iPod speaker docks provide a convenient way to bring your music collection to life without necessarily involving a large home entertainment system. You can place them almost anywhere, and they will fill that room with music. What they won’t do is follow you around as you move about your house, or simultaneously provide music both indoors and outdoors during one of your famous summer BBQ’s. For that sort of thing, you’ll need a wireless speaker system. Unfortunately, most wireless speaker systems for the iPod leave much to be desired. Their bad reputation stems from limited wireless range, less-than-great sound, and limited usability.
Sony aims to address most of those issues with their new Altus line of wireless speaker products designed for use with the iPod and iPhone. In this review, we test the Sony Altus SA31iR iPod docking station with wireless speaker stations to see if they’ve successfully overcome the issues that have plagued wireless iPod speaker products of the past.
The SA31iR package comes in an impressively compact box. No space inside the box is wasted, which we can appreciate, but this sort of packing job is nearly impossible to recreate should one need to. We suggest taking notes if you think you may need to repack it at some point in the future.
Once unpacked, we took inventory of the box’s contents. We received one AIR-SA17Ti (an iPod dock that, like the speakers, is compatible with other Sony Air products), two AIR-SA50R wireless speakers, three DC power adapters, three different remote controls, an FM antenna, three packs of batteries, a quick start guide and a user manual.
All of the components are gloss black and rather retro in their design. Looking at the wireless speakers, we are reminded of Sony’s late 80’s boomboxes. As it turns out, the function of these wireless speakers ends up being as rudimentary as the aesthetics. The iPod dock, on the other hand, has a more modern appeal, complete with glowing blue trim lighting.
We also found ourselves wondering at the three remote controls of differing size. At first glance, they appear to perform the same essential functions, but we later learned that each offers a uniquely different functionality; a point we’ll cover in further detail later.
The iPod/iPhone dock can send out either iPod music, or FM radio information wirelessly. The back of the dock includes A/V outputs for connection to a TV, an S-AIR switch that allows you to change the wireless channel your system communicates on, an FM antenna connection and a card slot that accepts a proprietary wireless ID card required for secure wireless connection of the dock and speakers.
The wireless speakers are comprised of a single speaker in a ported cabinet with a built-in amplifier. Along the top of the speaker is a single-line LCD display, and several control buttons. On the back of the speaker is a 1/8-inch auxiliary input for another audio device and an S-AIR switch.
Most of the controls on the speakers and dock will be found on one of the three corresponding remote controls. The largest of the three remotes includes an LCD display screen for track, artist and album information while away from your iPod. The medium-sized remote offers some iPod navigation so that you don’t have to actually touch your iPod, but since you have to be in front of the iPod to see what you’re doing anyway, it is hard to see this feature as a benefit. The smallest of the three remotes is both the most basic and most useful of the three remotes. Its small size makes it easy to keep on hand as you roam the house and it will communicate with your iPod through any of the wireless speaker stations.