Designer Docking

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Terence Conran is better known to Brits than Aussies — as the founder of Habitat, he brought interior design into the lives of many 1960s and ’70s middle-class Englishers who were still living with blue-painted faces in huts of wattle and daub. Conran introduced them to the wonders of wicker furniture, transforming them into civilised English fashionistas out colonising the globe.

Or something like that. Forty years on, Conran’s design studio has joined forces with Q Acoustics, a UK audio company born from the original Mission loudspeaker family, to create this unusual speaker dock.

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Why use a design team on an audio product? There are two main benefits this may impart — the first and most obvious being a notable aesthetic with which to catch the eye within an increasingly crowded market; the second, perhaps more important after purchase, being that a good design team should also aim to offer innovative touches and excellent ergonomics that make everything easy and intuitive to use.

The potential downside is that industrial designers may confuse form with function. Being visual people, can they create something that both looks and sounds good?

This dock takes a sensible path — it’s the first product to emerge under the name of Conran Audio, which combines ‘Studio Conran’ with Q Acoustics’ award-winning audio design (also rather better known over there than it is here in Australia).

What the Conran and Q Acoustics teams have achieved here is remarkable for the price — the dock may look a little plain in the images above, but it feels solid, stylish and, crucially, it sounds great.

And those small design touches really do pay off. The docking connector is pivoted so that you can’t damage the plug or socket as you bend your Apple device to extract it. The centre section also rotates, so if you have an iPhone docked you can swivel it to landscape mode and watch a movie with the sound carried through the Conran.

For a while we thought there was no remote control — then we remembered that it tucks tidily and half invisibly into the side of the main unit when not in use (a rule which should be made compulsory on all consumer electronics!).

Also nicely designed is the way the unit works without the remote. There is but a single knob, which you push to shuttle through available inputs, illumination behind the knob indicating light blue for iPod connector, green for the auxiliary input, and dark blue for Bluetooth streaming (it’s compatible with the CD-quality apt-X codec for A2DP Bluetooth stereo, if your phone supports it). Once the dock is playing, the knob operates as a volume control, while the remote control adds play/pause and remote source selection.

Given the price, we loved the sound. The amp is quoted at 30W (without distortion specs provided), while the drivers for each channel are a long-throw 75mm bass/mid range unit and 25mm wide dispersion soft-dome tweeter. These produce a sound well supported and balanced enough to get to the heart of music old and new. It doesn’t plumb quite the depths or the size of sound from, say, the B&O, so that truly deep notes can drop away. But then it’s a third of the B&O’s price, and this is a great sound from a unit this size.

You can’t dock an iPad here — but you don’t need to. That Bluetooth ability means you can stream from iPhone, iPad or iPad touch without relinquishing the device.

And at one point we had this and the B&O both on the same table, and from the adjoining room we weren’t sure which one we’d left playing (it was the Conran). Rich and real, stylish and neat, with Bluetooth and docking at a relatively real-world price — this is a great new name, even in a crowded dock market.

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