Review: Edifier iF500 Luna5 Encore
We get excited whenever a distinctive-looking new speaker system shows up for testing, but practically speaking, few speakers we test these days look truly distinctive, and far fewer have the sound to match up with their shells. Edifier has come up with something that's roughly as spacey and curvy as past alien-themed speakers from JBL, in the form of the iF500 Luna5 Encore ($250). iF500 is a massive iPod-docking speaker system in the shape of a large black moon, packed with five speakers -- twin 2.5" tweeters, two 2.75" midrangers, and a 5.75" woofer, collectively powered by a 55-Watt amplifier.
Fabric on front with a glossy black or white back and matching glossy iPod dock, the system includes a huge AV system-style Infrared remote control, plus an integrated FM radio tuner, audio cables, a required wall power adapter, twelve different Dock Adapters, and a black dock-covering plate. Edifier’s web site says that the system works with iPods and iPhones alike, but picks up audible but low volume TDMA interference when an iPhone’s operating in EDGE mode, and for reasons unknown occasionally pulls up a screen indicating a lack of iPhone compatibility.
The best audio systems we’ve tested have the ability to sound bigger than they are—wider, specifically, creating the impression of a long wall of stereo and distinct instrument separation—so it was a surprise that the iF500 not only didn’t achieve an effect like this, but barely sounded as big as it actually is. And it’s very big: roughly 15” wide, 16” tall, and 9” deep with a bulging chest, it possesses the sort of physical presence and volume that would make people naturally expect it to be powerful and loud. Instead, when we turned it on, we couldn’t believe how flat and reserved it sounded at normal levels, as if there wasn’t any sort of significant bass hardware inside the shell. Since it uses 2.5” tweeters—much larger than the 1” or sub-1” ones that are typically used for high-frequency sound reproduction—weren’t as surprised that the treble was limited, and guessed correctly that there wasn’t much of a way to fix that by playing with the 24-button Infrared remote’s equalization controls.
But we knew that we could coax more out of the 5.75” woofer, so we played with the bass and treble setting buttons, which confirmed that Luna5 Encore did in fact have some low-end muscle: there are 21 stages of sub power ranging from the anemic -10 to 0 through the increasingly powerful and eventually boomy +10, versus -3 to 0 to +3 stages for the treble, the latter necessary but not sufficient to counteract the strong bass skew that audio takes on when the subwoofer is at its max. Unfortunately, these changes don’t scale as you adjust the volume, so the midrange and mid-treble go from drowned out to nearly balanced only if you turn up the system’s power; moreover, due to a lack of digital signal processing, iF500 doesn’t automatically equalize or optimize for different types of music it’s playing. Between this and the fact that it’s designed only for iPods rather than iPhones, one gets the sense that it’s a last-generation speaker design that found its way to the United States on the late side.
There are other little oddities, too. iF500’s iPod dock has entirely capacitive buttons on its top surface, which sometimes are accidentally triggered when you rest part of your hand against the dock to adjust the iPod inside. It also includes an integrated FM radio with a less than entirely intuitive tuner: rather than tuning channels with taps and changing presets by using remote buttons or holding down the tuning buttons, you instead need to hold down the buttons to manually tune stations and tap to change presets. This appears to be because of Edifier’s decision to include an auto-tuning feature that checks the dial and installs the stations it finds as presets, but as the auto-tuner doesn’t work well, simultaneously grabbing inactive stations and thereby filling its presets up only halfway through the dial, manual tuning becomes necessary and inconvenient; the remote control doesn’t help matters at all. Reception is thankfully on the “good” side, with some static in otherwise powerful-sounding stations; we’d normally say “quite good” given that the system has no external antenna to screw around with, though its sheer physical size really leaves little excuse for anything but perfectly clean sound.
Overall, Edifier’s iF500 Luna Encore strikes us as something of a novelty item: a speaker that has a large footprint and makes a strong visual impression, but only delivers above-average rather than great sound and radio performance. It’s worthy of a limited recommendation, specifically to those needing something decorative to place on a pedestal at an art museum or in the corner of a room, but there are other same-priced systems—such as JBL’s On Stage 400P—that we’d sooner choose for balanced and properly equalized sound. Appearances aside, iF500’s strongest suit is its bass performance, which isn’t exactly audiophile-grade but will sate those who need added thump in their audio; due to size alone, it outperforms virtually all peer-priced iPod speakers we’ve tested in that regard, but no others.