With Fourth of July just around the corner, there are many party decisions that need to be made. Are you going to throw a party or go looking for some fun? Is it a night for fireworks in the park or sneaking off with your sweetheart for a different sort of fireworks? Will you hit the beach, hold a barbecue or just catch up on some much-needed “World of Warcraft” time?

Whatever your plans are, if generations of college parties and summer blockbusters have taught us anything, music will be the centerpiece of your good times. One good music source can turn an awkward gathering of mildly drunk acquaintances into a rocking party filled with inebriated buddies. Back in the day, this would come in the form of a boom box, but these massive plastic tune cubes have all but gone the way of the cassette.

Fortunately, there are several new options for lovers of music and possibly the good times that music brings, and all of them share one notable element – the iPod dock. As the iPod has grown to dominate the electronic music device market and has expanded to become the forefront of the mobile phone field, a whole industry of devices has grown to unlock the full potential of each Apple device. Some of these are small, some are large and some are shaped like pigs, but all of them share a goal to make a product that is cool enough to overcome the truth that they are useless without an iPod or iPhone.

Of course, some devices actually strive for more than this. iAccessory powerhouse iHome’s latest offering, the “iP49,” offers many of the biggest selling points of other speaker docks. More than this, it actually does them all amazingly well.  

The first thing that you will notice about the iP49 is that it was built to travel. Its form is something like a makeup compact that is about as large as a hardcover novel, but it is incredibly light and compact. You may not need it in class, but the iP49 is small enough to slide into most backpacks without having to empty out all of the books first.  

Like most iPod speaker docks, the iP49 can charge your device while playing music, but it also stores up power in its rechargeable lithium ion battery. Once you have a charged-up iPod and iP49, you can take it anywhere you want your music to be heard. You probably won’t find yourself with a sudden need to get the party started, but this dock is more than capable when you absolutely need to rock right now.

The sound quality of the iP49 is robust even at low volume. The sound quality – both with and without the bass boost – has the power of a far larger set of speakers in its portable form. In fact, it sounds so good, you could easily decide to never take this out of your dorm room and just use it as your primary speaker.

The iP49 even manages the rare achievement of being useful even when not docking an iPod or iPhone. If you don’t have enough of a music collection or just want to pick up an NPR show, you can listen to the radio thanks to the FM tuner. The built-in alarm clock can be set for weekly, weekday or weekend alarm and can use your iPod, FM or just a buzzer to wake you up. Plus, like most high-end speaker docks, the iP49 has an auxiliary port so that even the odd Zune owner can harness the party-inspiring sound.

Beyond the fact that it isn’t shaped like a pig, there is one notable issue that might keep some from buying the iP49. The price tag starts around $150, making it comparable to buying another iPod. Of course, the price is to be expected for such a high-end speaker dock. It is an investment on cool tunes played well enough to get everyone dancing, but if you are living off ramen after picking up your iPhone 4, you could be forgiven for being slow to embrace a $150 speaker dock.

Otherwise, this really is an amazing portable device that is perfect for the music lover on the go or anyone who just feels the need to start a party anywhere and at any time