It just takes smart shopping to assemble a do-it-yourself speaker system.
iPod owners have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to choosing a speaker system for their music player. I should know—over the past few years, I’ve reviewed many of these accessories, which typically combine an iPod dock, an amplifier, speakers, and a remote control. And while many iPod speaker systems make considerable compromises between sound quality, size, and convenience, some are quite impressive. When I’ve reviewed the best of these products—take Klipsch’s $400 iFi or Jamo’s $400 i300 as examples—I’ve often noted that users would be hard-pressed to put together a system on their own that sounds better for the same amount of money.
But that got me thinking: how difficult would doing so be? With some smart shopping, could you create a system—an amplifier, an iPod dock with remote, and speakers—that competes on both price and performance with the best systems specifically made for the iPod?
I decided to find out. I searched for components to make my own iPod speaker system, with the ultimate goal being a noticeable upgrade in sound quality over good iPod speaker systems in the same price range (which means connecting an iPod dock to a $300 “bookshelf stereo” with mediocre sound quality wouldn’t cut it).
Why go through the trouble? After all, if there are already good systems out there for $300 to $400, why not just plunk down your money and start listening instead of going to the trouble of rounding up the parts yourself? For starters, a system with separate speakers has the potential to sound better than an all-in-one box. Second, by buying the components separately, you’re future-proofing your system: you can later upgrade to a better amplifier, or a nice receiver, and even use the system for listening to CDs or radio. Apple could also make changes to future iPod models that render current iPod speaker systems obsolete; with a custom stereo, you can just buy a new dock instead of having to replace the whole thing. Finally, as an audio guy who also reviews iPod speakers, I simply wanted to see what was possible.
The ground rules
To truly replace a dedicated iPod speaker system, my build-it-yourself stereo had to meet several requirements: