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.

HTR Product Rating for Denon ASD-51W iPod Dock

Criteria Rating

Performance

3.5

Value

4.5

Overall

4

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


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Like other docks I've tested, the ASD-51W does not allow you to cue up and navigate your iPod's photo library directly via the onscreen menu and remote, but you can configure manual playback of photo slideshows. To do so, you must press the remote control's Browse/Remote button to turn off the ASD-51W's control of the iPod interface. Make sure your iPod is set up to allow TV output of photo slideshows, then manually cue up the slideshow you wish to view, and it will appear on the screen. For whatever reason, you can't view single photos, only slideshows. Again, this is something I've seen on other iPod docks, so it's not specifically a Denon limitation.

Moving into the network audio arena, the ASD-51W's Network menu includes options for Favorites, Internet Radio, Media Server, Napster, and Rhapsody. If you have a Rhapsody or Napster account, you can enter your account information via the setup menu and play back those sources through whatever sound system the ASD-51W is connected to. The dock is also a DLNA-certified media player, which means it will play streamed content from any DLNA-compatible media server, as well as Windows Media Player 11 on your Windows XP, Vista, or 7 PC. Available servers on your network will appear in the Media Server menu. Compatible file types include MP3, WMA, AAC/MP4 (non-DRM), WAV, FLAC, and JPEG. Sadly, as a Mac user, I was unable to test the streaming feature. (The Denon product manager was kind enough to call my attention to a third-party DLNA-certified software called TwonkyMedia that's Mac-compatible; I'll have to give it a try.) I did enjoy exploring the various Internet radio options. This sub-menu includes the ability to browse local or recommended stations and search for stations/podcasts by location or genre. Once I added the ASD-51W to my network, I had no issues with dropped connections or stuttering playback to hinder the experience.

Obviously, the ASD-51W is not restricted to use with a Denon receiver. You can connect it to any audio system that has compatible A/V connections. However, if you do choose to mate it with a Denon receiver, the connection panel includes dock control and remote control ports for more intuitive control options through the receiver, and the ASD-51W supports Denon's Party Mode feature, which allows you to play streamed content simultaneously through the up to five Denon products on the network. 

High Points

• The ASD-51W combines an iPod dock with a network audio player that supports Internet Radio, Rhapsody, Napster, and PC/DLNA streaming.
• Wired and wireless network connectivity are supported.
• The ASD-51W features an intuitive onscreen menu and remote control. The dock is easy to set up and performed reliably.

• The player has analog and digital audio outputs.
• The unit supports Denon's Party Mode function that allows you to stream audio to multiple Denon products on the network.

Low Points
• The ASD-51W does not have HDMI or component video outputs, only S-video.
• iPod photo playback is less intuitive, as you have to manually launch photo slideshows directly from the iPod.
• Remote response was sometimes a bit sluggish.

Competition and Comparison
You can compare Denon's ASD-51W iPod dock to its competition by reading our reviews for the Marantz IS301 iPod dock and the Bose SoundDock II.  You can also find more information in our Audio Server and MP3 Player section and on our Denon brand page.

Conclusion
Denon's ASD-51W is both a nicely conceived iPod dock and a low-profile, easy-to-use network audio player. While it's a logical companion for a Denon receiver, it's well suited to a variety of audio playback systems. All in all, the ASD-51W provides an intuitive way to get your digital media files off your iPod or computer and enjoy them on a higher-quality entertainment system--and perhaps even broaden your horizons through Internet radio, Rhapsody, or Napster in the process.


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