Product Re[al]view: Acoustic Research AV100b Tabletop Radio with iPod Docking Station

Product Re[al]view: Acoustic Research AV100b Tabletop Radio with iPod Docking Station

Oct 10, 2008

We love tubes. Yes indeedy we dooby doo. Any time we can talk about tubes, build with tubes, read by tubes, light up a room with tubes- we do it. When we heard Acoustic Research was sending us their delightfully styled AV100c, we camped out in the foyer of the Unplggd dorm to await the nice UPS/Fedex man. We were not disappointed.

The look:
Whenever a tube powered product is created, the designers need to take into account the fact that tubes = yesteryear. Plenty of new, high end systems use tubes so it is by no means outdated technology, but the feeling is old-fashioned. Whether it be about nostalgia or the warmth of old analog recordings, if you leave the retro aspect out of your design, you are ignoring the vast equity that tubes have built over the decades. A successful design will incorporate this equity with the modern needs of right now. AR, having been around since the early 50's, is no stranger to the past and is one of the great names in audio t'day. Their design is nothing short of perfect in these eyes; from the modern, rounded square profile to the prominently displayed amplification tubes, to the thick-woven tweed speaker grills; they got all the style cues spot on.

Sure, it doesn't have the ultra modern spaceship-raciness of the B&W we reviewed a few weeks back, but it is pandering to a different crowd- one that expects some romanticism and history in its living room. Substantial weight and build quality add to the value.

The specs are as follows:

  • Tube Technology (with an extra LED under each tube for more visual effect)
  • Hi-res tuner
  • High power amplifier (10 watts x 2!)
  • AM/FM tuner
  • Remote control
  • Works with most iPods, S-video out for video iPod
  • Audio source switching, iPod/AM/FM/Aux in

The function:
You can hook all kinds of stuff up to it; clearly it was intended for the iPods of the world, but it has two Aux inputs for whatever portable or stationary player you may have. We love the direct hookup of the iPhone/iPod cuz you can use the remote to control not only the volume and start/pause, but also to jump through menus and the critical functionality to really maximize usage of the players.

There are a few inputs and outputs out back including an s-video to run vids out of your ipod and a "subwoofer out" which can be a real boon if you want to add some boom to your music. Nice and flexible. One weird thing is the radio dial in the front that keeps begging you to turn it to adjust the volume- it's not the volume knob- that is on top, directly in front of the dock- no big deal.

The sound:
This is a great little system for your office or bedroom. We also used it in the living room and most of the time it is excellent since we have to keep the volume down (dorm rules), but we did find the limits of its capabilities there.
It really makes your iPod sound sweet and vocal music especially stands out. We listened to a great cross section of music through it and found acoustic recordings are its speciality while orchestral stuff is more challenging. Naturally these evaluations are different at differing volumes and if you are listening in a bedroom, you will love it for all kinds of music.

Something that many players don't do well is low volume; music can sound very thin and unresolved... incomplete. NOT this one though; music sounds really full and real very early in the dial's travel- if you are looking for something for your office that won't bother your coworkers or your slumbering housemates, this is the unit for you.

All in all a solid, well-realized machine with some really delicious sound, pick one up here.

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