Walkmans and Discmans are passe, and an MP3 player or an iPod is what the majority of people are using. Listening to your MP3 player or iPod with headphones is fine if you are on the go, but if you want to play it out loud for yourself and your friends, an iPod dock is a great accessory to have (provided you have an iPod in the first place) There are so many of them available, and there is a dock for everybody. But how do you know if you are buying the right one? Here’s a step-by-step buying guide that’ll help you make the right decision.

Your first step would be to see whether your iPod is compatible with the docks of your choice. You will need an adapter for some of the earlier iPods, without which you will not be able to use the dock. With some earlier iPods, you may need to connect it using the connector cable, which actually does not make sense, as the iPod won’t get charged. However, all the new iPods will not have this problem, except for the iPod Shuffle, with which you will have no choice but to connect with a 3.5 mm pin like you would any other MP3 player. The great thing about having a dock is that you can also connect an iPhone to most of them, although some of them might not mention this feature. However do take care, some docks really are non-compatible, and you may experience some irritating noises when your cell phone is about to ring.

Usage, Price and Size
What do you want to use your iPod dock for? Do you want it to be a party entertainer when your friends and family come over, would you like to use it for backing tracks while you practice your bathroom singing, or would you like to use it on the go? There are a lot of other factors that come into play here. And all these factors are linked to each other. For instance, budget. You can get a small iPod dock like the JBL On Stage Micro for Rs 4,990 or if you’re feeling rich, the Bose SoundDock 10 for around eight times the price. Of course, there are plenty of other docks that are cheaper and way more expensive as well.

When you’ve figured out how much you want to spend, the next step is to ensure you know what you will be using the dock for. If it is too small, it most certainly won’t be the life at parties, and if it is too big, well there’s the size and the fact that you won’t be able to keep it at your bedside table. Another aspect you should definitely look at is whether it is battery operated if you plan on carrying it around with you. 

It is really easy to say ‘just buy the one that sounds best’, but how do you know if the sound is really good? You need to check for telltale signs of bad drivers and digital-to-analog convertors (DAC). If you buy some cheap junk, you might think you are saving money, but the audio quality will definitely suffer. So make sure that there are no excess vibrations coming from the dock and that the bass is sufficient. Also, ensure that the sound doesn’t distort at high volumes, although this is likely to happen even with small docks from reputed companies.

Many docks come with extra features such as alarm clocks, radio, dual-docking systems, etc. You might want something that has some of these features, or even a simple dock to charge your iPod/iPhone and listen to music. The more features you find on a dock, the more expensive it might be, and sometimes, these features are barely of any use. For instance, the JBL On time Micro has features such as brightness and contrast for a monochrome display. This is something they could’ve done without, in turn shaving off the price on an expensive, but otherwise good product.

There are other features that you might want in a dock too, such as an auxiliary input for plugging in your laptop, mobile phone or portable media player. Some small docks like the JBL On Stage Micro take it a step higher by providing audio outputs so you can connect them to louder speakers. This particular dock also has a mini USB port so you can hook it up to your PC.

Going the extra mile
There are some really extravagant pieces of audio equipment that also throw in an iPod docking system, for example, Panasonic’s SC-PT470 , which is a full-blown home theatre setup that has an iPod dock as well. This is a good option for those who want an all-in-one system where they can watch movies, as well as plug in their iPod or iPhone. But where one succeeds, another must fail, and Philips has done that with the HTS9140 Soundbar. Instead of keeping it simple, they’ve added an 8-pin connector and expect you to buy a separate dock from them to connect your iPod/iPhone.

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