Review: iLuv Aud 5 Apple Lightning Speaker Dock
Price points matter a lot for all consumer electronics, including Apple device-ready speakers, which generally start at sub-$100 prices and climb to the sub-$1000 level. There's room for quality and feature variation within each price bracket, but particularly at lower price levels, developers strain to significantly differentiate their industrial designs and components from what's come before. Right-priced directly between the $100 and $150 levels, iLuv's new Lightning connector iPhone- and iPod-ready Aud 5 ($130) has a familiar look, very respectable speaker performance, and one predictable issue: a lack of case compatibility.
Like many earlier iPod and iPhone speakers, Aud 5’s shape is a slightly edgier spin on the neutral-looking Bose SoundDock, here with top corners that curve outwards to form a 12.5” control panel above an 11.25” base. Rounded in back with a combination of glossy and matte black plastics, Aud 5 has only two rear ports—one for an included wall power adapter, the other for 3.5mm audio input—while the black fabric front ends at a plastic Lightning dock deliberately sized to exclude iPads and iPad minis. As with all of the Lightning speakers we’ve tested so far, Aud 5 is almost entirely incompatible with cases because of conflicting Apple requirements for speaker and case designs, but the connector is mounted on a spring-loaded hinge that flips forward to accommodate various iPod and iPhone thicknesses. If you can put the case incompatibility aside, Aud 5 otherwise has a nice design; nothing about it save for the slightly light weight makes it feel inexpensive.
Aud 5 isn’t as minimalist in controls as a SoundDock, as iLuv went beyond including volume controls to add power, play/pause and track controls, oddly separated by the commonality of their button shapes rather than related functionality. Recessed within the center of the smoked translucent panel is a white circle that serves as a power indicator, arguably the only cosmetic disappointment in Aud 5 given that it doesn’t match iLuv’s packaging or marketing materials. Official imagery suggests that the light is pretty large and bright white, but in reality, it’s so dim and small that you’ll only notice it if you’re looking for it. There are no other frills in the package; you’ll find no remote control, wireless functionality, or rechargeable battery here.
If that sounds like a problem—which it might given the recent proliferation of sub-$150 Bluetooth wireless rechargeable speakers—that’s not necessarily the case, since iLuv clearly used dollars that would otherwise go towards a wireless chip and battery to improve its speaker hardware. As contrasted with the Lightning- and Bluetooth-ready $130 Sound Step Lightning, which has three speakers inside, iLuv has four front-firing drivers, including both active speakers and passive radiators for bass. While the company regrettably doesn’t specify the drivers’ sizes, the speakers are actually pretty good, and backed by a quality amplifier that doesn’t hiss during quiet or silent moments in the audio. Note that this isn’t faint praise: few budget audio systems get this right, but Aud 5 does.
While iLuv’s and Soundfreaq’s systems are similar in peak volume levels, overall balance, and sonic fidelity, they diverge somewhat in the specifics. Aud 5 delivers somewhat deeper bass, particularly at high volumes, while Sound Step Lightning has a small edge in treble and mid-treble clarity. If you like your music deep, Aud 5 is the better pick of the two by a minor margin, while Sound Step Lightning is a bit better if you prefer more dynamic sound. Aud 5 exhibits some bass distortion at the top 15% of its nearly-small-room-filling volume range, and the system vibrates at peak volumes to the point where you can see it slightly shaking but not moving on a flat surface; neither is surprising for a budget audio system with bassy sound.
Overall, Aud 5 isn’t the perfect Lightning speaker dock, but it’s well-executed enough for its price to earn our general recommendation. It’s one of the best-sounding iLuv speakers we’ve tested, with a nice though derivative industrial design, and a $130 price point that’s appropriate given the overall quality of the package. While its appeal is undercut somewhat by case incompatibility, the less than ideal top surface design, and a tendency to distort bass at high volumes, it’s a good alternative to the same-priced Sound Step Lightning if you favor added bass over Bluetooth wireless or remote control functionality. The name is also worthy of some commendation, as it’s a lot easier to remember than the confusing alphanumerics iLuv previously used. This is definitely a step in the right direction for the company, and also for affordable Lightning speakers.