Review: Gear4 PocketParty V2 Micro Speaker System
Pros: A good-looking pocket-sized speaker that mounts on any Dock Connecting iPod, including nanos and 5Gs, providing more than adequate sound and volume for its size. Powered by its own AA battery for 10 hours.
Cons: iPod has to lay on back when in use. Only two volume control positions, neither of which is really quiet. Left and right stereo channels are reversed, and left channel is inaudible in speaker’s “low” volume setting.
Back when Macally released its PodWave/AP-A111 (iLounge rating: A-) and PodGear (now Gear4) released PocketParty (iLounge rating: A-), we were pretty enthusiastic about the idea of an inexpensive, pocket-sized speaker system with just enough horsepower for two- or three-person listening. Each of these devices sat neatly on each iPod’s top, and the iPods could stand up while the speakers were plugged in. Changes to recent iPods, however, have wreaked havoc with these devices: Apple’s decision to move iPod nano’s headphone port to its bottom, and the 5G’s port to its far right side, have made new pocket speakers all but necessary.
So Gear4 has taken up the revision challenge, first with PocketParty for iPod nano (iLounge rating: A-), and now this: the PocketParty V2 Micro Speaker System for Dock Connecting iPods (£25/approx. $45). In concept, these accessories should be rated near-identically: Gear4 uses the same general, attractive white- or black-colored chassis, preserves the same price point, and sounds basically the same. They both include a simple on-off switch, mounted on their bottom sides, and use a single AA battery for roughly 10 hours of playback.
There are only three problems, one worse than the others. PocketParty V2 connects to an iPod’s Dock Connector port rather than its headphone port, which means that it’s always going to mount on an iPod’s bottom rather than its top. This wouldn’t be a problem if Gear4 repeated the smart decision it made with PocketParty for iPod nano, stabilizing the speakers’ bottom so that an iPod could stand up with the accessory attached. Unfortunately, it hasn’t, so iPods have to be laid down on their backs when connected. If you don’t mind craning your neck to see the iPod’s screen, this won’t bother you, but in our view the company’s prior speakers were better in this regard.
Second, connecting to an iPod’s Dock Connector has a known limitation: unlike the headphone port, you can’t use the iPod’s controls to change the Dock Connector’s output volume. For that reason, basically every company with a Dock Connector audio accessory includes dynamic volume controls. Gear4 hasn’t. Instead, it mounts a tiny two-position switch on V2’s back, labeled with plus and minus marks. “Minus” is low volume - roughly 70% on the iPod’s volume slider. “Plus” is high (roughly 100%) volume. There’s nothing lower, or in-between. In all honesty, this isn’t an awful solution to an obvious challenge, but it also renders the latest PocketParty less useful than earlier ones.
Third and most surprising is a problem we saw last year in a competing pocket speaker product, Mythix iChant (iLounge rating: B-): inexplicably, the iPod’s left and right stereo channels are reversed on PocketParty V2. Our test stereo song “A Girl Like You” by Edwyn Collins not only played its “to the left” and “to the right” introductory whispers backwards, but when V2 was in “minus” volume mode, we couldn’t hear the left side whisper at all. The one and only reason V2 doesn’t rate lower is that we have diminished expectations in this regard for pocket speaker systems; this is sloppy implementation, but doesn’t destroy the accessory’s utility for most people.
Overall, if you need a pocket speaker system, PocketParty V2 is only an okay choice by comparison with Gear4’s earlier designs. For now, we think you’d be better off buying Macally’s IP-A111 and putting it on your iPod’s top, but we’re hoping that Gear4 will up the ante with an improved option in the near future.