Just a few years ago, the notion of combining the terms ‘audiophile’ and ‘iPod’ were, simply put, laughable. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from that dismissive attitude. Since manufacturers identified the cash cow that is the iPod, we’ve been fortunate to see some quality iPod playback devices. Unfortunately, most current audiophile solutions for iPod remain expensive, complicated and/or inconvenient.
However, in 2006, once OEM-only manufacturer Kanto considered the state of the iPod speaker/dock and decided it could do better. Enter the Kanto SYD 5, whose premium cabinet construction, drivers and amplifier technology combined with thoughtful connectivity and control features make it a simple, yet incredibly-large-sounding solution for those that want big-system sound without the big-system bulk.
Out of the Box
The SYD 5’s quality is evident even before cracking open the box. At just over 22 lbs, the unit proves surprisingly heavy. This is likely due to a combination of its real-wood cabinet, stout driver magnets and hefty amplifier. Once we opened the box, we found a gorgeous gloss piano black lacquer finish staring back at us. (The SYD 5 is also available in a glossy Blue, Green, White and Red.) The furniture-grade finish showed no streaking or haze either – an indication of Kanto’s high standards of manufacturing.
At 7.25” x 22 x 8,” the SYD 5 looks just like a home theater center channel. This may create a placement issue for some, but the device should be compact enough for most home entertainment rooms, offices and bedrooms. Along with the SYD 5, we found a detachable power cord, 1/8” to RCA cable, several different sizes of iPod docking adapters and a credit-card-sized remote control.
Features and Design
Removing the grille from the front face of the SYD 5 exposes two 5.25” Kevlar bass drivers and two 3” Kevlar full range drivers. The 5.25” drivers are mounted toward the center so that the 3” full-range speakers are spaced as far apart as possible – probably to enhance stereo and imaging effects.
On the back of the unit is located the SYD 5’s very comprehensive amplifier plate. Here the user is offered both RCA stereo inputs and a 1/8” mini-jack input to allow the connection of just about any additional audio device. We really liked the provision of an AC outlet, which allows the listener to use an Apple Airport Express to deliver music wirelessly or to power and charge a non iPod music player. A manual volume control, input selection button and S-Video output for movie and picture viewing round out the list of thoughtful features.
To test the SYD 5, we used an iPhone 3G, iPod Touch and an OPPO BDP-83 Blu-Ray player. We started out with Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” from his We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things release. This ridiculously popular tune starts out with clean electric guitar chords and chunky muted acoustic guitar strumming then adds Mraz’s voice, a fender Rhodes and the rest of the rhythm section. This layering allowed us to analyze the playback of each instrument individually, then as part of a bigger mix. What we discovered was that the SYD 5 is very revealing. The 3” drivers deliver an extremely detailed music experience and managed to resolve each instrument with startling accuracy. Bass response was meaty and fairly deep and mostly free of mid-bass hump (we did note a bit of a resonance issue at 120hz, but found that varied with placement changes).
The SYD 5’s revealing nature continued to impress us as we moved on to Maceo Parker’s Roots and Grooves: A Tribute to Ray Charles. This recording has considerably less bass to reproduce and we noticed right away that the SYD 5 seemed to lack a certain oomph that we enjoyed before. A quick adjustment of the bass level brought the bass back to the mix, but without forcing a boost to any of the mid-bass frequencies. All of the zeal of the brass section came out with amazing texture. Everything said, the sound of the SYD 5 was composed, balanced and without any egregious coloration.
For some fun, we also connected the analog audio outputs of our Oppo Blu-ray player to the analog inputs of the SYD 5 and queued up Master and Commander. During the highly explosive cannonball fight scenes, the SYD 5 did admirably well. While the bass wasn’t enough to shake our foundation, it did provide a far more enriching audio experience than anything one could hope to get from their TV speakers. While clearly not designed as a dedicated home theater solution, it is certainly a candidate for those who want better sound from their entertainment system without adding multiple components.
The SYD 5 offers a video ouput of its own, so we connected our iPod touch and played Disney’s Bolt with the S-Video output connected to our display. We were pleasantly surprised with the video quality. Though inferior to that of a component or HDMI connection, the S-video output was better than that of other video capable iPod docks we’ve tested in the past.
The SYD 5 is not without a few notable problems, however. During our audition, we noted that adjusting the volume also changed the balance of the sound output. As the volume went down, so did the high frequency response. At lower volumes, we also had to boost the highs using the provided treble controls otherwise we ended up with a slightly muted sound. When we turned up the volume, the highs were too aggressive and had to be backed down. The bass response seemed to be less affected by volume changes, but we found ourselves making adjustments frequently, depending on source material.
Stereo effects were not as impressive as a two-cabinet speaker solution either, though better than most iPod speakers we’ve tested. Also, the unit’s iPod authentication chip is for iPod only so it will not play video off an iPhone. (It will, however, play video from any capable iPod, including the Touch.) In addition, the remote, though highly functional, is a tad cluttered and takes some getting used to. You’ll find that there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to matching up the remote’s control functions to those found on your iPod. Once you’re used to it though, the full menu control system becomes very convenient.
The SYD 5 is one of the best sounding iPod speaker docks that we’ve had the pleasure of testing. The unit’s great connectivity and thoughtful controls make it a very versatile piece of equipment capable of providing fantastic sound from a number of sources. Though it is suffers from a few quirks that require the user to make occasional tone adjustments, we feel that it’s build quality and audiophile-grade sound capability earn it very high marks.
- Audiophile-grade Sound
- Bass and treble adjustment
- Multiple auxiliary inputs
- Supplemental AC outlet
- Onboard and remote controls
- TV output
- Tonal balance shifts as volume is adjusted
- Cluttered remote control
- Larger size and rear ports may make placement difficult