It’s been several years since iPod streaming docks were the rage, as manufacturers instead turned their attention to working with Apple’s iPad, but there’s no denying the benefits that a good iPod-based system can deliver as a single-room solution.
At a recently reduced price tag of $600 (note: that’s down from the $700 mentioned in the video review below), the VISO 1 will naturally be compared with the B&W Zeppelin product at the same cost level. Both certainly cater to discerning music fans who have a little more money to invest in a product than casual listeners.
A key difference between these types of streaming docks and those in the good/better categories is that they truly mix superb engineering and design on both the sound and aesthetics fronts. I own a $99 dock that serves the purpose of playing music from an iPod, but the difference between hearing it and the VISO 1 is like going from standard-definition TV to high-def.
The modern industrial design of the VISO 1 will not work for everyone - my wife still can’t decide if she likes it; I think it fits beautifully on the dark wood-grain IKEA bookshelf in our living room - but it is a tad more traditional than the spacey Zeppelin so that could provide wider appeal. Also, along with the price reduction NAD also announced the VISO 1’s new availability in white (see image below).
The unit is perfect for a corporate or home office (or, with graduation season coming up it could be a killer gift for your soon-to-be college dorm dweller), but sound-wise it also had no trouble whatsoever filling my modest-size living room with music. Of course, with an iPod - in this case an iPod touch - you can access all sorts of digital and streaming music, so I checked out everything from my iTunes collection ripped in various lossy and lossless file formats, Pandora, TuneIn Radio, Wolfgang’s Vault and the Live Music Archive.
An iPod/iPhone fits snugly into the actual dock cradle, which can be oriented horizontally or vertically. My 5-year-old daughter had no problem figuring out how to place and remove our iPod touch.
NAD lists the VISO 1 frequency response at 33Hz to 28kHz and employs its proprietary Direct Digital amplifier technology to play the iPod-stored music straight from its native digital form. NAD also says it bi-amps the system for low distortion and wider frequency response.
Unlike the Zeppelin, the VISO 1 does not include Apple’s AirPlay for access to networked iTunes, but it does have Bluetooth wireless streaming support for such devices. It also includes an optical port so you can play 24-bit/96kHz files from a Blu-ray player or PC, as well as component I/Os for use with connected video.
A big plus for NAD is its sister company, PSB Speakers, whose work in conjunction with NAD’s electronics adds up to some stunning results. I’ve heard plenty of muddy and amorphous sounding music emanating from other compact dock systems. The VISO 1 rivals good bookshelf speaker systems with its clarity, detail and stereo separation.
Tracks from my iTunes sounded full, and not tinny or thin on the high and low ends. Listening to older tracks such as “Dazed and Confused” and “Good Times Bad Times” off Led Zeppelin I and “Friend of the Devil” from the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, I thought the bass lines were well defined and added some much-needed warm undertone that compact speaker systems often lack. John Bonham’s drumming on the Zeppelin tracks was rendered with thump, while the acoustic guitar and mandolin strumming from the Dead felt lively and realistic rather than muted.
The VISO 1 didn’t strain at all when I tested it with some dynamic, visceral female vocals from Joss Stone and Pink, whose pipes sounded quite natural and clear, even when played at low volumes.
Detailed separation could really be heard when I checked out some early 1970s soundboard concert recordings of Traffic and Chicago streamed from the Wolfgang’s Vault app. These are solid recordings, and I found that the VISO 1 enhanced the experience by producing a nice, wide soundstage and imaging that gave equal opportunity to the many individual musicians within the mix. Instrumentation such as the brass section in Chicago is rightly prominent, but doesn’t seem to trample over the rest of the band.
I fear other compact systems could squash the sound of these concerts, but with the VISO 1 the presentation lives up to the lofty expectations of a step-up product.