The scoop: George, by Chestnut Hill Sound, about $550.
What it is: A high-end iPod docking station with built-in speakers, George has a very innovative remote control that detaches from the unit to let you control playlists, songs and volume wirelessly (it uses ZigBee wireless technology). The device also includes an AM/FM radio and alarm-clock features, as well as an auxiliary port input and an audio output for connecting to larger home stereo systems. An extra $50 (I'd recommend doing this), buys a cradle for the remote control that recharges it independently of George. Like other iPod docking stations, George recharges the iPod while it's docked.
The 2.1 speaker system includes coaxial (two-way) speakers paired with a 4-inch subwoofer optimized for low-frequency reproduction. A dial on George's back raises or lowers the bass frequency.
Why it's cool: Hands down, it's the remote control. The designers of this system excelled at creating a user interface that rivals the iPod's. Anyone who can use the menus on an iPod will how to use George. Unlike other docking-station remotes that use similar buttons for different functions, George remote's has a large knob that can be turned to select songs, choose options and change the volume; and smaller buttons for play/pause and song forward/reverse. In a dark room, the user never has to turn the light on to see what button adjusts the volume.
I'm also impressed by the extra care taken with the system's other features. For example, the standard alarm-clock function lets users set two different times and includes a nap timer that wakes them up after a set amount of time and a sleep timer that plays the music for a set period of time before turning off. A hidden gem is George's ability to set a separate volume for the alarm clock so it's louder or softer than the device's normal volume. Most other docking stations wouldn't have these extra features, but they add value to a system that can be placed in a bedroom instead of a living room.
Likewise, the designers took an extra step with the system's AM/FM radio. The interface stores as many as 24 different radio stations, or users can search for stations manually with the forward and reverse buttons.
The sound quality is excellent - the system volume goes from zero to 50, but for the most part I stayed in the teens and 20s, which means it will produce a big sound for larger rooms.
Even the little things impressed me, such as the unit's series of iPod docking adapters to make sure an iPod fits nicely (it works with all iPods that have the universal docking attachment). Chestnut Hill Sound even includes a plastic mini-screwdriver so owners don't have to dig through a toolbox to find a screwdriver to replace the remote control's battery.
Some caveats: Nothing major - this is a high-class system well worth its price. Buyers looking for a quality iPod docking station with advanced features and a wicked-cool remote control should check out George.
Grade: Five stars (out of five)