By Nate Adcock updated on 08/31/2010
Decent audio dock components (ones that don't cost a fortune, but produce a good sound) for iPod (only iPod...correction posted) are pretty common now, but finding one that looks totally cool doing it is always a bonus. This year, I checked out quite a few audio-related components for iPhone, and iPod (starting back in January at CES). The iCrystal is one of my favorites in this category of dock for iPod. It plays music, it charges, and it looks totally awesome in the process...
The iCrystal has been around for awhile (received a CES iLounge award), but I never did get the time to get my hands on one until recently. The unit is a little smaller than a toaster, and the ergonomic, futuristic design of the sturdy plastic molding sets this dock off from others. The iCrystal comes in 3 colors (red, white and black), and includes a charging unit, and a credit card sized remote.
Leaving an alarm-clock configuration off this dock is perfect, in my opinion, as you might want it next to your slick wall-mounted flat screen, or taking the place of your PC speakers (has a 3.5mm input jack built-in), not hidden in a bedroom. Of course, being relatively lightweight and portable, it works fine anywhere, but I also have a Sony dream machine dock in the bedroom, which I wouldn't replace with the iCrystal.
Speakel, the makers of this unit, also have several other dock styles (including the iPig, iBoo, miSoccer, iPanda, iPom and coming soon the iExec). The other docks are all animal or toy-shaped speaker systems, and the iPig especially has garnered some rave reviews as having astonishly good quality. The iExec looks like it's straight out of a Star Wars movie (something Vader would have on his desk maybe, only in black). The iCrystal is a little thin on bass, but the audio quality is similarly excellent for a dock of this price range ($79.99, currently out-of-stock in Speakal's online store, but I was able to locate some on other re-sellers like Amazon).
On the back of the unit, there is a jack to plug in the included power adapter, a 3.5mm audio input jack port, and a switch to use battery power (instead of AC power). The base underneath has a battery compartment that holds 4 AA batteries required (not included). The demo unit I was able to test was defective, so I couldn't test battery power. The only other problem I had was using my iPod touch (2G). I couldn't always get it to work with the dock (play music, etc.), but I knew the unit was defective before reviewing it (it was the only demo unit left). I also tested with my older iPod Nano, and it worked fine, and plugged my PC output to the 3.5mm jack to test the line-in playback as well.
The remote is nothing especially fancy. You can play/pause and forward/reverse through your songs, call up the iPod menu, and do pretty much the standard remote actions you would expect (mute, vol+/-, etc.). I also have a HomeDock from DLO, and with it can shuffle, and turn on repeat modes, navigate my playlists and turn on the backlight remotely. I would have liked to see more similar features on the iCrystal, but truth to tell, I don't often rely on them anyway. The aspect I really like on the iCrystal is the touch-sensitive controls on the unit itself. They look like buttons (I even tried to press them down at first), but actually they are sensor pads. You simply have to touch them lightly to activate a player function (Play/pause, next/prev, vol+/-, etc.). When the unit is muted, the volume buttons flash to alert you.
With power on, a soothing blue light emits from above the speakers. The speakers themselves are mounted facing up with a rounded cap facing downwards about an inch above. The dome-like structure produces 360 degrees of sound. You can walk to the rear while the unit is playing, and hear about the same level of output as you would from the front. I cranked up playback pretty high, and could hear no distortion to speak of. The sound quality was perceivably better than my Sony dock, and easily better than the DLO dock, which even plugged into a decent stereo system (output) can produce distortion.
So, yeah a few minor glitches in this review (but I expected them), and had already seen/heard this dock in action at the show. Impressive sound (for the price), and good looks will usually add up to my stamp of approval. If you have a good alarm dock already, you probably don't want to replace it with this one. If you want something cool to sit on the counter, next to your computer, or even in the living room, go grab an iCrystal.