JVC's UX-VJ3 Micro Component System isn’t your typical speaker dock. For starters, it works with not only iPhones and iPods, but also iPads—and, even better, it accommodates an iPhone and an iPad _simultaneously_. The UX-VJ3 further sets itself apart by featuring speakers detached from the main body of the system, allowing for much better stereo separation than most other docks on the market.
The UX-VJ3 is available in both black and white, the better to match your iOS devices. (I tested the black version.) The main unit measures 11.5 inches wide, 7.5 inches tall, and 6 inches deep, with each speaker about 4.5 inches wide, 7.5 inches tall, and 6.5 inches deep. Unboxing the UX-VJ3 requires some patience: There’s a lot of packaging, quite a bit of sticky tape to remove, and many parts: In addition to the main unit itself, the box contains the two speakers, a wireless remote control, an AM-antenna loop, an FM antenna, an AC-power brick, a power cord, five "core filters" (more on these in a bit), and an instruction manual.
When you first look at the UX-VJ3, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether JVC forgot to install a dock-connector cradle. In fact, the system comes with two gigantic stickers on its face that point out the locations where the two connectors hide. To expose the iPad dock connector, you press a small, rectangular section of the silver trim that crosses the main unit vertically; a dock connector pops out, letting you dock your iPad, in landscape orientation, on the left-hand side of the main unit. The portrait-oriented iPhone/iPod dock instead spins around like a secret bookcase entrance. Once you’ve rotated it out, there’s an additional option to spin the dock—and, thus, your iPhone or iPod, into landscape orientation.
Once my iOS device was docked, I found that it took the UX-VJ3 four to six seconds before I could play music. Other speakers I’ve tested have been able to play music instantly. This delay isn’t a deal-breaker, but it’s worth noting. I also wasn’t thrilled with how my devices fit into the UX-VJ3’s docks. I did like that my iPad 2 fit with its Smart Cover on, but the iPad felt a bit more wobbly than I was comfortable with. My iPhone 4 suffered a similar problem, particularly when rotated into landscape orientation. I didn’t fear either device would fall, and I wasn’t overly concerned about either incurring damage to its dock-connector port, but I did wish for more support or a better connection.
To plug in the UX-JV3’s speakers—or any other cables, for that matter—you must first remove a plastic cover on the unit’s rear. Once you’ve done so, you can access a Micro-USB port (for listening to your computer's audio, not for syncing your iOS devices), along with ports for composite-video out (for watching, on your TV, video hosted on an iPhone, iPod, or iPad), subwoofer out (for connecting an external subwoofer), the left and right speaker jacks, the AC-cable connection, and connections for the included AM and FM antennas. The awkward placement of the Micro-USB port makes it tough to actually plug in a USB cable; I also found the plastic door a bit difficult to snap off, but I’m confident I will find it harder still not to lose it, since you essentially need to keep it off when the system is in use.
Near the bottom-right corner of the UX-VJ3’s face, beneath the iPhone-docking area, is a small, LED display that shows whether or not an iPad or iPod is connected; it can alternatively display a clock. On the unit’s base are a variety of small buttons: In addition to volume controls and a power button, there is a separate Play/Pause button for each dock, as well as a set of Previous, Next, and Stop buttons shared between them (whichever docked device happens to be playing media takes control). There's also a Display button to toggle the LED’s mode, along with input-source buttons for Tuner, PC (for computer audio), and Audio In (for a source connect to the system's 1/8 inch [3.5mm] audio-in port, located on the UX-VJ3's top edge). The bottom of the unit shines an additional green LED towards the table it sits upon. There's also a headphone jack on the top, next to the audio-in jack.
Speaking of cables, JVC recommends that you thread your cables through the aforementioned core filters “to reduce interference.” The filters made no audible difference—that I could hear, at least—when listening to music stored on my iPad or iPhone, but when using the UX-VJ3 to listen to the radio, or to listen to my Mac's audio via USB, I did hear some distortion until I added the filters.
Additional controls adorn the UX-VJ3’s crowded, 4-inch-tall-by-2-inch-wide remote. In addition to duplicating all the buttons on the unit itself, there are five buttons for navigating the menus on your iPod or iOS device; dedicated buttons for fast-forward and rewind (actions you can also perform by holding down Next and Previous); buttons for programming the radio and the clock; a sleep timer; Repeat; Shuffle; a button for toggling auto-shutoff mode; Mute; and a display dimmer.
The remote also hosts four buttons for enabling special audio-processing features. Sound Turbo mode, JVC says, “emphasizes the sound.” I don’t know exactly what the company means, but I appreciated the effect of the button—music sounds fuller, louder, and better mixed. HBS (Hyper Bass Sound) boosts the bass. Sound Mode flips through five EQ modes: rock, pop, classic, jazz, and flat. And Surround toggles a virtual surround-sound mode on and off. When enabled, Surround mode employs various acoustical tricks to simulate a wider stereo experience—and it does an impressive job.
One other remote note: If you hold down Shuffle with both an iPad and an iPhone or iPod docked, you can enable Double Shuffle mode, which plays songs at random from both devices. If your devices share a music library, this mode makes no sense, as you can end up hearing the same song on each device. Worse, I found that Double Shuffle sometimes left my iPad playing through its own speaker when the iPhone took over the UX-VJ3’s speakers.
All of the UX-JV3’s basic modes functioned adequately. The radio tuners worked fine for both AM and FM, as did iPad- and iOS-playback modes. When connected to your computer via a USB cable, you can listen to your Mac's audio via the UX-JV3, but you must use the UX-JV3's volume controls, as you can’t use your Mac’s volume controls to adjust the sound level.
The two 15-watt speakers, each featuring a 4-inch driver, generate impressive—and loud—sound. (I’m not sure how loud the speakers can go, because I stopped testing at “unspeakably, hugely loud.”) Though I’m not always a fan of artificially-enhanced audio, I found that I preferred listening to the UX-JV3 with Sound Turbo, Hyper Bass, and Surround Mode enabled, though I left the EQ setting on Flat. In that configuration, the UX-JV3 offered big, room-filling sound, respectable (but not floor-shaking) bass, and a delightfully wide stereo mix.
Macworld's buying advice
The UX-JV3 two-device approach is clever, and its audio quality is a delight. At the same time, I was disappointed the loose-fitting docks, the unnecessary plastic port cover, and the delay when docking. The difficult-to-reach USB port in the back is a head-scratcher, too. Whether the audio quality and double-device docking outweigh these grievances will depend on what you’re after. But if you have a big room to fill and want true stereo sound, the UX-JV3 could certainly fit the bill.