Sennheiser, a company known for quality audio has started distributing products made by an Italian company named K-Array. They make various speakers but they also make one of the oddest things I’ve come in contact with for some time. It’s called an ecodock, and it’s sold as an eco-amplifier for iPhone 4 or 4S’s. You just have to see this thing.
The picture is about two thirds the actual size. It’s a block of plexiglass with four screws that has a space in the back to seat your iPhone. Between the two fused plastic halves, it has cutouts under the microphone and speaker that swirl around and amplify the sound. An advertised advantage is that you can play music at lower levels saving somewhat on battery usage.
The reason, or so I take it, that they put “eco” in the name is that part of the proceeds of the Italian made block go to help the children of the Les Saints Innocents orphanage in Burkina Faso, which is a small landlocked country in western Africa. The orphanage cares for 130 orphaned children who often arrive sick and malnourished and are cared for by four nuns and sixteen care givers.
This is a heart-rending story and a great cause to be sure, but I have no idea how K-Array, got involved with helping to subsidize the orphange. Nor could I find any information on how much the orphanage receives from the sale of the ecodock.
Apart from the backstory, I was really more interested in how the thing worked. Outside of being a conversation piece, the answer is that it really does work. But not as well as advertised.
I ran it through a battery of audio test signals and found that the advertised 10 db attenuation was not to be had. In fact at many different volumes and playing many different kinds of music, the results were erratic. The best result I found was playing an 800 Hz signal using Decibel Meter Pro for testing with the results recorded on an iPod Touch. The best I could get was 8 db of additional loudness. In normal use, I found that the softer the music, the less effect it had. Something loudly symphonic or loud rock, like ABACAB by Genesis did give me the 8 db but no more.
I couldn’t find a decent way to test if the microphone was attenuated, but no one had a problem hearing me from across a small room, so I’m willing to give believe that the mic works as well as the speaker.
Although the box stated that the ecodock will provide clearer sound, I just didn’t find that to be the case. Anything I tried that was loud enough to make a difference had a tinny quality added to the amplification. The highs seemed squeezed together like the olden days of transistor radios.
For US$20 it might be worth it if you travel, don’t want to take a speaker or headphone with you and intend to use it for background music. But I didn’t consider the quality of the reproduction when pitted against the louder sound a decent enough trade-off. However, it looks kind of neat and will serve as a nice stand for your iPhone while making it louder. That might do it for you. At the low price it just might be worth a try. And there’s nothing wrong with helping orphans.