Many firms make compact iPod sound systems, which seems like a fine idea right up until you realize that most of them treat iPods as little more than glorified “CD changers.” The problem is that almost all iPod sound systems have missed the fluid look and feel of navigating through the iPod’s easy-to-use, thumbwheeldriven control menus—until now. Meet George, from Chestnut Hill Sound, the first sound system whose user interface not only duplicates, but arguably improves upon, the iPod’s own control system. George sells for $499.95.
George, which is named in honor of the Beatle’s legendary producer Sir George Martin, at first appears to be a traditional, compact, single-box iPod sound system. But the closer you look, the more differences start to jump out at you. For starters, George features five speakers, each optimized for its intended function: two 1-inch tweeters, two 3-inch mid-bass drivers and one 4-inch, downward-firing subwoofer. Chestnut Hill describes George as a bi-amplified 2.1-channel system, where built-in left/right speakers share a common subwoofer. Next, you discover that George features a large, centrally positioned, illuminated control panel that sports a master control knob, 12 ergonomically-designed control buttons, a “snooze” bar, and a big, bright 2 ¼-inch wide LCD display screen. The panel doubles as a detachable remote you can carry with you or place in an outboard charging stand.
Essence of the iPod
What sets George apart is a unique remote control that wirelessly downloads all relevant metadata from your iPod the instant you plug it into George’s top-mounted dock. From a practical standpoint, this means you’re free to relax in any “place of comfort” you like, while carrying an illuminated remote that contains a duplicate copy of the data on your iPod. Want to browse through Album or Artist listings from across the room? No problem. Just punch the remote’s “iPod” button, then spin the control knob to scroll through the appropriate selections. Or, take advantage of George‘s “jump ahead” buttons, which let you narrow searches to Albums (or Albums or Songs) whose names begin with “ABC,” “DEF,” and so on. Most manufacturers claim their remote controls are “intuitive,” but George’s control system is the real deal. If you can drive an iPod, you’ll have George figured out in a matter of seconds, period. Its user interface is that good.
Bandless Radio, A Killer Alarm Clock And More
George provides an innovative “bandless” radio system that combines the FM and AM radion bands into one continuous “loop.” This means you can scan straight from the FM band to the AM band, and back again, choosing stations at will. What is more, George’s preset system lets you mix FM and AM stations (displaying tuning frequencies for all stations), making it easy to create genre-based station groups.
Finally, George serves as a supremely flexible alarm clock. You can choose to wake to your favorite radio station or to the sounds of any track stored on your iPod, and you can set-up alarm clock functions independent of the source you may be listening to at the moment. In short, George can give you virtually any kind of “wake up call” you might want.
George provides an auxiliary input where you can connect an outboard CD player or non-Apple digital music player. But an even more intriguing option is that of using George’s analog audio outputs to turn the system into a source component you can connect to your main home theater or stereo system. Used in this way, George becomes a great general purpose iPod dock, but one that happens to come with the slickest user interface around.
What About Sound?
In simple terms, George offers smoother, more refined, and better balanced sound than typical mid- $300 iPod systems, such as the Apple iPod Hi-Fi. The system sounds smooth, natural and well-balanced from the upper bass region through the lower treble region, so that it is easy to listen to for prolonged periods of time—something that can’t be said of some competing mid-priced rigs.
Put on a album such as Neil Young’s Prairie Wind [Reprise] and try “This Old Guitar”—a lovely duet between Young and Emmylou Harris—and you’ll hear plenty of vocal and instrumental subtlety, minus the edginess, coarseness and stridency many iPod rigs impose. Though not the last word in detail or resolution, George exhibits greater subtlety than most mid-priced systems do, which is all to the good. And the George’s bass, as observed on hardrocking albums such as Queens of the Stone Age’s Era Vulgaris [Interscope], is satisfyingly meaty up to a point—though there is not a terrific amount of bass output down below 80Hz. In practice, George can handle all but the lowest notes on a 4-string bass guitar, though it does not go low enough to reproduce bass from big kick drums, pipe organs, etc.
But good though the George is, it is not quite in the same league as today’s best tabletop systems, such as the B&W Zeppelin (reviewed in Playback issue 2) or perhaps Polk I-Sonic (reviewed in The Absolute Sound issue 169). Compared to the B&W or Polk rigs (which sell for about $100 more than the Chestnut Hill system), the George offers less extended and refined response at both frequency extremes, less detail, and less dynamic punch. George doesn’t sound “bad” by any means, but competing systems can, for a bit more money, produce a significantly bigger, fuller, and more room-filling sound.