Review: George Is An iPod's Best Friend

If you're serious about getting music out of your iPod, then this audio equipment is for you -- if you've got some money to burn.
Face it: Earbuds suck. Especially when you're at home and want to turn it up a little. There are iPod docks that provide a little amplification, but they tend to be mediocre at best. If you want to control the way you play your music, let George do it.

George is to iPod docks as King Kong is to organ-grinders' monkeys. It looks like the familiar Bose Wave and similar audio gourmet tabletop radios, and packs a lot of audio engineering into a small case: a downward-firing subwoofer and right- and left-channel midrange and tweeter speakers with almost no separation at all.

George is to iPod docks as King Kong is to organ-grinders' monkeys.
Click image to enlarge.

Like the Bose, it sounds great, but that's just for openers. George puts you in control. You can not only set the bass and treble boost, but the frequencies they kick in on as well. While George isn't as bass-heavy as some tabletops, it can rattle the windowpanes if you push it. And while the stereo separation is nonexistent, George puts out a clean, clear sound that fills a space without overwhelming it, and travels well -- it doesn't go all tinny if you're listening from another room.

You can dock just about any recent iPod model using a set of interchangeable dock modules snap into a socket on top of the George. The control panel has a small LCD display and a big, rubbery central knob flanked by four buttons labeled (like the iPod) Menu, Play/Stop, Beginning, and End. In addition there are eight smaller buttons under the display screen that are "softkeys" -- they perform whatever function the screen assigns to them.

Presto Chango: Remote Control
This is important because the control panel does a really neat trick: it snaps off the front of the George to become a remote control powered by its own rechargeable battery. Drop your iPod in the George dock, carry the control panel over to the couch, and control your music just as if you had your iPod in your hand. Sweet.

The control panel snaps off the front of the George to become a remote control.
Click image to enlarge.

George also plays AM and FM radio (and lets you preset 24 stations in any combination of AM and FM), and has an auxiliary input connector so you can plug in devices more retro than your iPod, like CD and cassette players, through their headphone jacks. (I found it really disappointing to play a CD after listening to an iPod: the control panel doesn’t control anything but the volume, and you can't see the track titles.)

Want more? There are five individual alarm and timer settings. George even knows how to accessorize: if you mostly use the control panel from across the room, you can fill the blank space on George's face with an included panel that matches the speaker grills and buy a separate $50 docking/charging stand for the control panel.

George is the product of a new company, Chestnut Hill Sound of Newton, MA, that has roots in both audio and computers, and it shows. This is an audio appliance with a brain -- it's microprocessor controlled -- and one of the most interesting things about it is that it can change its mind: George comes with a USB cable, ready to be plugged into your PC and updated across the Internet. As of this writing, there weren't any upgrades available, but given the pace of model changes in the iPod product line, it's easy to imagine updating George with a new dock insert and a firmware download -- and it's hard to imagine doing that with any other iPod dock.

While the good news about George is its quality, the bad news about George is its $550 price tag. Add $50 for the optional control panel dock, and more if you want fancy wood-grain casing in your choice of cherry, walnut, or black oak (how much more won't be decided until they ship later this month). However, if you can handle the cost, it's worth it.

Chestnut Hill Sound, Inc.
Price: $550
Summary: If you have an iPod and want it to produce music, not just background noise -- and you have some extra cash to throw around -- you'll want to check out the great features of George.

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