If variety is the spice of life, then Apple audio docks are plain-vanilla. I say that because they’re just do darn many of them — everywhere you turn some company has made or is making an audio doc designed for an iOS device — and using that large pin connector that Apple purportedly is going to change in their next incarnation of the iPhone. But be that as it may, how about something different — hey, not ALL tablets are iPads — how about an Android-specific audio dock? Or even better, how about one that is even more specialized than that and designed to cradle the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet? Okay, I know that such an audio dock would probably have the ubiquitous mini-jack in to accept an audio signal from any mobile device/music player — but wouldn’t it be cool for Kindle Fire owners to get their own bit of real-estate? No sooner said than done, because here’s the Grace Digital Kindle Fire MatchStick Speaker Dock.
Now let’s consider what the MatchStick has and doesn’t have. To start, its basic shape is not unusual — horizontal to hold two speakers inside at each end, covered overall with a off-gray cloth over the speaker grill. You plug a power plug into the back and then into the wall outlet for power, so that you can turn the MatchStick on from the top mounted soft-touch power button at the upper right edge. Next to this button can be found the volume “+” and “-” tabs. What they do you know. There’s a final soft-touch button at the other side of the tabs; it’s a “Standby” button and no further explanation is needed, I think.
Checking the back of the MatchStick shows that there are bumpers both at the bottom and at the back. The reason for these are evident: the bumpers at the bottom protect the surface the MatchStick is placed on when stood upright, while the back-mounted bumpers allow you to upend the MatchStick so that it now angles differently. Where this can come into play is obvious — if you want the sound to “rise” above the tabletop the MatchStick is placed on, you won’t stand it up in the usual position since then the sound moves straight forward. Choice is good.
Checking out the cradle on the front tells you two things: the first is that you can see that the connections are such that no IOS device will fit. But it will take the Kindle Fire just fine: providing both a USB socket for powering it while also taking out the audio signal from the headphone jack. As the Kindle Fire can play videos, it would be convenient to be able to adjust it horizontally, rather than leaving it on the cradle in the nominal vertical position. Since the cradle rotates — clicking into position at both 9 o’clock and 12 o’clock — you have this option. And yes the MatchStick is designed with enough center weight to handle the strain when the Kindle Fire is now horizontally placed. Being able to alter the axis of the Kindle Fire in this manner is a very nice feature. Actually it should be considered a necessary feature on audio docks but isn’t found universally. That it’s here is good indeed.
I should probably mention a few minor things: the coloring of the MatchStick is not jet black and so more gradually tapers into the environment. Additionally there are open ports on the back to correspond with the 3-inch speakers — these ports aid in improving the bass quality through a front bass-ported system as there’s no active subwoofer. The size of the MatchStick is large enough for there to be adequate separation for stereo also. However, should you be very close up to the MatchStick — something that you might do when watching a video — then the stereo separation will be much less evident. For those times, consider plugging headphones into the headphone output that can be found on the back panel, next to the power socket.
So what about those speakers? First, each is moderate in size to be sure, but fitting considering the size of the MatchStick itself. Obviously it’s still many times bigger than the audio output coming from the Kindle (or from any mobile device/mobile media player for that matter). What’s more important is the amplification — a digital amplifier doesn’t get a free ride just because it isn’t analog. Here you’re getting 16 watts of power — not an overwhelming number but well positioned in the middle of audio dock amplifiers that are on the market, as I see it. How it all sound is of course paramount.
The answer is better than just good. In my case, I’ve tried directly playing music from a Kindle Fire borrowed from a friend, along with that of audio streamed from Amazon Instant Video (TV shows and movies). I compared this to plugging in the mini-jack to my iPad and then repeating the same procedure. To be fair, if the audio signal is weak, you won’t be hearing quality sound — obviate that by playing moderately high resolution audio files as a mater of course. As to the TV shows/movies taken off a streaming situation, they sounded similar to that of locally stored material. You can tweak the output using the controls featured on the remote — which is small but has touch-buttons credible enough for most fingers to be able to punch. Overall I’d say that the quality of the sound is about 6 1/2 on a 10 scale (where 10 is great), should you punch the volume all the way up. Keep it more moderate and we can go up to a 7, as then the mid-range doesn’t get muddled by the bass. Generally speaking you won’t be hearing any distortion coming out of the amplification process (although no guarantee for the audio file’s integrity can be assumed universally).
Oh, for those who wonder — no there is NO wireless streaming connectivity options. Either you use the Kindle Fire on the cradle, or plug in a mini-jack cable from an audio device into the like-minded socket on the back. End of story.
Bottom line: Kindle Fire owners don’t need to accept an iOS audio dock when they can have their own MatchStick Charging Dock sitting right there. $129 retail is more than a fair price for what it does — provide a stable stand to hold the Kindle Fire horizontally or vertically, while audio plays nonstop. The credit card sized remote is just icing on the cake.
- Cradle-mounted Kindle Fire “On” button
- Optionally battery pack available
- No wireless streaming
- No carry handle
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.