A cut-price take on the audio dock idea, the Microsoft Audio Dock is a good alternative to its more expensive rivals
- Compact and neat
- Impressively good audio quality
- All USB ports are 3.2 Gen 2 spec
- No Bluetooth radio
- Upstream cable is fixed
- Fewer I/O ports than the Logi Dock
There aren’t many products like the Microsoft Audio Dock. Lots of companies sell USB-C hubs and there are plenty of speaker phones to choose from, too, but devices that compare both in one neat box are rare.
They’re so rare, in fact, that we’ve only ever tested two of them: this product and the rather expensive Logitech Logi Dock, which costs around £368. The key thing you need to know about Microsoft’s version is that it’s the cheaper of the two, costing around £190. However, it does effectively the same job, providing a single point of connection for all your various devices – from monitors to keyboards and mice – and removes the need for a separate set of speakers, too.
Microsoft Audio Dock review: What do you get for the money?
Naturally, you do get less ‘gadget’ for this lower price. There’s no bluetooth connectivity for one, whereas the Logi Dock does have it. But the biggest miss is that the Microsoft Audio Dock offers less in the way of connectivity.
At the rear, and only at the rear, it has only two USB-C ports (one of which supports DisplayPort), one USB-A and a single HDMI 2.0 video output. The Logitech Logi Dock has all of this and a further two USB ports plus a full-sized DisplayPort output. In the Audio Dock’s defence, its USB ports are all faster – 3.2 Gen 2 (10Gbits/sec) versus 3.2 Gen 1 (5Gbits/sec) – and none of the Logi Dock’s USB ports support video out where one of the Audio Dock’s USB-C ports does. But the shortage of ports means this dock is only really for laptops that are particularly starved of physical connectivity.
READ NEXT: The best USB hub to buy
The Microsoft Audio Dock does provide a similar set of features to the Logi Dock when it comes voice calls and media playback, though, with a high quality speaker under the grille and multiple microphones to cut down on background noise, plus a selection of buttons on the top for quick access to commonly used functions. These allow you to join a conference, adjust the volume, mute and unmute the microphone and play/pause media. On the Logi Dock, the play/pause button is replaced by a camera control button that, on balance, I think is more useful.
The Microsoft Audio Dock also lacks the Logi Dock’s under-speaker light show, making do with just a white LED under the Teams button and a red light under the mute button so you are more dependent on audio alerts.
Microsoft Audio Dock review: What does it do well?
Audio is delivered by a single 15W woofer and one 5W tweeter, plus a pair of side-facing passive radiators and the overall quality of the sound is excellent.
In fact, when it comes to sound quality, there is very little to separate this speaker from its far more expensive Logitech rival. According to my sound meter, the Logitech is louder, pumping out 78.3dBA from a pink noise source at 1m compared to 77.4dBA for the Microsoft speaker, but the difference is hard to hear.
The 10Hz difference in frequency response at the bottom end of the frequency spectrum is a touch more evident, with the Logi Dock exhibiting a little more bass. However, the gap is pretty small and the Microsoft device scores a small victory over its nemesis thanks to its slightly broader sound stage. The Logi Dock generates a very tight beam of sound, which is noticeable if you don’t place it directly in front of you. The Microsoft unit is less susceptible to this and can be more feasibly positioned to the right or left on your desk.
And, while the Microsoft Audio Dock only has four microphones to the Logi Dock’s six, there is again little in it when it comes to call quality. I tested both docks with a long-suffering colleague who wasn’t able to reliably discern which one I was calling on. The same is true for incoming call quality, with both devices doing an excellent job of giving the impression that the person you are talking to is, in fact, hiding under your desk.
Being a Microsoft device I was worried that the call-answer button with the Teams logo on it would only work with Teams but it functioned just as well with Zoom and Google Meet.
A final small point in the Microsoft Audio Dock’s favour is that it is small and light enough to sling in a bag.
Microsoft Audio Dock review: What could be improved?
One design feature I don’t like, however, is that the USB-C cable you connect to your laptop to is hardwired to the dock, fixed in place beneath the dock’s flexible rubber base. On the one hand this means it’s always there and you’re never hunting around for a spare cable. On the other hand, if you snag the cable as you’re getting up or sitting down, or you forget to disconnect as you’re putting away your laptop, it’s more likely to drag the dock or your laptop off the desk and onto the floor.
The only other thing I’d like to see is an improvement in port offering. I’ve already addressed this above – with only two USB-C and one USB-A plus an HDMI 2.0 out, the Audio dock isn’t much more generous with its outputs than many laptops. Like the Logi Dock, it also misses out on an Ethernet connection and a 3.5mm headset jack.
READ NEXT: The best PC speakers to buy
However, it isn’t just the number of ports that’s the problem here but the charging potential, with the ability to only charge your laptop at up to 60W. While that will be ample for most laptops, it might not provide enough power for larger, more power hungry machines so check the requirements of yours before splashing the cash.
Another couple of things the Audio Dock lacks are bluetooth connectivity and a Kensington lock slot.
Microsoft Audio Dock review: Should you buy it?
That question all comes down to your needs. If your primary requirement is portability then the Microsoft dock is a solid choice. As well as being significantly cheaper than the Logitech, it is much smaller and lighter and yet covers all the core functionality of a good audio dock, plus it supports DisplayPort over USB-C, so you can drive a portable monitor with one cable and no external power supply.
On the other hand, it lacks bluetooth and the plethora of ports that grace the Logi Dock, plus it can’t charge your laptop as quickly.
In the final analysis, there isn’t much difference between the two, though. Both have superb speakers and microphones for top notch video call experience and both will keep your desk nice and tidy. If you want to save some money, though, pick this one.