Review: Onkyo SBX-300 iOnly Bass Dock Music System

Onkyo's SBX-300 iOnly Bass Dock Music System is a speaker dock that works with any iOS device, including all models of the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, as well as the iPod classic and the second-generation-or-later iPad nano. Onkyo suggests a retail price of $249, but you can find it online for nearly a hundred bucks less.

The SBX-300 is shaped like an all-black, triangular prism and sports an integrated aluminum handle and base, plastic sides, and a cloth-fabric grill covering the speakers. The 7.7 pound unit measures 17.7 inches wide, 5.2 inches deep, and 6.9 inches tall.

The system's dock-connector cradle pops out from the bottom center of the unit after you push gently in the right spot. To fold the cradle back in, you first slide a switch on the front face of the unit, and then you flip the hinged cradle back into the unit's body. Centered on the front of the dock cradle is an LED that glows white when the unit is powered on, switching to green when you switch to auxiliary-input mode.

At the upper right of the SBX-300's face, shining from behind the fabric speaker cover, are a pair of LED displays. The first is a green volume indicator, which displays up to five green LEDs, depending on the volume level. The first four volume LEDs encompass seven different unmarked levels each; the fifth and loudest setting adds two more levels, for a total of 30 volume levels. The second LED indicates the status of the SBX-300's Super Bass feature (more on this in a moment): off, Super Bass 1 (green), or Super Bass 2 (orange).

On the right side of the SBX-300 sits a large, silver power button, along with several smaller buttons: Input, Volume Up, Volume Down, and Super Bass. There's also a 1/8 inch (3.5mm) auxiliary-input port for listening to a non-docking audio source. There's but one port on the rear of the unit, and that's for the included AC adapter.

The SBX-300 also ships a dinky, plastic, blister-button infrared remote controls. The remote replicates all the main unit's on-board buttons (Power, Input, Volume, and Super Bass), but it adds numerous options: Play/Pause, Previous, Next, Shuffle, Repeat, Muting, and buttons (Up, Down, Menu, and Enter) for navigating iOS or iPod menus.

At this point, I've mentioned the Super Bass feature enough times that it warrants explanation. The technology boosts low-frequency audio to add a substantial amount of bass presence. Without Super Bass enabled, the SBX-300 lacks oomph. With it enabled, especially at level 2, bass can sound a bit overwhelming--and sometimes distorted. Unless you want to adjust the Super Bass level for each song, I recommend sticking with Super Bass 1 as a good compromise.

Regardless of whether you turn Super Bass on, the SBX-300 uses Onkyo's proprietary Active Bass Control, which the company says "maintains an optimal balance of low-frequency sounds by making automatic, real-time adjustments in line with the playback volume." (You can't disable this feature.) In my testing, Active Bass Control worked well, boosting bass presence at lower volumes to compensate for the Fletcher-Munson effect.

Onkyo uses a pair of front-facing, 4.1-inch drivers along with two reflex woofer ducts (bass ports) in the back. Beyond bass, the SBX-300 offers precisely the clear, clean sound I expect from a docking speaker system of this size, and at its loudest, it can certainly fill a large party room with music. And because the unit is nearly a foot and a half wide, it does create a reasonable amount of stereo separation as long as you aren't listening from too far away.

Macworld's buying advice

I'd recommend the SBX-300 at its MSRP of $249, but with caveats about its limitations compared to similarly-priced competitors that offer a rechargeable battery or Bluetooth support. Given that the SBX-300 is readily available online for around $150, I'm comfortable endorsing it caveat-free.

This story, "Review: Onkyo SBX-300 iOnly Bass Dock Music System" was originally published by MacCentral.

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