Review: XtremeMac Tango Studio
There's something undeniably attractive about XtremeMac's new Tango Studio. Is it the concept of a twin-speaker iPod dock in a slate-like black fabric and plastic housing? No. Is it the built-in FM radio, which shines through the fabric front grille right above the iPod dock? No. How about the simple controls on top, the included Infrared remote control, or the fact that the iPod dock pops out or retracts depending on whether you need it out? No. It's the $80 price tag.
Rather than struggle to make a really amazing audiophile-quality sound system, XtremeMac has done with Tango Studio what it does best: a clean industrial design with acceptable performance and a surprisingly attractive cost. This isn’t a $200 or even a $100 iPod speaker dock. In fact, the idea that you can get two speakers, a dock, an FM radio, and a remote control in a 11.5” by 6.5” by 3.875” package for $80 seems almost stunning.
We say “almost” for only one reason. Last year, Memorex pared down the portable iPod speaker and FM radio combination to a $100 price point with the highly recommendable iTrek Mi3000, including a carrying case and the option to run off of battery power—both non-trivial features that are missing from the Tango Studio. Losing these options leaves you with a speaker that’s designed solely to sit in one place and play audio when connected to a wall outlet.
That much, Tango Studio does well—just about as well as we’d expect from an $80 system. As with most but not all of the speakers we test, stereo separation is evident, and properly allocated to left and right channels, though not huge or aided by an artificial spatializer. While the speakers don’t deliver stunning audio quality, they rival iTrek’s sound at normal volume levels, initially falling a little short in both apparent bass and treble. Notably, iTrek and Tango Studio both use midrange-focused “full range drivers,” which is typically code for “could have used help from dedicated high- and low-frequency speakers,” and neither is really impressive on highs or lows; they’re both outperformed in the highs by any variety of smaller, cheaper speakers.
The surprise in Tango Studio is that its treble performance improves quite a bit when the volume goes up a little above a comfortable low listening level, and actually begins to sound better than iTrek at that point, making it a better choice if you’re not going to be listening to it up close. Then it continues to sound good when its digital volume meter reads a maximum 40, roughly twice the actual volume level of the iTrek. Again, Tango Studio’s drivers aren’t model citizens on clarity, but XtremeMac doesn’t let the sound break up enough at the peak volume level to bother most listeners—the drivers are clearly designed to perform pretty well at any volume, and more powerfully than typical portable iPod speakers overall. That point bears some additional emphasis: Tango Studio is a better pick than most of the low-end portable iPod speakers out there if you’re not in need of portability and want to save some cash. Like most iPod speakers, it features an auxiliary audio input on its rear for connection to the iPod shuffle or non-iPod devices.
On the flip side, FM radio reception is only decent. Both Tango Studio and iTrek include antennas to help pick up local stations, but whereas iTrek’s telescoping, top-mounted antenna helps it go from “pretty clear” to “clear” when it’s extended, XtremeMac’s floppy cable-style rear antenna wire requires more movement to make any sort of difference, and Tango Studio doesn’t do as well as iTrek in radio-challenging environments. We found Tango Studio to be extremely location-dependent, and iTrek comparatively not; at its best, Tango Studio sounded fine, not great, in radio mode. Thankfully, its tuning system is very straightforward, jumping in .2 increments from station to station, versus the unnecessarily more complicated iTrek tuner. It’s worth mentioning that the radio does not double as a clock, have alarms, or presets; when the power cube’s unplugged from the wall, it loses the last station that was tuned. Given the price, we don’t mind, but a clock would definitely have added to Tango Studio’s bedside appeal.
In the context of what Tango Studio does offer, that’s a relatively minor omission. Had its radio performance been better, we would unquestionably have given it our high recommendation: for $80, it’s hard to go wrong with the feature set, design, and above-par audio quality for its price level. Assuming that they don’t need the FM radio, younger users and those looking for a budget-priced way to add more iPod speakers to their homes will likely find Tango Studio to be a superb choice, and extremely hard to beat for the dollar.