Review: Coby Vitruvian Speaker System for iPod and iPhone
Our policy when reviewing new iPod, iPhone, and iPad accessories has remained the same for years: we consider each new product on its own merits regardless of the big or small brand name on the package, noting only reasonable caveats in the event that the manufacturer has a questionable or troubled history. So when we say that the Coby brand name isn't one that we've previously associated with awesome products, and occasionally found to be less than totally up to the task of making great iPod accessories, that doesn't stop us from looking at its latest releases with mostly fresh eyes. It's with that background that we look briefly today at two Coby speakers, Vitruvian ($80, aka CSMP175) and Butterfly ($50, aka CSMP145), which are amongst the least expensive iPhone- and iPod-compatible all-in-ones we've tested, and surprisingly appealing for their target audience.
That group, of course, is budget-conscious consumers—people unaccustomed to finding eye-catching, sonically competent speakers below the $100 or even $150 price points—and they’ll be thrilled by Vitruvian and Butterfly. Coby doesn’t make a big deal about the specs of either of these systems, but they both include two 1-inch tweeters and two 2.75” full-range drivers that are hidden behind fabric grilles within largely black glossy plastic cases. Each one is roughly 16” wide, with Butterfly 0.4” wider and Vitruvian 0.1” narrower, featuring a central iPod/iPhone dock, power, volume, and lighting buttons on the top, and auxiliary and power ports in the back. Coby packs both with Infrared remote controls and wall power adapters, giving Vitruvian an audio cable, as well. There are no Dock Adapters in their packages, though both are Universal Dock compatible and Adapter-friendly.
Of the two systems, the one that really caught our attention was Vitruvian, which isn’t the first to include a rotating iPod/iPhone dock, but actually does a really nice job with the feature. A button on the top of the unit and on its remote control let you turn your widescreen-ready device on its side automatically from afar, switching to Cover Flow mode in music mode or rotating for video playback if you prefer, with light mechanical turning noises and a multi-stage dimmable, circular light behind the device to accent it inside. The dock has a safety arm to provide reinforcement for a turned iPhone, relying more on the strength of the Dock Connector to hold lighter, narrower iPod touches inside. We had no issue using an iPhone 4 and a fourth-generation iPod touch in rotated position within the dock.
By comparison, Butterfly has less of a frill factor—its only distinctive characteristics are its soft, heart-inspired shape and twin light strips built into its chrone-accented sides. Unlike the purplish-blue light in the Vitruvian, which is cycled through dimming stages with a single button on that unit’s top, Butterfly’s white lights can be turned up and down with dedicated up and down buttons on its top surface; both units offer up and down buttons on their remote controls.
According to Coby’s website, but differing on the products’ chassis, both systems include 50 Watts of total output power; in any case, they’re both capable of small to medium room-filling volume levels, and Coby has done a fine job of tuning each system to perform as much as it’s capable of doing without becoming grating. What struck us as impressive about both systems was that their speakers, while not audiophile-quality, sounded good enough that we liked what we heard from the first moment we turned them on. Vitruvian is somewhat surprisingly a more balanced system with more of a treble focus and less obvious bass—the dedicated tweeters aren’t super performers, but they do provide enough high-end to make songs pop a little, and the full-range drivers never growl or thump, but they deliver enough of the high, mids, and mid-lows of most tracks to be more than competent for the price. Bass fanatics will find it to be weakest in that regard; straining on songs with significant low end, but most of the test tracks we used sounded quite good. Butterfly, perhaps because of the depth of its chassis, offers stronger, warmer bass with a little less treble emphasis. Each system would be difficult to criticize sonically given its price tag.
There are, of course, caveats. The remote controls work from 10-15 feet away without issues, but not much further. Both systems have glossy plastic and lighting elements that won’t appeal to all tastes. And whereas Vitruvian has a large, solid metal base at the bottom, Butterfly has a much lighter, plastic feel throughout that feels a little cheap. It’s unclear how long they’ll continue to work, but then, we’ve been disappointed by two-year lifespans on even expensive iPod speakers, so at least there’s not a lot of money tied up in either of these.
Frankly, for $50 to $80 prices, compromises can and should be expected. It’s all but impossible to find a good iPhone-certified audio system these days at these sort of prices, and these are unquestionably good—much better than we’ve seen from Coby in a while, and certainly a radical improvement on the messy CP-MP165 we looked at a couple of years ago. Like Jensen, Coby has done a surprisingly solid job of appealing to the low-price crowd with these models, and though they’re not for everyone, they’re certainly worthy of our general recommendations given the value they offer for the dollar. We’d go with the more distinctive Vitruvian first, but Butterfly’s sound and girl-friendly looks make it equally compelling for its lower price.