up against the best-selling Zeppelin (and B&W's new AirPlay-enabled dock, the Zeppelin Air), but in a world of identikit docks, it’s hard not to compare the two.
Fire the i-Deck 200 up for the first time, and it conducts an "automatic position correction" test, which uses an integrated microphone to calibrate the right sound for the room. Three small booming noises ring out, and test the size of the room and the dock's location in it -- pretty neat, though you are of course taking Monitor Audio's word for it that its digital signal processor is actually adjusting the levels in reaction.
Safest amongst the mid to high range, there’s an appealing (and revealing) treble, with the sound carrying well around my flat during the tests. The higher notes of electronica-infused tracks by the likes of The Knife and Clientele sounded great, with clear vocals ringing out of the mix, particularly with female-warblers. Importantly, it sounds good at a medium volume, which some docks do struggle with.
While the dock may play nicely with female voices, it loses a lot of points with the more bassy tracks. It just can't reach the low frequencies, so there's no satisfying boom and a general lack of bass warmth when compared to the Zeppelin Air. Drum 'n bass classics by Roni Size were lacklustre on the i-Deck 200, which wasn’t the case with the Zeppelin, which has the bass bounce that will prick up any nearby ear.
Both docks defy convention with curved speaker housing that serves to project the music up and out, but there's no doubt the Monitor Audio dock is built to a tighter budget. It's lighter and feels less substantial than B&W's lead Zeppelin. To put it in plain terms, you can kind of understand why Apple has chosen to stock the Zeppelin amongst its iPod docks range, yet hasn't shown Monitor Audio much interest. The i-Deck 200 has a slightly larger footprint at 21x 8 x 9.8 inches, despite being narrower and having less room for the essential drive units.
Having said all that, it's important to remember the bottom line is the price. At £399, it’s £100 cheaper than the Zeppelin Air, which could make all the difference when sizing up the two. More importantly, the Monitor Audio thrashes many of the pretenders in its own price category, including the little Zeppelin Mini.
And if you demand wireless playback from your iDevice, you won't find it here. The chances are, Monitor Audio will adopt Bluetooth or Apple’s AirPlay for round-the-house streaming in the next model -- the i-Deck 300 perhaps -- sometime next year, so it may be worth holding off to see what shape appears in that direction instead. [Monitor Audio]