Review: XtremeMac Luna Voyager II
When XtremeMac released the original Luna Voyager in late 2009, we were generally pleased: the small hardcover book-sized portable alarm clock continued the company's track record of sexy speaker designs, standing out from the pack with an aggressive $80 asking price and a distinctive blue-lit front panel. Now there's a new version called Luna Voyager II ($70), and though it's obviously a sibling to the original design, it's certainly a different product, adding new features while dropping the price. While a couple of XtremeMac's design decisions are less than thrilling this time out, Luna Voyager II remains a good option for iOS users seeking a budget-priced portable speaker and alarm clock. Updated December 29, 2011: We've added some additional information to the bottom of this review.
The most obvious changes from the original Voyager to its sequel are cosmetic. Luna Voyager II is actually a little larger than its predecessor, gaining a half-inch in width and a full inch in depth to become 8.5” wide and 6” deep, while falling a half-inch in height to stand 1” tall around most of its body. These changes—and a substantial redesign of what was previously a universal docking well for iPods and iPhones—appear to be largely focused on adding iPad support, as Luna Voyager II is now just a little wider than the iPad and iPad 2, with a flexible Dock Connector plug in the center to accommodate both bare and encased devices. A small glossy plastic key-like insert is included to give every Apple device a little extra back support behind the Dock Connector; this piece is necessary when you’re connecting an iPad or iPhone, and less so when you’re using an iPod touch.
Other changes include tweaks to the speakers, clock, and controls. XtremeMac has moved Voyager’s audio drivers from the sides to the front of the top, giving up the gray metallic mesh grilles for a black fabric cover on Voyager II. The prior blue-lit clock has been replaced by a more common orange-red one, while preserving the same futuristic font as before. And gone are the original’s volume dial, snooze button, and silver pill-shaped clock/alarm buttons in favor of a streamlined panel of five top-mounted buttons—1 and 2 for the now twin alarms, + and - for volume, and Snooze/Source to toggle between dock audio, auxiliary audio, and a new FM radio tuner.
XtremeMac has achieved additional cost and space savings by streamlining Luna Voyager II’s other controls and continuing to leave out one feature that rivals almost universally include. In addition to using the Snooze/Source button as a power switch, and doubling up on using the + and - buttons for volume and radio tuning—the latter a little tricky—it has removed both of the switches that were previously found on Luna Voyager’s back. The first previously let you use your iPod or iPhone to set the clock, a feat now handled automatically by Luna Voyager II, and the second switched its display between 12/24 hour time. This is now handled with a free iOS application, instead, which also makes radio tuning and alarm setting a lot easier, while adding simple dimmer controls for the front display. The Luna Voyager II app isn’t mandatory, but XtremeMac is clearly leveraging it to smooth out some rough user experience edges that iPod nano and classic users might discover in the accessory.
You now get to self-supply three AAA batteries instead of the prior model’s two, though they continue to serve the same purpose, providing backup power for the clock rather than fuel for the speakers. Consequently, if you want to listen to Luna Voyager II at home or on the road, you still need to connect it to the included wall power adapter, which like the unit itself is a little larger than before but still relatively portable.
Most of these cosmetic and functional tweaks are for the better, and even when they’re not, they’re made up for by the $10 lower asking price—$70 for a svelte alarm clock radio remains a really good deal by iPod, iPhone, and iPad accessory standards. At that price, our only real gripe with Luna Voyager II is the revised docking system. While the addition of iPad support is certainly welcome, XtremeMac’s mounting approach isn’t entirely convenient for users: connecting most iOS devices to the Dock Connector requires you to pull out the key-like insert, then replace it, something that will raise an eyebrow the first time and feel downright annoying several times later. If you don’t pull the key, you’ll have to fidget with the spring-loaded Dock Connector plug in a way that may well tarnish the bottom of your iPod touch or iPad.* There has to be a better, universal way to dock all of Apple’s iOS devices—unfortunately, it just hasn’t been implemented yet. (* See update below.)
Sonically, Luna Voyager II is solid enough to feel right-priced. It’s no big surprise that such a small, thin system isn’t a bass powerhouse, but what it does, it does well enough that most users won’t complain. There’s legitimate stereo separation that seems to extend just past the edges of the 8.5”-wide body, with twin drivers that deliver mid-treble- to midrange-focused sound with just enough treble and mid-bass to sound more dynamic than a typical FM radio; we’d call the audio “good” overall. The peak volume level of “20” is enough to be heard clearly from a distance of 20 or so feet away, without significant additional distortion beyond what the drivers are capable of at three- to five-foot distances. FM radio tuning results in slightly staticy but powerful performance of stations, albeit stepping in 0.1 increments that U.S.-based users may find unnecessary, particularly when they’re using the integrated buttons rather than the app for tuning.
Taken as a whole, Luna Voyager II is generally an across-the-board improvement on its predecessor in terms of features and sonic performance, adding an additional alarm, radio, and iPad support that weren’t in the prior model—yet dropping the price by $10. All of these factors would have easily justified a higher rating than before, but the design of the iPad-compatible dock is problematic enough to offset those gains. Unless you’re using an iPod touch, you can expect to have to attach and and remove the key-like insert repeatedly, an annoyance that takes away from what’s otherwise a very good and substantially portable budget speaker system. Modest tweaks could and should make a Luna Voyager 2.5 or 3 even better than this unit, but if the dock design doesn’t concern you, this new model has enough to offer to be worthy of considering for $70.
Update: Following our review, XtremeMac contacted us to note that Luna Voyager II has an undocumented and important feature that it plans to publicize in a future update to its documentation—a locking Dock Connector plug. While the plug is by all appearances merely flexible, moving forwards and backwards like many other iPad-ready Connectors we’ve seen, XtremeMac has added the ability to lock it temporarily in place in a completely forward position. This position enables the Dock Connector to mount iPads and other iOS devices without the need to remove the key-shaped insert every time, an issue we noted above quickly becomes seriously annoying for users. Armed with this little piece of information, you can really improve your experience with Luna Voyager II, though it remains less than ideal, as you still need to manually move and lock the plug every time before connecting your device. Had XtremeMac merely chosen the “locked” position as a fixed angle for the connector, and/or used a spring-loaded rear support, the user experience would be considerably better.