Review: Dynex Personal Speaker System for iPod shuffle
Pros: A miniaturized version of Bose’s SoundDock tailor-made to dock the iPod shuffle, with a charging dock and volume controls. Runs off wall power. Bests similarly priced Griffin TuneBox on audio quality and volume, takes input from non-shuffle devices.
Cons: Charging only works when speakers are off; overall audio quality is only a bit above passable by comparison with top iPod and shuffle speaker systems; audio cable required to be connected for shuffle audio; USB connection requires male-to-male USB cable, which isn’t included.
Though we weren’t as convinced at the time, Bose’s SoundDock turned out to be an iconic inspiration for iPod speaker designers: the single curved front surface with multiple audio drivers hidden behind a mesh grille has been endlessly duplicated by Asian speaker makers, especially in systems that haven’t found their way to U.S. shores. Dynex’s recent Personal Speaker System for iPod shuffle ($50, also known as the Mini Speaker System for iPod shuffle) is a prime example, secreting four 32mm (1.25”) neodymium speaker drivers in a mesh-panelled docking station just large enough to accommodate the screenless shuffle.
As it turns out, what Dynex is selling is very similar to Griffin’s earlier TuneBox for iPod shuffle - for better and worse. Like TuneBox, there’s a USB port in the center of the speakers, and when docked within it, you can use the included wall adapter to recharge your iPod shuffle. Oddly, the charging only works when the speakers are turned off, an engineering idiosyncracy that practically won’t matter unless your shuffle’s going to be playing for a while on a low charge.
The Personal Speaker System goes a step further than TuneBox, including a pass-through USB port so that you can synchronize your shuffle while it’s docked - assuming you have your own male-to-male USB cable, which isn’t found in the package. However, both products do include an audio cable, which they surprisingly require in order to actually hear your music: neither one was properly engineered to pull the shuffle’s audio out through its bottom, so you’ll have a cable running out of the docked shuffle to a port on the rear at all times. This cable can be connected to other devices, a benefit, but it detracts visually from what is otherwise a nice-looking system, a negative.
Despite their small sizes, both systems are also non-portable - they only run off of wall power, and have no battery compartments. You put them on a table and listen, achieving very limited stereo separation, and sound quality that’s better than passable, but not fantastic, when compared with other iPod and shuffle speaker systems we’ve reviewed. Logic 3’s i-Station shuffle (iLounge rating: A-), for instance, delivers sound for about the same price that’s not as flat or lacking in both bass and treble as these, and can be taken anywhere with the use of AA batteries.
This isn’t to say that TuneBox and the Personal Speaker System are sonically identical. TuneBox is actually a weaker performer, with 4 watts of total power, and no additional volume controls of its own. Dynex’s system is a 12-watt system with its own volume control buttons on the dock’s front, next to the power switch (and above a blue LED light), and achieves pretty high volumes - much higher than TuneBox’s maximum - without offensive distortion. It also delivers modestly better bass and noticeably better treble response than TuneBox, particularly when the volume’s up.
The other thing Dynex’s system has to its advantage is its appearance. Cloned though it is from SoundDock DNA, there’s no denying that it looks very good - better than the twin-towered TuneBox - and given their similarities in price, there’s no reason to prefer the TuneBox instead. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that some people will like the Personal Speaker System’s looks enough to choose it over iPod shuffle speakers that sound better and offer more features, such as portability and included cases. At the time of this review, the Personal Speaker System is being offered for a discounted price of $25 - a relative steal - but we’re not sure how long that would last. At its standard $50 price, primarily because of its better-than-TuneBox appearance and audio quality, it merits our flat B-rating and standard recommendation - bump it up to a B+ if you can find it for $25.