Customer Reviews: Onkyo DS-A3 Universal iPod Dock (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
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on April 14, 2009
Same product as the DS-A2 except that it can play video. Sound is good with my Onkyo 606 receiver. Remote layout is confusing and has a very limited range. On-screen display is horrible. It looks like DOS back in the 80's. If your not interested in playing video, save your money and buy the DS-A2.
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on February 7, 2010
I finally broke down and bought an iPod... Besides the gadget factor it seemed like a good method of moving music between the Onkyo TX-SR576 AV Receiver in the living room and the Sony STR-DH500 AV Receiver upstairs in the den, rather than hand-fulls of CDs, and, though I've set up my LG BD players for movie file sharing from a server, I've not done this with music with much success. A lot of the information in this review is provided because I have the ability to compare behavior between this Onkyo DS-A3 dock and the Sony TDM-IP50 Dock. Any references I make to "iPod" or "nano" are to the iPod nano 5th generation that I recently acquired, I have no experience with any other Apple product or other manufacture's MP3 players.

The DS-A3 dock is plastic and has a flat-black appearance and a moderate amount of heft (weight) to it. I'll come to that later when I talk about connecting/disconnecting the iPod with the dock. It comes with a remote control, though most features can be handled via the Ri interface (Onkyo's inter-device protocol) and the receiver's remote. The device came shipped with all cables needed. There is a red-white-yellow bundle of RCA cables (about 3') to carry L-R audio and composite video. As an alternate video output, there's a headphone-type jack and a cable that plugs in to it that at the other end spreads out to 3 RCA component video connectors (I'm using the single, yellow composite). Also in the back is a power input for the included 5v DC power adapter, as well as a male-male cable similar to headphone cable used for the Onkyo Ri interface.

The bottom of the dock area is flat and roomy, with the exception of the iPod-compatible male electrical/mechanical connector. The back of the dock is elevated and, to handle the different sizes of devices, Onkyo has incorporated a padded plastic disk, about the size of a quarter, attached to a bolt that can be screwed in or out of the dock so that the back of the iPod or phone can rest securely against the pad. As I said earlier, it's a little roomy around the base, so if you have a case or sleeve around the iPod it may accommodate it well. I did try a clear, hard-plastic case that protruded too far beyond the base of the nano for me to get a good connection with either dock (I may pull out a grinder for the $4 plastic case, but that's a different story).

The iPod sits in the dock canted back about ten or fifteen degrees, which makes for easy viewing and access if you place the base above waist level. Even with the back-rest in the DS-A3, the nano seems to sit in a rather vulnerable position, with only the base dock connector and gravity physically holding it to the dock. With children around, placing the dock at adult shoulder-level would be highly recommended (there are similar warnings in the documentation). To remove the player from the dock, one hand must be placed on the dock and the other hand used to carefully and straightly remove the iPod from the dock. If the dock were a bit heavier, it might be easier to remove the nano one-handed in a safe manner. I also had one instance where the nano appeared to hang, I could not navigate via OSD or the display. I had to use Apple's version of the "three finger salute" (hold switch-then-menu-while-center) to get the devices attention again. This happened when I touched the plastic base and I could feel a small static discharge between my fingers and the dock. The separate power supply might have been part of the issue, Sony's dock receives power from it's DMPORT interface, so that dock is grounded directly to the receiver.

If you opt for no video, you can connect the audio left and right, the power from the DC adapter, and the Ri interface cable to the Onkyo receiver and you're good to go (you'll need to check the receiver's manual on how to re-program the DOCK button to switch to TAPE or whichever audio input). I selected the TAPE IN input on my Onkyo receiver for audio, as I had no tape player. You can turn on the receiver, select DOCK, plug in the iPod and use it to select an album or a playlist or whatever. You can also be docked without video and use the receiver's remote to navigate the iPod menu (point remote at the receiver and view the nano's display), rather than pushing on the nano's buttons while in the docked position. Any time you're docked and the DS-A3 is powered on, the iPod will charge.

If you have video stored on the iPod and/or you want to use the On Screen Display (OSD) you'll need to hook up the video. Connect the video cable(s) to a composite or component input on your AV receiver or TV (I doubt the component output will be much better than composite tested). The top-center button on the enclosed remote is labeled "Mode" and is used to toggle the dock in and out of OSD mode. At that point, a rather crude menu will apear, in a (kinda cool) "retro-80's" look referred to by other reviewers and you can use your receiver's remote control to navigate. This is the same menu that you would see on your iPod (music, video, etc) and under music: artists, albums, songs, genres, etc. From comparison with the Sony dock upstairs, I feel comfortable saying that this is from the Apple player, not Sony or Onkyo. Fairly basic information and no album art. Also, toggling between the OSD and the iPod display resets whatever was going on at the time. If you were playing a song while in OSD mode, if you turn off OSD mode the music will cease and the iPod interface will show the main menu. I've also had problems getting the display up, you may need to toggle the play/pause button on the nano a couple of times to get the display on the screen.

From the docked interface besides, obviously, the stereo sound, it appears that the only information provided by the nano is the artist, the album, the song, length of song and time currently played in song. So the DS-A3 video output provides a black screen with this information and a series of ">" characters to show how far into the song you are. The Sony TDM-IP50's output looks a bit better, a multi-tone blue screen with screensaver... But both of these video outputs seem based on the limited amount of information that is provided via the iPod's docking interface. The only way to see the album art is to disable the OSD and use the iPod to navigate (which isn't too bad a choice). The Onkyo TX-SR576 documentation says that its remote's "guide/top menu" button works as the mode button to toggle the OSD on the DS-A2, but it does not seem to work on the DS-A3, so the included remote must be used to enable OSD (the receiver remote's buttons work fine from there). The receiver's documentation also talks about using its remote to power the iPod on and off, though I've not got that feature to work consistently either. It may be a miss-match with the remote code, I'm still investigating.

Playing video from iPod nano (5th gen): If you have video output connecting your dock to TV, you can use the OSD menu selections to go to videos or movies and pick a saved video. To test this, I downloaded an MP4 copy of a video I'd made in 720p HD from youtube to iTunes and hence to the iPod. Playback, as expected, is pretty basic, picture quality-wise (i.e., like you'd get from basic cable stations). Unless you were using this video to keep up with your latest soaps or low-res podcasts, I would not rely too heavily on this feature, due to the video quality limitations, though it may be the best option vs. watching on the nano's display.

Overall impressions: Pretty Satisfied. I went with the Onkyo docking product rather than a generic so that I could use the DOCK and navigation features on the remote. Setup is quite straightforward if using no video or if connecting the composite video to a open input on your TV or alternate monitor or whatever. I've not tried routing the composite video through the AV system, as it's the only composite video I have in this AV stack. I'm not real pleased with the sturdiness of the physical mating between the iPod and the dock, but I have similar concerns with the other dock I'm reviewing separately. At least this dock has a "backrest" that supports the device while pressing the buttons on the nano. I would recommend this product to a friend with a compatible Onkyo receiver.
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on October 21, 2009
Very functional, good product. works well with my iPod touch and my iPhone 3GS, although the iPhone puts up an incompatibility message with this device, it will charge and transmit audio/video without a problem.
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on October 24, 2009
I tried three different IPOD docks with on-screen displays (this Onkyo, the DLO Hi Def home dock and one by Radio Shack). I returned them all and bought an Apple TV. The DS-A3 text-only on screen display is so bad that it has some genuine campy, retro appeal. It's fun in the way that gettig out your old Atari 2600 is fun. My favorite part is the status bar that shows how much is left on the current song. It represents a half-played song like this: [>>>>>>>> ]. As the song progresss, you see more arrows. If that's what you're into, that's cool. I can see some advantages to this ultra-simple approach: it is probably bullet proof, it has virtually no boot up time and it does not have any delay while album art and other fancy features load. Also, the composite video output is nice for people with older TVs. But if you are trying to get digital music onto your home stereo, better to spend the money on an Apple TV.
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on April 28, 2010
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on June 26, 2009
Really great to be able to listen to the music on my iPod in surround sound, and easy to control too.
The on screen display is VERY average though. Easy to navigate, but looks very bad. But still good to be able to watch the videos I have on the iPod on my TV.
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on January 6, 2012
Currently for the same price there are options with digital output for the sound too. I am one of those who loves iPods portability but hates its internal DAC capability. This device does not improve audio quality beyond the normal plug connector.
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on January 9, 2012
Excellent sound and video quality, very flexible as it fits any ipod/iphone without having to remove protective covers, only need to screw in or out the back rest.
It's solid and it also looks very nice on the furniture.
Only downside (and why a 4 star rather than 5) is that the remote control is less than intuitive. It's simple but and it has all functions that one could think of but it feels like somebody threw the buttons ranmdomly.
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on September 29, 2011
I bought the earlier version (DS-2AX), but all the features look the same and the remote is identical. Like anything else, it is best to hook it up and play with it with the manual hidden. Then , after figuring out 85% of it, grab the manual. It is a bit confusing, but this is day 1 for me, so fair is fair. The base is solid & handsome, the adjustment pad on back does the job well, the outputs on the back offer everything you need.

My only complaint is the "on screen display". Thank goodness you can at least change the colors, because it looks like it came out of the early 80s. Yuk ! Others have mentioned it too. You do have the option of ignoring it, as well as having it shut off when you want, by itself. At least on my older DS-2AX

I have only used this for music, so no comment on video quality. If you have an Onkyo System, it is worth considering because you can use the receiver/integrated remote. If not, look around at universal models.

PS: I am a 2-channel audio guy and use this with an Onkyo A-9555 Integrated Amp. My iPod is a 5th Generation Nano.

Hope this helps :)

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on October 18, 2009
The dock works fine although the on screen display is poor quality. My biggest complaint is with customer service. I am new to HDMI and it's been 15 years since I bought my last stereo equipment so I found the manual confusing on how to setup since my dish receiver and TV use HDMI. I sent an email to Onkyo and both their responses were even more vague than the manual. After some trial and error I figured it out with no help from Eric at Onkyo.
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