In the world of iPod speaker docks there are options galore, with just about every company having a crack at helping the tunes in your pocket escape and fill the room. It makes perfect sense too, if you have an iPod, having a docking solution makes perfect sense.
The GEAR4 SoundOrb Aurora takes a slightly different tack to other docks out there by offering a subwoofer, delivering that bass that so many compact systems lack. Of course, subwoofers are boring black boxes that sit in the corner of the room and grumble away to themselves. Not so fast, GEAR4 have thought about that too.
The separate subwoofer unit (a dome measuring 190 x 220 x 220mm) has a 5-inch woofer in the base, and sits neatly generating bass to compliment your tunes. It connects wirelessly, so all you have to do is plug it in and you are set. It also takes care of the "Aurora" part of the name, providing a light-fantastic colour display as your music plays.
Ok, perhaps we've over-egged it a bit. It changes colour as the white plastic top of the subwoofer houses coloured LEDs. These LEDs are capable of producing 16,000 different colours, but as it moves through the colour spectrum, you'll probably only notice seven: pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple.
The effect is great, as the colours softly change, adding a great deal of interest to what is normally a boring speaker. It softly glows, bright enough to be noticeable in daylight, but casting the colours a little more as you dim the lights.
The colours only work whilst the music is playing or paused - if you turn off the main unit it will stop, so if you want light without music, you have to keep it turned on. You can change the rate of colour change via a dial on the back, as well as being able to lock in a particular colour, or turn the colours off.
Moving onto the main dock itself, it takes the normal soundbar form (132 x 300 x 155mm), with the dock in the top, flanked by four touch-sensitive controls for power, the sound effect and volume. Various inserts are provided for the latest generation of devices, so if you have an old-style nano, you'll have to forego the insert: a minor point. Of course, if you are a shuffle user, you're out in the cold.
The dock is constructed from white plastic, with a nicely curved back, reminiscent of older Apple designs. The front is covered in black mesh, behind which lurk the two 2.5-inch speakers. Around the back you have RCA connections meaning you can play content from your iPod or iPhone on your TV, or use the SoundOrb Aurora as a compact home theatre system.
Plug your iPod into the top and it will charge whilst docked. With no display on the SoundOrb Aurora itself, you'll have to use the display on the iPod to navigate the menus. Fortunately the supplied remote does give you full access to the menus.
The remote is rather cheap, being typical of the sort of remote that comes with speaker docks. As you'll be using it for pretty much all the controls, we'd have rather seen something more substantial, especially at the £249 that GEAR4 are asking. That said, it is simple enough to use.
The remote lets you navigate the iPod menus as well as the main volume control and subwoofer level so you can set the bass just right for your music, personal preferences and room position, surface it is sitting on, etc. You get the normal shuffle and repeat options, as well as three buttons to drive the acoustic effects: stereo, 3D, and wide.
There is a distinct difference between the three settings, with the normal stereo providing the most authentic delivery of music, with detail getting lost in the 3D and wide modes. There is less of a different between these latter two sound modes, designed to give you a wider sound stage for a more immersive audio experience. We've heard better delivery in larger systems, but you can take it or leave it and we stuck with the standard stereo, which gave the best overall results.
If we had a criticism of the SoundOrb Aurora it would be that the main speakers in the dock aren't the best. We found music to be a little muffled, so the delivery isn't the clearest it could be. However, this is a compact system, so that perhaps isn't a critical issue: if sound quality is your prime concern, you'll do better with a larger system.
The GEAR4 SoundOrb Aurora is an impressive package overall, giving you something a little different from your standard iPod dock. The addition of the subwoofer is welcomed, but making it change colours is something that will appeal to a number of people, as it will add more than just music to your room.
It's a shame that it doesn't go further and offer wider functionality, such as a radio and a better quality remote, which would have seen the SoundOrb Aurora race in with higher marks. But as it is, for the month we've had the SoundOrb Aurora setup at home, everyone has commented on it, kids love the changing lights and the easy access to your music makes it an ideal party solution. It costs a little more than some iPod docks and you could just opt for a Philips LivingColors light for around £80, if that's the thing that really appeals to you.