I’ll admit it: I’m strictly old school when it comes to audio. I still own records (hell, I still own 8-tracks). I just got my first iPod this year (no lie). In keeping with this mindset, my preference for home listening would be a traditional stereo system playing CDs. None of this plugging-an-mp3-player-in-a-dock stuff for me!
That all changed, however, when I heard the amazing Onkyo SBX-300 iOnly dock system.
In trying out the product, my initial hope was that it would be simple to use. I like simple. And really, getting the unit out of the box and plugging in the AC adapter were the most complicated steps of the setup. I plunked in my iPod and we were ready to roll with the push of a button.
To test the audio quality, I chose some older classic music as well as new, state-of-the-art-digitally-recorded music. I started with the classic choice: The Beatles’ eponymous 1968 two-record set (best known as “The White Album”). As the opening flight sound effect started up “Back in the USSR” leading into the propulsive bass-and-drums opening riff, I knew this product was a winner. Bass pumped with great oomph—this machine is engineered to emphasize bass, with two “Superbass” settings, and it doesn’t disappoint. The drums were clear and powerful. Guitar lines rang out true. Paul McCartney’s lead vocal ascended over it all with great clarity. “Dear Prudence” followed, a less rousing number, but still delivered with great punch and sharpness. And considering that Beatles records had very distinct stereo separation, it was nice to hear that even though its speakers are relatively close together, the SBX-300 provided a nice spaciousness in the stereo picture.
The more current choice was Dream Theater’s Grammy-nominated 2011 release A Dramatic Turn of Events. This was a good choice, I felt, because not only does it represent a modern rock record with full-on production; it also features a good dose of high-tech digital sampling of strings, sound effects and Tuvan throat singing—a perfect modern-day tester record, sort of a twenty-first century equivalent of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
Played through the Onkyo, the sound blew me away, from the lead-off track “On the Wings of Angels” through the epics “Build Me Up, Break Me Down” and “Outcry,” the guitars of John Petrucci, vocals of James LaBrie and keyboards of Jordan Rudess never sounded better. Drums were hard-hitting and thunderous, and the album’s flawless wall of sound came through with great precision and power.
The Onkyo dock is beautiful in its design and simplicity. Control buttons for volume and bass—as well as a line-in jack, input switch and on/standby button—are on the side of the unit, so as not to mar its sleek appearance. The front panel has source (showing white for iPod, green for line in) bass(displaying different colors for two Superbass settings) and volume (with five bars showing level) indicator lights. The lights are very unobtrusive. In truth, this unit could pass for a nice piece of sculpture or furniture with its rich black tone and triangular shape. Its dock can easily accommodate most iPod or iPad models, and it has a fully functional, easy-to-use remote control to enable quick changes of your settings.
Consider me a big fan of the Onkyo SBX-300 dock system. It offers superb sound (better than I thought was possible from an mp3 player) in an attractive, classy package that will look great in any room. Listing for $249.99 but selling in the $150–$200 range, it’s a nice value for the money—a powerful unit that can stand up nicely to more expensive products.