Review: Logic3 i-Station 8 LCD Docking Station and Speaker System for iPod
Pros: A truly portable iPod docking speaker system with 9 total speaker drivers, separated into left and right channels with a larger subwoofer. Includes good remote control, Universal Dock Adapters, wall power supply, and AA battery option. Compares favorably in sound quality to similarly-priced options.
Cons: Spotty implementation of integrated, not especially useful LCD screen makes use of the system more difficult than necessary - because of synchronization process, which has oddities, not as plug-and-play as competing options. Treble response not as impressive as in some competing, less expensive products.
With some regularity, we issue less than A-caliber ratings to iPod speaker systems with outstanding sound quality, and on occasion, the manufacturers ask, “why didn’t they rate an A?” The answer is always in the review, but typically boils down to one or two of three things: pricing, feature omissions/ defects, or cosmetics. Logic3’s new i-Station 8 ($180) is that sort of speaker: a novel portable design that sounds great for the price, but has a few kinks. It’s available in two colors, white or black, to match your iPod of choice.
A Familiar Design, Rendered Portable
As with much larger desktop speakers sold by Altec Lansing (FX6021, iLounge rating: A) and Harman Kardon/JBL (SoundSticks II, iLounge rating: A-), i-Station 8 takes a “large array of drivers” approach to creating its audio - a novel approach by portable speaker standards. Four drivers are dedicated to each of the left and right channels of audio, rather than the traditional one or two drivers found in each channel on other portable systems. Each driver is tuned to a specific band of frequencies, then crossed over with the others to produce a wall of full-frequency sound. The unique twists here are that all nine Logic3 drivers are integrated into the same chassis, capable of running off of AA battery power, and fit in a briefcase rather than a huge suitcase.
Also unlike those options, Logic3 has integrated a collection of iPod-specific features, most notably a Universal Dock Adapter-compatible iPod dock that folds up for storage or travel, and a large variety of ports on the system’s back. The ports let you take S-Video and composite video output directly from your docked iPod, as well as data and audio; a line-in port is provided for non-docking iPods, and there’s a switch to let you toggle between the eight optional AA batteries or included wall power adapter. Above the ports is a small handle hole with a shelf, which optionally stores Logic3’s included Infrared, 13-button remote control. The remote features album, playlist, repeat, shuffle, muting, and iPod track/playback controls - more than the typical iPod remote, and that of any competing docking speakers in its price range. For the $180 price, you also get a protective clear plastic front shield, Apple Universal Dock-compatible inserts, and an audio cable. The system isn’t sexy - except for one feature below, it’s merely passable on looks - but it crams a lot into a small package.
The LCD Screen
The single most distinctive feature of i-Station 8 is one that’s not found on any other iPod speaker we’ve seen: there’s a LCD screen at the unit’s top, backlit in blue with black text, capable of displaying the current track’s title, or status text based on whatever you’ve done with the remote control. Volume, mute status, shuffle mode, and other features are all indicated in large characters - at least, larger than those on the iPod’s screen. Unless you have pretty good vision, you won’t be able to read them well at a 10-foot distance.
For better and worse, this feature is based upon technology also found in Logic3’s In-Line Remote with LCD Display (iLounge rating: B-), which you might recall from our earlier review had a fairly significant flaw: it requires an initial synchronization period of roughly 20 seconds with your iPod, and sometimes doesn’t succeed. Your music will stop, you’ll see a Do Not Disconnect screen a couple of times, and then in any case, music will start to play. When the process fails, i-Station 8 falls into “Standard Mode,” and can’t display your track data on the screen.
That wouldn’t be a terrible thing, but if it succeeds, it oddly starts playing back your entire music library from the beginning, no matter what your iPod was doing before. In other words, you’ll need to go back and choose your preferred song again. This is a really annoying process to suffer through, and unless you keep your iPod docked for extended periods of time, detracts from the experience far more than it adds to it.
As much as we hate to say this, this “bonus” feature hurts an otherwise good speaker, dragging down its rating. We’re all for adding cool new features to boring and predictable speaker designs, but the lesson of i-Station 8’s LCD screen is obvious: do it right, or don’t do it at all, because you can ruin a great listening experience with a weird interface experience.
If it wasn’t for the screen, i-Station 8 would be a top-flight competitor in the portable speaker category. When you consider what companies have been selling as portable speakers for the iPod at the sub-$200 price level, you’ll first come across impressive entries like Logitech’s mm50 (iLounge rating: A-) for $150, which produces clean, balanced audio but has less bass than some competitors. You’ll also see Altec Lansing’s purse-ready inMotion iM3/iM3c (iLounge rating: B+) for $180, which doesn’t match the mm50 in clarity or balance, but leans more heavily towards bassy response, and the more substantial, ruggedized iM9 (iLounge rating: B+) for $200, which does well on bass, but has a bit of amplifier noise and is the only one to lack a remote control.
Of the three, only Logitech includes both a remote control and rechargeable battery in its package, and though Logic3 forces you to buy batteries separately, its remote bests both the mm50’s and iM3’s, both in sheer number of buttons and features, as well as broadcasting distance - Altec and Logitech’s remotes work, but they’re pretty weak. It blows away the flatter, muddier-sounding iM3 series on clarity and dynamic range, and also compares well to the mm50 in overall sound quality, offering superior bass thanks to its dedicated subwoofer, and reasonable though not great treble response - Logic3’s drivers are better suited to mids than highs. If not for the oddity of the LCD screen, we’d put the i-Station 8 in roughly the iM9’s league, minus of course Altec’s rubberized body and nice carrying backpack.
The more interesting comparisons we did involved asking outsiders for their opinions of more expensive systems as compared with the i-Station - Tivoli Audio’s $300 iSongBook (iLounge rating: B+) and Altec’s significantly larger, $250 iM7 (iLounge rating: A-). Interestingly, our listeners preferred Logic3’s sound to the iSongBook, though they conceded Tivoli’s separatable, water-resistant speakers and high-quality AM/FM radio tuner were major benefits not found in Logic3’s product, but thought the iM7 was the clear winner of the bunch. When told that the iM7 could be had for about the same price as the i-Station 8 by shopping around, they said the “right” buy was obviously the Altec. We agreed. In other words, if you’re willing to compromise on size and portability, you can easily best this speaker; its biggest strength is, like a middleweight boxer, in what it delivers by comparison to same- or similar-sized and -priced options.
In summary, Logic3 has delivered a package that sounds good enough to rival or beat each of its biggest portable direct competitors, includes a superior remote control, and features a relatively advanced docking, synchronization, and charging system. While not the most beautiful or powerful iPod speaker we’ve seen, i-Station 8 packs a lot of audio horsepower into its chassis for the dollar, and is one of the most fully-featured true portables on the market. It’s only undercut by one oddity - the spotty implementation of its integrated LCD screen - which some people may be able to look past, and thoroughly enjoy the listening experience that surrounds it.