Review: Speakal iPig and iPanda
There are weird iPod accessories, and then there are ones that we'd describe as "niche," designed to appeal to certain specific demographics of users. Speakers for kids fit into a legitimate niche: we've previously seen Tiger Toys release the $20-40 i-Dog, i-Cat, i-Fish, and i-CY Penguin, and Vestalife released the attractive, interesting and more powerful $110 Ladybug. The latest entrant is a small company called Speakal, with a pig-shaped speaker system called iPig ($140, aka Amethyst); this is the best-sounding animal speaker yet, but it's also limited by certain issues. Updated February 18, 2009: iPig has been joined by a virtually identical version called iPanda ($140), featuring a combination of black and white parts and a redesigned nose. Photos are shown at the bottom of this review.
iPig looks like a yellow, pink, or white piggy bank with chrome-ringed speakers for eyes and almost alien ears; each version comes with a generic white Infrared remote control, a power supply, an auxiliary audio cable, and three dock adapters. There are black Infrared sensors in the nose, a glowing power light in the mouth, and a big black speaker grille on the bottom. As it turns out, iPig actually packs five total speaker drivers, including 1.4” tweeters and a 3.7” subwoofer under the belly, with a rear bass knob and digital buttons on the remote to handle both bass and treble controls. Touch-sensitive volume controls are built into the ears; you touch the left one to lower the volume, and the right one to raise it. It’s all cute, and though a little weird, the way everything’s been integrated into the cartoony pig body makes sense.
To start with the good news, the iPig actually sounds really good for a kid-ready speaker; in fact, we’d go so far as to say that as between the Ladybug and the iPig, the sound quality comparison is not even close. Vestalife, which came up with a superb body design that manages to evoke the ladybug theme without necessarily screaming “toy,” went with a fixed audio design that skews bass-heavy, and becomes chunky at higher volumes. While good for a $100 speaker, the sound isn’t great by the standards of pricier audio systems. iPig looks like a toy, but it sounds like a more sophisticated piece of audio equipment.
The noise floor is lower, combined with superior amplitude, cleaner treble, cleaner midrange, and cleaner bass—in other words, putting the two systems next to each other makes the Ladybug sound mediocre in pretty much any way. While this can frequently be said about any speaker system that sells for 25% more than a competitor, especially one that passes on having a battery-powered option like Ladybug, the differences between them are pretty sharp; the developer has done a good job of maximizing the sound it squeezes out of the 6.3” wide by 5.7” tall by 4.7” deep frame.
Another benefit of the iPig that’s worth noting is the quantity of control its Infrared remote permits over both the iPod and the sound. You get digital bass and treble controls for the speakers, iPod track, play/pause, and navigation controls, plus a toggle for the auxiliary input and the ability to revert to default audio settings. While Vestalife’s remote is nicer-looking and more streamlined, offering most of the same iPod features, it lacks the bass and treble controls; between these and the rear bass knob, iPig lets you have meaningful control over these levels without driving the system into awful distortion.
So here’s the bad news. iPig’s iPod dock is unlike virtually any we’ve seen in the past couple of years in that it both lacks for a Universal Dock and has a very oddly shaped docking well; this well is physically incompatible with full-sized iPods and iPod classics, just barely fitting the iPod touch, and presenting certain issues with the latest iPod nanos. Dock the third-generation nano inside and you’ll find it hard to get access to the device’s super-low Click Wheel; those navigation buttons on the remote control will be all but necessary unless you feel comfortable scrolling using only the top half of the Wheel.
The only other question mark is whether you’re willing to spend $140 on a system like this one. iPig doesn’t exactly ooze class, and given its lack of Universal Dock support, there are reasons to wonder whether other iPod models may experience similar or new limitations like the ones we’re seeing here. Similarly, the color options beg for additions or tweaks—the yellow color we received for review isn’t a really good fit for iPods, most rooms, or pigs for that matter. A few small physical changes could really help this product be even better. But from a sonic standpoint, iPig is definitely a good buy for the price if you like its looks; despite its issues, and mostly because of its sound, we consider this unique and fun system just good enough to be worthy of our B+ rating overall.
In February, 2009, Speakal provided a sample of iPanda, a recolored and slightly modified version of iPig that now includes more Dock Adapters, a redesigned nose, and otherwise similar functionality. Photos are provided here for your reference.