PLAYBACK 22: Marantz IS301 Wireless Dock for iPod

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PLAYBACK 22: Marantz IS301 Wireless Dock for iPod

For the past several years a number of A/V manufacturers, especially those who specializing in products for the custom installation market, have offered a variety of iPod docking systems designed to let users plug their iPods into home audio and/or home theater systems. The appeal, of course, is that such docks let you turn your normally hand-held personal digital playback device into a mini-media server that the whole family can enjoy.

But one thing that has surprised me about many of the dock offerings I’ve seen is that they so often fail to take advantage of two of the iPod’s greatest strengths: namely, its portability and terrific user interface. Happily, Marantz’s IS301 Wireless Dock for iPod addresses both problems in an ergonomically satisfying way.

OVERVIEW

Consider this iPod dock if: you’d like to listen to music (or watch video content) from your iPod, yet would like to preserve as much of the tradition iPod user experience as possible. The IS301 is particularly useful in settings where you might need or want to keep your iPod stationed near your listening chair and away from your main equipment rack. The IS301 also gives you the option—at least for music playback—carrying the iPod with you as you move about the room.

Look elsewhere if: you’re a purist audiophile looking to extract digital audio signals from the iPod that can be routed to an outboard DAC for maximum sound quality. The IS301 provides analog audio and video outputs only, though it is tough to beat in terms of pure convenience.

Ratings (relative to comparably priced iPod docks):

  • Versatility: 9
  • Ease of use: 7
  • User interface: 10
  • Sound Quality: 9
  • Video Quality: 9
  • Value: 9

FEATURES

The IS301 consists of three main units:

  • an iPod handset (which serves as a carrier for whatever type of iPod you might have),
  • a base unit (which serves as a stand and charging unit for the handset), and
  • an extender unit (which connects to the base unit via wires or wireless Bluetooth connections and that provides A/V signal jacks for hooking the dock up to your audio or home theater system).

Interestingly, the IS301 is configured such that it can, when used with compatible Marantz A/V components, provide a limited range of remote control functions such as power on/off, volume up/down, and input switching. The IS301 handset also includes a USB port so that an installed iPod can be synced to the iTunes account on your PC or Mac (a USB cable is included for this purpose).

The system also includes a variety of handy accessories, including:

  • a small credit card-sized remote controller,
  • two AC power packs (one for the extender and the other for the base unit, which is used only when there are no wired connections between the extender  and the base unit),
  • two sets of AC adaptors (one set for US/Japanese-type wall outlets, the other for European wall outlets),
  • a pair of “S-Link” cables (CAT5/LAN straight-type cables) for connecting the base unit to the extender (one cable provides audio connections and the other video),
  • an A/V cable (composite video and stereo analog audio),
  • a remote cable,
  • a USB cable (for connecting PCs/Macs to iPods installed in the IS301 handset), and
  • wall-mounting screws for hanging the base unit on a wall.

 iPod compatibility; the IS301 is compatible with the following types of iPods:

  • iPod Mini,
  • iPod nano 1G/2G/3G/4G,
  • iPod 4G 20GB/40GB,
  • iPod 4G Photo 20GB/30GB/40GB/60GB,
  • iPod 5G Video 30GB/60GB/80GB,
  • iPod classic 80GB/120GB/160GB, and
  • iPod touch 1G/2G.

Interesting application note: As you can see from the list above, the IS301 is not "officially" compatible with iPhones. But we couldn't resist trying an iPhone in the dock, just to see what would happen. Our findings: when we plugged an iPhone into the IS301 handset, the iPhone displayed a message indicating we were attempting to connect to an accessory not intended for use with the iPhone. But wait: once we fired up our iPhone's iPod application, we found it would play through the Marantz dock just fine. Similarly, the Marantz remote controller had no trouble at all controlling our iPhone. Your "mileage," as they say, may vary, but in our case the iPhone worked beautifully with the IS301...

SET-UP/EASE OF USE

Base Unit

The first decision you’ll need to make when installing the IS301 is whether to use S-Link (wired) or Bluetooth (wireless) connections between the base unit and the extender module—a decision that will be governed partly by the types of media you want to play and partly by matter of convenience. If you intend to use the dock for music playback only then you will enjoy equally good results with wired or wireless connections, but if you plan on playing video content or displaying still photos from your iPod, then wired connections are a must. Once hardwired video connections are in place, a switch on the side of the base unit allows you to choose composite video, S-video, or component video outputs (depending on which of those options are supported by your particular iPod). With wired connections the base unit must be placed within about 5 – 6 feet of the extender, whereas with wireless connections you have the option of locating the base across the room from the extender and near your listening chair—an option many users will welcome with open arms.

 

Handset

With the IS301 system, you don’t plug your iPod directly into the base unit (as would be the case with many other docks), but rather plug the iPod into a Bluetooth-enabled handset that in turn clicks into a fitting on the top side of the base unit. One important point to bear in mind is that, when playing music from the iPod, users have the option of detaching the IS301 handset from the base unit and carrying it with them—relying on Bluetooth connections between the handset and the rest of the system to carry audio signals (again, the Bluetooth option works only for music playback, not for viewing video or still photos). One minor limitation is that, once the handset is removed from the base unit, the handset is powered solely by the iPod’s battery. However, once the handset is clipped back into the base unit, power supplied through the base unit will immediately begin recharging the iPod’s battery.

One very cool aspect of the handset’s design is a clever thumbwheel-style “thickness” adjuster that lets the handset work with a wide variety of iPods, and without requiring any of the little clip-in adapter plates that most docking systems use. If you’ve ever misplaced one of those docking plates, you’ll appreciate how nice Marantz’s “no-adapters-needed” design really is. But the most significant aspect of the handset is that it lets you use the iPod’s own user interface to control playback, which—in my view—is how things should be. (It amazes me that many dock makers attempt to re-invent the “user interface wheel,” so to speak, when the fact is that it very difficult to improve upon Apple’s simple, effective, and almost universally well-loved interface. Happily, Marantz really gets this.).

Extender Unit

The extender unit is simplicity itself, as it provides composite video, S-Video, component video, and stereo analog audio outputs for connection to your audio or home theater system. Additional jacks are provided for the extender’s AC adapter, an external control terminal (for example, for use with a whole-home remote control system), and for remote control signal feeds to associated Marantz A/V components. Naturally, there are two CAT5-type jacks which allow wired connections to the IS301 base unit.

Remote Control

The IS301 comes with a credit-card-sized remote control that serves two functions. First, the remote duplicates most of the control functions provided by the iPod itself, including power on/off, menu, select, play/pause, skip forward/backward, repeat, shuffle, and arrow up/down control. But second, the remote provides functions geared toward controlling associated Marantz A/V components, including amplifier power on/off, volume up/down, and input select buttons. The remote is particularly in settings where users have chosen to use hardwired connections between the base unit and the extender (say to support a video iPod), yet still want an easy way to control the system from across the room.

PERFORMANCE

For both audio and video playback I found Marantz’s IS301 dock virtually indistinguishable from using hardwired analog audio/video connections between the iPod and the main system. In practice, this means the dock offers sufficient resolution to show sonic difference between various types of audio compression you might choose to use (lossless schemes sound better than lossy ones). Interestingly, on music I could hear little if any difference between hardwired and Bluetooth audio connections between iPod and the main system, meaning there is essentially no performance penalty for using Bluetooth, if you wish to do so.

One minor quibble I should mention, though, is that Bluetooth connections between the IS301 handset are not as robust as some I’ve tried (for example, the almost bulletproof Bluetooth connections served up by the Etymotic Research wireless Ety8 Bluetooth in-ear headphones). As a result, you may experience—as I did—occasional losses of signal, especially if you break line-of-sight connections between the IS301 handset and the antenna on the extender module. Happily, it’s easy to re-establish connections with the push of a “pairing” button on the handset (or on the extender module). Still, I’d be even happier if wireless connections were never broken in the first place.

Video presentations from the iPod through the dock offers about the same resolution as a direct, hard-wired connection would. The dock does not offer the near state-of-the-art presentation you might see from certain high-end docking systems that use extensive video processing functions to restore video resolution the iPod itself is missing, but the presentation is otherwise about as good as the iPod’s video imaging ever gets.

One point I’d like to make absolutely clear is the IS301 does not extract digital audio from the iPod as a dock such as the Wadia Model 170 iTransport does. The IS301 provides analog audio and video connections only.

BOTTOM LINE:

Marantz’s IS301 wireless iPod dock gives you a simple and effective means of connecting almost any version of iPod to your audio or home theater system. Through the IS301, you can listen to music or, where your iPod supports these functions, watch videos or display still photos with the greatest of ease. The IS301 is at its very best for music playback, where the IS301’s innovative and portable Bluetooth handset lets you control playback directly from the iPod’s own user interface—an option not all competing docks allow.

 

SPECS & PRICING

Marantz IS301 Wireless Dock for iPod

A/V outputs: composite video, S-Video, component video, stereo analog audio
Other connections: USB port for syncing iPods to iTunes accounts on PCs or Macs, external control input for use with whole home control systems, remote control output for feeding control signals to compatible Marantz components.
Bluetooth compatibility: version 2.1+ EDR, supports A2DP profile and AVRCP profile
iPod compatibility: iPod Mini, iPod nano 1G/2G/3G/4G, iPod 4G 20GB/40GB, iPod 4G Photo 20GB/30GB/40GB/60GB, iPod 5G Video 30GB/60GB/80GB, iPod classic 80GB/120GB/160GB, and iPod touch 1G/2G.
Dimensions:

  • Handset (H x W x D): 4.187” x 2.687” x 1.187”
  • Base Unit (H x W x D): 1.937” x 4.875” (Diameter)
  • Extender (H x W X D): 2.375” x 7.562” x 1.437”

Weight:

  • Handset: 2.4 oz.
  • Base Unit: 8.1 oz.
  • Extender: 8.1 oz.

Warranty: Not specified.
Price: $300

Marantz
www.marantz.com 

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