Review: Elecom ASP-700i Speakers
Pros: Lightweight, reasonably priced speakers with great stereo separation, good sound balance and volume; match the look of full-sized iPods nicely, and perform comparably to more expensive Altec offerings.
Cons: Dockless and only quasi-portable, these speakers fall into the medium performance category, with modestly distorted treble and less rich bass than other options, and have no user adjustment for bass or treble.
iPod-matching speaker systems today come in two flavors: with iPod docks or without docks. If any generalization about these alternatives is true, it’s that a speaker system sold with an iPod dock will carry an iPod premium price because its vendor assumes there’s a captive audience. By comparison, speaker systems lacking iPod docks are often marketed as iPod-matching but practically hardware agnostic, and may be suggested for use with computers or other digital music players as well. Because competition in the computer speaker market is far more competitive than for dedicated iPod speakers, dockless iPod/computer speakers generally sell for less - often considerably less - than their dock-equipped alternatives.
Elecom’s a Japanese company that makes all sorts of computer-related products for consumption overseas, and the ASP-700i speaker system ($109.00, graciously provided by AudioCubes.com) is a slight deviation from that focus. Specifically marketed towards iPod owners - but also for users of other portable audio devices - the white glossy plastic casings of the ASP-700i speakers clearly match full-sized iPods better than any CD player or other MP3 device available, and the silver and black speaker drivers strongly resemble the ones in Altec Lansing’s original inMotion speakers for the iPod. These are clearly iPod-specific speakers, just minus the dock.
Elecom’s drivers are larger than those in Altec’s inMotion, but only two in number rather than four. One driver is mounted near the top of each seven-inch tall speaker, which we’ll note is the tallest speaker set currently marketed for use with iPods, though thin and relatively lightweight. Each speaker has a silver painted plastic foot at its rear to promote a reclining performance angle for the audio, matching the tilt of a docked iPod - assuming you provide the dock yourself. Three cables are included, one white speaker-to-speaker connector, one white speaker-to-iPod connector, and one black power cable with attached power supply. A small red light on the right speaker indicates that power is on, and you can turn it off via a two-position button at the bottom rear of that speaker. Volume is adjusted via an up-down toggle at the right speaker’s middle.
Overall, we like the look of the ASP-700i speakers quite a bit. Minimalistic and clean, they’re a substantial deviation from and improvement upon Elecom’s other speaker offerings, and their soft white edges match the iPod quite well. Though released this year, they are a bit of a throwback to what Altec Lansing was designing mid-last year, but plenty of people will find them a solid match for full-sized iPods regardless. Elecom’s minimalism has only one negative consequence - like so many other iPod-matching speaker systems - but not all - they offer no user control over bass and treble settings, and have no other frills such as an iPod dock or remote control.
A Note on Portability
iLounge always reserves a paragraph to discuss the portability of speakers we review, and the Elecom ASP-700i system presents only a modest challenge in this regard. They’re small, lightweight, and designed wisely enough to fit in any briefcase or bag, but they’re not battery-powered or strictly intended for use on the road. The Elecoms therefore fit into the same general category as JBL’s On Stage ($199.00), but are obviously around half the price, though they compare most directly in sound quality (below) with Altec’s inMotion truly portable iM3 speakers ($179.00).
We thought that Altec’s use of four smaller drivers in its inMotions might yield benefits over Elecom’s two larger driver design, but it didn’t. Initially, the difference between Elecom’s speakers and Altec Lansing’s iM3 speakers was tough to discern, especially at any listening angle other than straight on - a mostly positive statement considering the Elecoms’ lower price. But after testing and re-testing the ASP-700i system a number of times with a collection of our standard test songs, we eventually felt comfortable with several conclusions as to their differences.
The systems are roughly equivalent in power: both have room-filling potential and plenty of volume if that’s what you’re looking for. But whereas the iM3 system emphasizes and modestly distorts the low-end (bass) of audio, the ASP-700i system emphasizes and modestly distorts the high-end (treble). In better speakers, we hear a crispness of high notes that isn’t there in the Elecom’s, but we prefer their balance to the iM3s regardless. While the ASP-700i sound is not quite as rich and resonant as the iM3s, it’s not tinny, either, though the tiny bit of high-end distortion hints at what will happen if you set the iPod to further boost the treble.
Moreover, the ASP-700i system presents a decidedly better sound stage - central voices sound distinct from instruments playing on the left and right, and there’s a fair bit of depth to the sound as well. It also bears emphasis that only the Elecoms permit whatever degree of stereo separation the listener prefers: the iM3 speakers are fixed so close to one another that you’d have to lick the dock in order to be in their sweet spot. The modestly cabled Elecoms can be moved around, but sound better to our ears than the iM3s even at when moved only modestly further apart than Altec’s drivers. Elecom’s sound is solid and a bit less compressed overall than Altec’s.
Comparisons and Conclusions
With all of this said, we’d still take one of two JBL products over the Elecoms. The On Stage has cleaner sound at a substantially higher price tag, but JBL’s Creatures ($99.95, available for $62 and up) are even cheaper, and as we often note in our speaker reviews, sound better than anything else marketed for use with the iPod. The difference in depth, richness, and clarity is a significant one, as is the difference in price.
However, there is no question that in the “not quite portable but still sorta easy to carry” speaker category, Elecom’s ASP-700is are a lot easier to tote around than the Creatures, which are simultaneously weighed down and benefited by a substantial subwoofer. Not only are they considerably lighter, but their sound is very similarly balanced to the default settings we like on the Creatures, only not quite as clean and lacking the Creatures’ ability to boost the bass.
We’ve been awarding a lot of B+ grades to speaker systems lately, and the ASP-700i system also falls into that category. It’s just another trade-off versus systems that sound better but are considerably heavier and/or more expensive. We’d recommend Elecom’s product to people who need a smaller or lighter system than the Creatures but are still looking for a relatively low-cost, better than average sounding set of speakers for the price tag.
Jeremy Horwitz is Senior Editor of iLounge and practices intellectual property law in his spare time. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school - ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.