The HouseParty 3 from Gear4 is a chunky speaker system that comes with a slide-out iPod dock, a built-in FM radio, a socket for an auxiliary input and can even be used as a standard iPod dock for use with a PC. For £60 we wanted to give this setup a run for its money.
The design works well. At the bottom of the front of the unit is a push-to-open iPod docking station. The dock pops out and cradles the iPod, which then becomes one with the system. The speaker cones behind the guard are positioned either side of the area the iPod covers, so no interference or disruption is caused by the player being docked.
There's also a small red LED display built behind the speaker guard, discretely displaying function mode or FM frequency.
There are only three buttons at the top, so for most things you'll need to use the remote control. It's quite small and a little tricky to use -- navigational buttons aren't the same as on the iPod, so we found ourselves pausing or playing music when we actually wanted to select a menu option, although switching sources is easy.
If you don't have an iPod you can plug in any MP3 player or even a laptop using the supplied audio cable and the built-in auxiliary line-in socket.
As an added bonus, this system can be used as a standard iPod dock. Just connect the supplied (unnecessarily short) USB cable to the speakers and your PC and iTunes will detect the iPod as if it was connected with the standard iPod cable.
The HouseParty 3 can reach a reasonable volume level for its size, producing a room-filling sound. Not everything was rosy during playback though, as we'll see now.
Audio quality isn't great. Acoustic and folk music is acceptable at high volume, but definition is severely lost when rock music is played -- guitars blend completely and melt together with drums and cymbals. At quite low volume levels this isn't significantly noticeable -- and this won't be even a small issue to anyone who just wants to hear some music as they're getting dressed or falling asleep -- but audiophiles take note: this isn't the system for you.
We like that most of the controls are exclusive to the remote control -- with most systems like this it's expected that you'll want to operate it from a distance. We found, however, that the range of the remote control was only about 2.7m to 3m, and at the long end of this scale it needed to be fairly accurately aimed in order to connect with the system. We'd also have liked to see a source-changing button on the main unit.
Finally, a battery-operated option would've been nice. The HouseParty 3 quite clearly wasn't designed as an outdoor unit but it would be a nice companion to a barbecue out on the patio, and the remote wouldn't be needed since the iPod is auto-detected upon docking and controllable with the player's Click Wheel.
This isn't the speaker system for everyone, and those of you who demand high-quality music reproduction even at higher levels should definitely consider a different choice.
This is, however, a speaker system for little over fifty quid, and the volume level is exceptional. It's ideal for iPod users who just want to hear music played from the bedroom while getting washed in the bathroom, or those of you who like music to ease you to sleep. It would also be a great unit to have in the kitchen.
All in all, it's a nifty little setup that will no doubt appeal to teenagers. And for the price, who could blame them?
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Kate Macefield