Denon ASD-51W iPod Dock Reviewed

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Denon-ASD-51W-review.gifNeedless to say, there are plenty of iPod docks on the market, and almost every A/V receiver manufacturer has released a dock designed to complement their lineup. With the ASD-51W, Denon takes this idea one step further. The ASD-51W ($299) is more than just an iPod dock; it's also a network audio player that allows you to access online music sources (including Napster and Rhapsody) and stream content from PCs and media servers on your home network. One of the ASD-51W's nicest perks is its built-in WiFi connectivity (802.11b/g), so you have the option of either a wired or wireless connection to your network. (Denon also offers the ASD-51N, which has only a wired connection.) Another benefit is the inclusion of both stereo analog and coaxial digital audio outputs, as well as an S-video output for onscreen menu navigation and video/photo playback. The ASD-51W is compatible with any iPod that uses a dock connector (except the 3rd and 4th generation, iPod mini, and iPod photo) and will charge the player when it's docked; I tested a fifth-generation iPod and an iPhone 3G, and both models worked without issue.

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I've spent about a month with the ASD-51W, and I confess I've grown very attached to it. It has followed me around the house, from my home theater system in the basement to my upstairs HDTV. It's fairly easy to set up, and the onscreen menu is intuitive to navigate using the supplied remote control. The package includes the dock, remote control, and power cable, as well as a screw-on antenna for WiFi connectivity and a special cable dongle that melds S-video, stereo analog, and a dock control connector into one cable. Analog audio is the default output option, but you can switch to digital output via the setup menu. The system does not allow you to output a signal from the digital and analog outputs simultaneously. (It's worth noting that the output from your iPod into the dock is analog.) It would be nice if Denon had included either a component video or HDMI output for the video signal; however, since my A/V receiver transcodes S-video to HDMI, it wasn't an issue to feed the ASD-51W's signal into an S-video port. Even if you don't plan to use the dock for video or photo playback, you'll want to make the video connection for menu navigation and setup.

The back panel sports an Ethernet port if you prefer a hard-wired network solution, but I went with the WiFi option. The ASD-51W supports WPS (WiFi Protected Setup); so, if you've got a WPS-supported router, network integration will be a breeze. Unfortunately, I don't, so I had to perform a manual setup. The dock will search for available SSIDs and show the kind of password encryption they use, or you can manually enter an SSID and password. This process is a bit tedious because the text system requires that you scroll through the entire alphabet (upper- and lowercase) and symbol list to select each character. A virtual keyboard would be welcomed addition. Once I was connected to the network, the ASD-51W automatically informed me that a firmware update was available, which was a quick and painless process.

The onscreen menu system is similar to that of newer Denon receivers, in which the various menu options run vertically along the left part of the screen. The remote's up/down buttons allow you to move between the menu options, while the left/right buttons allow you to move deeper into each menu. A Top Menu button takes you instantly to the main menu, which consists of iPod, Network, and Setup options. The iPod menu system and navigation are similar to that of some other docking systems I've used. The menu options mimic those of your iPod, and you can use the remote's directional arrows to move through music and video layers, just as you would with the iPod interface. Thankfully, the remote also includes buttons like random, repeat, forward, reverse, and play/pause for a more A/V-like experience during playback. With music tracks, the onscreen menu shows song, artist, album, and time, as well as album art if available. It may not be the most stylish interface I've seen, but it's clear and concise. The system allows you to explore other areas of the menu without interrupting song playback. As for video, you can use the forward/reverse buttons to move through titles within each video category, or press and hold these buttons for fast-forward/reverse functions. Finally, the remote includes mute and volume buttons that allow you to adjust sound level within the confines of your system's preset audio levels.

Read more about the high points and low points of the ASD-51W iPod dock on Page 2.

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