Review: Digifocus Pocket Hi-Fi in Bass Mini Sound System
While we aren't obsessed with ensuring that products we review make complete sense, it's fair to assume that we are as concerned with that idea as other consumers would be when making purchasing decisions. So when Digifocus unveiled its Pocket Hi-Fi in Bass Mini Sound System (aka CLSS-M, $90), we weren't entirely sure what to think: the company's earlier, nearly-pocketable Mini Sound System struck us as a cool tiny iPod-supporting speaker system with very good sound, a nice design, and a slightly too-high price. But the newer system is even larger -- despite its name, it's by no means pocket-sized -- and more expensive, otherwise preserving an almost identical design at a price point where you can actually buy a nice set of portable or non-portable speakers. Is there really a need for something like this?
Maybe, maybe not. Like the smaller unit, Pocket-Hi Fi comes in three colors—silver, red (shown), or black—each with silver front and back pieces, and now measures roughly 4.8” by 2.4” by 1.8”. This puts it in roughly the size category of portable speakers such as Logic3’s i-Station Travellers and Pacific Rim’s Cube—units that don’t fit into typical pockets but use their extra enclosure space to provide iPod-mounting bases and battery compartments. Digifocus has done the same here, save for a few key differences: unlike Logic3’s speakers, the unit’s top includes an iPod Dock Connector on top of a chrome base, as well as a cap to protect the Connector during travel. The company also includes short audio and USB power/iPod charging cables, two AA batteries for over 9 hours of portable power, and a plastic carrying box for all the parts. Few speakers of this type would include the box, the USB connectivity, or the iPod Dock Connector.
The reason for that is simple: cost. Most companies consider the low-end pocketable/near-portable speaker market to be so price-sensitive that they omit frills such as cables or iPod charging capabilities entirely in favor of headphone port plugs. Even the presence of digital volume controls, such as the ones on this unit’s back, is unusual for a system of this type because it adds expense. Consequently, while Digifocus’s inclusion of such items differentiates the Pocket Hi-Fi in Bass from similar competitors, you’ll also pay a $30-40 premium over similar-sounding systems to get them, and $70 more than something like the aforementioned Cube.
On Pocket Hi-Fi in Bass’s side are its speaker drivers, which are larger than the ones in the earlier Mini Sound System, and capable of delivering fuller-frequency sound that is, as the name suggests, better in the bass department. Though it still doesn’t provide any thump, Pocket Hi-Fi in Bass benefits from a larger chassis and two side vents that help its sound provide more depth and richness than the earlier Mini Sound System, assisting in both bass and mid-bass. While its peak volume level isn’t noticeably higher—it’s enough for desktop listening, not filling a room—the quality of what you hear at its peak is better. And, to its further credit, Digifocus has either used superior drivers to the ones in both of Logic3’s i-Station Travellers, or tuned them better, as the Pocket Hi-Fi delivers better treble and midrange clarity than the recent i-Station Traveller for iPhone and iPod touch, while matching its bass performance.
Worth noting, however, is the fact that the same dollars can buy some pretty impressive portable speakers these days—JBL’s On Stage Micro, Logic3’s i-Station7, and Memorex’s iTrek are just three sub-$100 units that include remote controls, carrying cases, and power supplies in their packages; iTrek also includes a radio. Digifocus’s name suggests that you should consider Pocket Hi-Fi different because of its smaller physical size, but the reality is that while it consumes less physical space than these other options, they’re all in a similar boat because each requires a bag or briefcase to carry around. And each of these larger options includes an iPod Dock Connector, too.
We noticed only one other performance problem with the Digifocus speakers: they’re not shielded especially well. Connect the included USB cable to your computer and you’ll get power for both the iPod and your speakers, but you’ll also likely hear little chirps in the audio all the time. Plug in or leave nearby an iPhone—not necessarily recommended by Digifocus—and you’ll hear plenty of TDMA noise from the Pocket Hi-Fi’s speakers. Since the USB cable is only for power, not synchronization, it would have made more sense to include a standard power cube in the box, like the bigger guys mentioned above. Thankfully, running off battery power doesn’t evoke the USB noise.
From where we stand, Pocket Hi-Fi in Bass’s biggest issue is in its practicality/value equation for the dollar. It delivers audio performance that’s marginally better than systems that cost considerably less, and offers only one performance feature—iPod charging—that cheaper systems lack. At the same time, it competes roughly on audio performance with systems that sell for the same price, but lacks for other features—power supplies, nicer designs, and frills like radio—that they include. Pocket Hi-Fi in bass trades on its size as a selling point, but isn’t quite pocketable and doesn’t deliver a better overall experience than something that’s larger but otherwise equally portable.
You can decide for yourself whether the Pocket Hi-Fi in Bass Mini Sound System meets your needs; our take is that it’s awkwardly positioned in the middle of two discrete types of products in a manner that makes it less attractive than a pocket system or a larger portable for each of its potential types of users. For that reason, despite its better sound, it isn’t a better overall product than the original Mini Sound System, which costs less and does virtually everything else in a smaller, more pocketable enclosure. However, no one will deny that it sounds good for its size and looks pretty nice, so if you don’t mind paying a premium, and similarly won’t miss frills such as an included power supply, it’s still a pretty good option.