Review: Mythix iChant Portable Active Speaker
Pros: An ultra-portable set of speakers that mounts on the top of any iPod, offering reasonably clear sound at volume levels appropriate for one- or two-person listening.
Cons: Left and right speaker channels are swapped, screwing up stereo separation, which begins as less pronounced than in competing ultra-portable options because of position of speakers.
Several sets of pocket-sized iPod speakers released in the last six months have redefined the word “portable.” creating quality stereo sound using only AA or AAA batteries. The best of these ultra-portable solutions, Pacific Rim Technologies’ Cube Travel Speakers (iLounge rating: A), unfolds to form a platform with two separate speakers, an on-off switch, and an iPod tray. Three other options - including Mythic’s new iChant ($32.99) - are tubes that sit on an iPod’s top and produce less powerful, but entirely acceptable sound you can take anywhere you go.
Regrettably, iChant isn’t the top tube option we’ve tested. It’s made mostly from white glossy plastic and is a little narrower in size than Macally’s PodWave (iLounge rating: A-) and PodGear’s PocketParty (iLounge rating: A-), also distinguishing itself with a white metal grille on its face rather than two on its left and right sides. Consequently, iChant’s left and right internal speakers are hidden, but face towards you, while a single AA battery pops into a compartment at the unit’s top rear. An on-off switch is on the rear left hand size, identical to the ones on PodWave and PocketParty. A light gray iChant logo is on the unit’s top front.
The good news is that iChant generally sounds nice - comparable in most ways to PocketParty and the second version of PodWave, but with a bit of extra treble - leading to greater apparent definition - and a little less distortion at maximum volume levels. Volume is controlled by the iPod, and as with the other options, the maximum setting is enough to yield sound that a couple of people can enjoy sitting next to each other. It’s not room-filling, but it’s sufficient for personal listening and travel purposes. At its top volume level, both bass and treble sizzle a little, but not enough that the typical person would care for the price.
Additional good news of sorts is in the unit’s bottom design, which like PodWave (and unlike PocketParty) doesn’t use a peg for stabilization in the iPod’s headphone jack, and thereby doesn’t run into any compatibility problems with the iPod shuffle. iChant fits on all iPods without incident, and like its competitors doesn’t drain any battery power except for its own single internal AA, running for eight hours on a standard alkaline. One Energizer is included with the unit; unlike Pacific Rim’s Cube, there’s no way to connect it to an AC adapter for wall power.
The bad news is that Mythix has reversed the unit’s left and right speakers, so audio coming off of iChant doesn’t have proper stereo separation - a bummer if you’re looking for the “crystal clear stereo sound” advertised on the company’s web site. In fact, where sound separation is apparent, it’s not as dramatic as in Macally and PodGear’s tubes, which despite their small size made more of the two channels by firing to the left and right, rather than forward. Additionally, if you listen closely to iChant, you’ll notice a quiet, high-pitched noise even when nothing’s playing through the speakers - a small difference between the options that again won’t bother most people.
Although Mythix’ big selling point with iChant is the clarity of the sound - which is a little better than that of the other tube options - it is offset more than a little by the left and right speaker swapping. We know that there’s a crowd out there that will reflexively respond, “but none of these systems have true stereo separation” just because iChant is an ultra-portable solution, but having heard PodWave and PocketParty perform better in that regard, we disagree. At close distances, the separation in PodWave and PocketParty is audible and correct - less so in each case with iChant. If you’re willing to overlook this problem because of its small size and the small improvement in clarity it offers, you’ll like iChant. As-is, we feel compelled to place it in our “limited recommendation” category (B-), but if the stereo swapping’s fixed we’ll gladly re-examine that in the future.