We're finally getting to some more expensive docks in our Super, Mega, Ultra iPod Dock Battle. On one corner, we have the JBL On Time. It's our second clock dock, and it's pissed (we think...tough to tell). In the other corner, we have the XtremeMac Tango. It smells excellent—like our favorite variation of RightGuard. Both units retail for a deuce of Benjamins.
How will this fight end? Only one can win!
You're gonna love or hate the circular design, so we're claiming no comment. And the auto dimming display is pretty sweet. But we were excited about the On Time for its promise to be a great alarm that can double as a small bedroom stereo. The technology delivers, but the UI is utter garbage. The button layout resembles a Playstation controller on crack: X, up arrow, return symbol, power....niner. And there is no excuse for a product of any sort to have such horrid button mapping tied to a display that should be bigger for the click-heavy menu system. Buyers will certainly "learn" how to use the On Time, but why should they have to?
We'd like to see a video out and remote (first unit we've reviewed without it) as well—more than the computer hookup. Most people will use an alarm clock in their bedroom, where a TV could really benefit from easy iPod support.
The Tango doesn't try for the alarm clock identity, so it skirts out of our On Time criticism. It does have s-video out, audio in and out, and a...blue/red light that says whether or not your iPod is hooked up. We're partial to literally turning our volume up and down, but the volume buttons work fine.
For our testing we listened to Hold on Loosely by .38 special. And it rocked.
Our initial impression was that the On Time sounds like a good, packaged car stereo. There's balance, a certain pleasant ring of the high hat and a midrange vocalist that really rocks. There isn't a lot of bass, but the strong mid to highs can make you forget. The optional sub out could beef up the sound for those willing.
That circular design is the real deal, though, launching sound in all directions evenly.
But the sound field on the Tango is simply more open. The system emotes, so to speak, not falling back on acoustic trickery as much as raw speaker power and quality. It makes you realize that the only reason you dig your car stereo is that it's in your car.
The highest registers manage to cut through, but mid range vocals can become lost in the loud but often clumsy bass. Still, we liked the sound in a variety of listening scenarios, though some acoustic presents would have been a preferred solution to fixing settings in iPod.
WINNER: XtremeMac Tango
We try to remain objective, but going into the match, we couldn't avoid predicting that the On Time's feature set would make a killer combination with their strong reputation for sound quality. But what is function without the form to follow? Do any non-phone gadgets really need 11 buttons?
Obviously the XtremeMac Tango is trying to do far less, but it's doing so far better.