Bookshelf iPod speakers typically incorporate larger, heavier components than portable speakers, which usually translates to better sound quality. Larger speakers also allow for more stereo separation, and some bookshelf systems even include a separate subwoofer. Lacking a battery or carry handle, bookshelf speakers are meant to stay in one place.
For those on a budget, the Klipsch iGroove SXT (*Est. $150) gets high ratings in owner-written reviews. It was originally released in 2007, but has been updated since then, without a change to the model name. The latest version will charge and play music from any iPod or iPhone with a 30-pin connector. It's also more compact than most bookshelf iPod speakers, measuring just 12 inches by 4.8 inches by 4.6 inches.
Reviewer Caleb Denison of DigitalTrends.com calls the iGroove "lightweight and unassuming," but is impressed by its sound, which is powered by two 2.5-inch woofers and dual .75-inch horn-loaded tweeters. Several experts wish it had more features, such as a clock or FM radio, but they acknowledge that this iPod speaker focuses mainly on audio quality with few extra frills. "While you won't get an AM/FM tuner, alarm clock or EQ settings in the iGroove," Denison writes, "what you will get is exceptionally balanced audio performance from a very portable and affordable product."
Owners also praise the iGroove SXT's sound quality, and many say it's a terrific value. At BestBuy.com, the Klipsch iGroove SXT enjoys a 4.5-star rating after more than 90 individual reviews, and more than 90 percent would recommend it to a friend. Reviewers say the iGroove's music sounds surprisingly loud for a compact system, and one owner writes that "It's incredibly powerful for such a little dock. You could put it in an auditorium and still hear it just fine." The editors of What Hi-Fi? also like the iGroove's performance, as long as you take price and size into account, but feel that you should look elsewhere if you want to fill a large room with a big sound. On a negative note, several owners at BestBuy.com report that the remote control's battery fails after only a short time.
On the more expensive side is the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Mini (*Est. $300), a smaller version of the popular Zeppelin iPod dock and its recent update, the Zeppelin Air (reviewed below in the wireless section). The Zeppelin Mini has a very different design from the original Zeppelin -- it no longer resembles a dirigible, for starters -- but it carries on the line's minimalist aesthetic. The Mini sits right on the cusp between portable speaker and bookshelf speaker; it measures 12.6 inches wise by 4 inches deep and 6.8 inches high, and weighs just 5 pounds, so it would be small enough to carry from room to room -- if it had a battery. The Mini doesn't have wireless capability either, but does include a USB port for streaming music from your PC or Mac, and is GSM-shielded for use with the iPhone. The Zeppelin Mini works with most iPods, except for some earlier versions of the iPod, iPod Nano and iPod Mini (see Bowers-Wilkins.com for a full list of compatible devices).
Reviewers are impressed with the Zeppelin Mini's sound quality, although it can't match the audio excellence you'll find on the original, now discontinued Zeppelin and the new Zeppelin Air (*Est. $600). TrustedReviews.com gives the Mini a 9 out of 10 rating and a Recommended label; author Riyad Emeran describes the Mini's sound as loud, clear and balanced. "Bowers and Wilkins has proved that it can produce superb iPod sound quality in a smaller chassis, while adding a few new features along the way," he writes. Bass is slightly disappointing to some, but the Zeppelin Mini outperforms most other iPod speakers in this price range. "Just like the original Zeppelin, this speaker dock is the best in its class," writes Matt Burns of CrunchGear.com. "I put it up against the similarly priced Bose SoundDock Portable and Altec Lansing systems and it clearly had better highs and lows." Numerous reviewers also say that the Zeppelin Mini is one of the most stylish iPod speakers currently available.
The Bose SoundDock is often mentioned as a competitor to the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin line. Several models are available, but the Bose SoundDock 10 (*Est. $550) is in the same price range as the Zeppelin Air (*Est. $600). This big, 18.5-pound iPod speaker dock features a dedicated subwoofer, optional Bluetooth dock (*Est. $100) and Bose waveguide speaker technology. It's compatible with every iPhone, and most iPods.
Unlike the Zeppelin Air, which is revered nearly as much for its sleek design as for its audio prowess, the Bose SoundDock 10 doesn't win very many points for style. The boxy design is tall and bulky, and nearly all you see from the front is a large wall of silver mesh. Sound quality is good by all accounts, but some experts feel that music should sound extraordinary to justify a $600 price tag. In fact, according to Jeremy Horwitz at iLounge.com, the (now-discontinued) Altec Lansing Mix iMT800 (discussed above) has comparable sound quality and costs less than half as much. (The Mix iMT800's replacement, the near-identical iMT810, is discussed in the portable section of this report.)
The Bose SoundDock 10 does get very loud without any trace of distortion, but many reviewers expect more. "Apart from its weight and size, which are all but irrelevant to us, it's hard to say that (the) SoundDock 10 measures up to a $600 level of expectation," Horwitz writes. Editors at PCMag.com and CNET agree that the Bose SoundDock 10 should offer more to justify its price.
Wireless iPod speaker systems offer flexibility, style, and freedom from cable clutter. These bookshelf systems sometimes have multiple components -- like a dedicated subwoofer or separate speakers -- that link wirelessly with the dock base. Traditionally, audio quality has left something to be desired (digital music is already compressed, and it must be compressed yet again to transmit wirelessly). However, wireless systems are getting increasingly better at offering flexible, increasingly trouble-free connections without skimping on sound quality.
One prime example is the Creative ZiiSound D5 (*Est. $160), a wireless iPod speaker system that has already received a host of awards and recommendations from experts. The Creative ZiiSound D5 is a one-piece system, and it uses Bluetooth to stream music from a distance of up to 33 feet. The ZiiSound D5 comes with a transmitter that plugs into the iPod or iPhone's dock connector; you can also buy a USB Bluetooth transmitter (*Est. $40) for use with a laptop or desktop. The ZiiSound D5 doesn't have a 30-pin dock, but it does have an auxiliary input jack so that you can connect your iPod or other MP3 player directly. Other features include a touch-sensitive onboard volume control, and an integrated rear bass port.
Most reviewers rave about the Creative ZiiSound D5. Jeremy Horwitz at iLounge.com calls it "one of the most impressive iPod and iPhone audio systems we've seen in the past three years." This is high praise coming from iLounge, which has tested nearly every iPod speaker on the market. The British technology site Pocket-Lint.com calls the Creative ZiiSound D5 "one of the best iPod docks that money can buy," ranking it on-par with high-end speakers like the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin (discontinued).
The sleek, minimalist design attracts a lot of praise, and according to reviewers the Bluetooth technology works remarkably well. Establishing a Bluetooth connection between your iPhone or iPod and the speakers takes only a few seconds. Experts also like that you don't need a remote; you can control volume or song selections directly from the iPod. (This goes over especially well because many iPod speakers have small remotes that don't work very well.) Sound quality is very good, especially for compact speakers. "There's a surprising amount of bass for such a small system and it doesn't overwhelm the overall balance, instead adding a pleasing level of depth and warmth," Hugo Jobling writes for TrustedReviews.com.
A few reviewers say the Creative ZiiSound D5's onboard volume control is too sensitive, making precise volume adjustments difficult. We also saw several reports that the speakers distort at very high volumes, especially when playing songs with a lot of bass. In addition, if you use multiple devices (such as an iPod and an iPhone), you'll need to re-pair the Bluetooth transmitter before using a new device. However, reviewers say the pairing process is easy and only takes a few seconds.
If you were fond of the original Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin, its replacement, the Zeppelin Air (*Est. $600) retains the characteristic blimp shape, which one reviewer describes as more of a giant pill. More than one expert reviewer theorizes that the Zeppelin Air's sound may have been improved somewhat over the original Zeppelin, which reviewer Riyad Emeran of TrustedReviews.com describes as "staggeringly good."
The "Air" designation identifies the newest Zeppelin model as compatible with the lossless Apple AirPlay protocol. Some user reviewers found setting up the AirPlay network to be a challenge, and expert reviewers David Carnoy and Steve Guttenberg, of CNET, agree that setup can be confusing for some. Nonetheless, in the end, Carnoy and Guttenberg decide that the Airplay setup process is still "fairly straightforward."
Not everybody is a fan of AirPlay in its current form. The authors of the iLounge 2012 iPhone + iPod Buyer's Guide warn that, "Sadly, many [Airplay speakers] are prone to signal drops," and suggest that although AirPlay might improve next year, Bluetooth wireless speakers still offer "top bang for the buck." A few Zeppelin user reviews do mention occasional signal problems, and Trent Wolbe of Engadget notes a brief (about two-second) lag between pressing play and hearing the music come through the speakers. However, most users and experts are still very happy with the Zeppelin's AirPlay compatibility. Campbell Simpson, writing for PCWorld Australia, feels that the AirPlay compatibility is one of the biggest reasons to purchase the Zeppelin Air. (He also mentions that he wishes the Zeppelin Air had a display screen to help users navigate the initial setup.)
If you're not a fan of AirPlay, the Zeppelin Air still retains its spring-loaded 30-pin cradle atop a slender silver mount. "The protruding cradle may look suspiciously like a carrying handle," writes Libby Plummer for the UK gadget-review site Pocket-Lint, "but using it as such is likely to end in breakage and tears." She goes on to describe the Zeppelin Air's remote control as looking "a bit like a shiny black pebble." She doesn't seem bothered by what she terms the remote's "rudimentary selection of controls," however, its inability to navigate iPod menus may be a problem for some. Another common gripe is that although the Zeppelin Air does have a composite video output, it lacks component or S-video output options. A few reviewers designate this as a luxury item due to the high cost, but there's a general consensus that it's well worth the price -- if you can afford it.
Not every wireless speaker comes in such a big package (the Zeppelin Air measures 25.2 inches wide). The Audyssey South of Market Dock (*Est. $300), or SoMa for short, measures just 9 inches high, 9 inches deep, and 5 inches wide. Audyssey manufactures audio components for home audio systems, so they already had plenty of experience with home audio before producing this, their first stand-alone product. The small SoMa unit provides big sound; several users conducted their own comparison tests between the Audyssey and various Bose speaker models, and decided that the Audyssey sounds better. It also has built-in Bluetooth streaming -- no expensive dongle required -- and the Bluetooth playback is good, but not quite as good as docked play, because the SoMa uses a lossy protocol.
Although most reviewers praise the Audyssey South of Market for its excellent sound (David Carnoy of CNET comments on its "good detail and bass"), a few other bells and whistles could use some polishing. It comes with two directional microphones and a built-in speakerphone function, but during test calls, listeners on the other end of the line sometimes reported hearing echoes or muddled-sounding transmissions. The Audyssey also comes with a companion app, which allows you to use your iPod or iPhone to creative custom sound equalization curves. One reviewer calls the app "interesting"; otherwise it goes mostly ignored.
Aside from the speakerphone, we found very few complaints about the SoMa. One user wishes the power cord were longer. Another feels that the remote control, which otherwise works very well, is difficult to aim just right. We also found a single Amazon.com reviewer who writes that the Audyssey SoMa sometimes turns his iPod on for no apparent reason. Another user wishes that this speaker had a rechargeable battery, making it into a portable device.
The SoMa comes with a 3.5 mm aux-in cable and a USB cable (for updates), and its dock is designed to accommodate even the bulkiest of iPhone or iPod cases. Overall, reviewers feel that the Audyssey South of Market is expensive, but worth it.
The Sonos ZonePlayer S5, now called the Play:5 (*Est. $400), is another wireless system worth a look. The one-piece system has five speaker drivers, including a subwoofer, two tweeters and two mid-range drivers. For better stereo sound, you can buy an additional unit to place in the same room and the two speakers will connect wirelessly (although that's an expensive option). Like the Creative ZiiSound D5, the Play:5 doesn't have an iPod dock at all. IPhone and iPod Touch users can connect to the Sonos Play:5 using the free Sonos Controller app, available from the iTunes store. You can play music from other iPod models (and non-iPod MP3 players) via the auxiliary jack, although this somewhat defeats the point of purchasing a wireless speaker.
Reviews of the Sonos Play:5 are generally positive. David Carnoy of CNET says its speakers offer good sound quality in a stylish, subtle enclosure. The iPhone app is easy to use, and sound quality is good in comparison to other iPod speakers. In fact, Carnoy says the sound quality is better than the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Mini (*Est. $300), a pricier wired speaker dock. PCMag.com reports no distortion at high volumes, although bass response is limited. User reviews are also positive, and the Sonos Play;5 enjoys 4.5- and 4.7-star ratings at Amazon.com and BestBuy.com, respectively. Users find setup relatively easy, and most are pleased with the sound quality.
Although the Sonos Play:5 offers some wireless flexibility, it does require an Ethernet connection (if you buy multiple units, only the first speaker needs to be connected to the Internet). If you want to use the Play:5 where it can't connect to an Ethernet cable (like a kitchen or patio), you can buy the Sonos Bridge (*Est. $50), which connects to your Ethernet router and creates a wireless network for the Play:5 speakers. Some reviewers find this requirement annoying, but most don't see it as a deal-breaker.