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Portable media devices like Apple’s iPod and iPhone were initially designed for personal entertainment, but now it’s easier than ever to transform these handheld music repositories into full-fledged stereos. The idea was that these personal stereo units would replace older bookshelf stereos that crammed together a CD player, radio and speakers—and the idea has taken off. Prices range from as little as $20 for a basic speaker set to $700 or more for powerful yet elegant systems that will please the eardrums of any audiophile.
Bose Corp. is the manufacturer to beat in this category. Its SoundDock, introduced in 2004, set the audio quality standard. Today competitors including Bowers & Wilkins (B&W), JBL, Monster and NAD offer systems that aim to outdo Bose.
The systems we considered share certain traits: they charge iPhones and iPods, and they offer auxiliary input jacks so you can attach non-Apple media devices. And according to reviews from audio aficionados, they all pale in comparison with traditional, component stereo systems in terms of sound quality. That said, some of these docking stations provide good audio quality. And many, including our first-place finisher, perform high-tech tricks that most component systems can’t match.