Review: Jensen JiSS-600i Wireless Speakers for iPod + iPhone
As much as we've liked certain Jensen budget-priced speakers in the past, there have been times when the company's low-cost strategy has translated into decidedly inferior-sounding hardware -- the sort of accessories we'd only be able to recommend to people who place so much value on functionality that audio quality is a very distant second or third consideration. Such is the case with its JiSS-600i ($150), a wireless speaker system with a "too good to be true" price that, unsurprisingly, turns out to be too good to be true. To Jensen's partial credit, JiSS-600i delivers generally what the company promises, but the implementation of most of the features is mediocre enough that the system is only appealing as a bargain basement option.
To understand why JiSS-600i exists at all, you need to look back to Griffin’s groundbreaking 2007 Evolve Wireless Sound System for iPod, a gorgeous metal and glossy plastic dock that Griffin was hellbent on doing right: the company designed a 2.4GHz wireless audio system with two fully detachable, rechargeable battery-powered speakers and a sophisticated wireless docking station with RF remote control, all of which worked really well to let you listen to an iPod’s music from two or three rooms away, or even outdoors. Regrettably, the materials and features chosen forced Griffin to bump the initial price of $300 up to $350, one of several factors that led the system to a premature death in the marketplace, despite the company’s introduction of add-on speakers that expanded its power even further. Evolve got nearly everything right, but it wasn’t iPhone-ready, and despite the convenience of “take them anywhere in your house” speakers, the price was just too high for many consumers to be interested. Lower-priced versions subsequently appeared from other companies, but each one had fairly significant issues of some sort.
JiSS-600i trades Evolve’s class and quality for a much lower price and “fun” design, adding iPhone compatibility while regressing in most other categories. The two rechargeable battery-powered speakers and their iPod/iPhone-docking base are made from matte black plastic that’s accented with glossy blue rings. Green lights on the speakers and base indicate that power’s being used; a red/green light centered in front of the dock lets you know whether the main dock’s power is on or off. When the system and both speakers are powered on, there are five total lights on the front, while controls are similarly less sexy than on Evolve, with rear power and left/right channel switches on each speaker, plus volume buttons on their tops that are capable of reducing their power relative to whatever maximum the dock has been set for. Everything works as expected in these regards, but like other post-Evolve wireless systems, nothing’s as elegant as it could have been.
Apart from iPhone compatibility, JiSS-600i has a couple of other small enhancements over most of its older rivals. First, the speakers charge through what appear to be rubber pads on their bases without having metal contacts exposed. Jensen doesn’t specify how long the batteries will last, but the 1000mAh lithium cells should be good for several hours of peak-level playback before needing to be placed on the base. Second, the system includes a USB transmitter so that a computer can output audio to the speakers as an alternative to a docked device. It’s stored in a nook on the unit’s bottom when not in use with a computer.
We initially were surprised that Jensen would include this transmitter for the $150 price, as it seemingly expands the system’s input capabilities beyond the iPod or iPhone, and thus may help to justify the purchase for some users. Unfortunately, the transmitter turns out to be a little less appealing than we first suspected: if it’s disconnected from the dock, the iPod/iPhone can’t broadcast to the speakers. This explains the absence of an audio source selection button on the dock or the Infrared remote—only whatever’s connected to the transmitter at a given moment can serve as a source for the speakers. Additionally, we struggled to use the Infrared remote control at distances greater than 10 feet away. For all of the system’s front lights, none actually lets you know if the dock is receiving remote commands, and we routinely had to hit the buttons several times to register presses. Between the inelegance of some features and the performance issues in others, it’s obvious that too many corners were cut to reduce the price of this design.
Some of JiSS-600i’s omissions would be forgivable if the system sounded good—or better yet, great—but our impression of the sound was a disheartened “blah” for most of the songs we tested. The single-driver speakers are midrange-heavy, with just enough bass to sound present rather than full, and very little treble to help tracks appeal to the ears in detail or sizzle. Tracks uniformly sounded flat, impressing only to the extent that the speakers could be turned up to their top small room-filling volume level without obvious distortion. In fact, songs sometimes sounded a little better at higher volumes, as if the speakers had been chosen or tuned for loud performances rather than ones that users would find safe at close distances.
Wireless performance was similarly less than thrilling. On a positive note, amplifier or wireless hisses that are commonly heard in speakers are kept to a minimum in JiSS-600i, regardless of the distance between the speakers and the base. But while Jensen claims that the speakers are capable of operating from up to 125 feet away using twin 2.4GHz transmitters, we saw far weaker results in our testing environment—one that admittedly is a little challenging to wireless speakers due to the presence of a Wi-Fi network. The audio signal began to break up when we reached a 30-foot distance from the base, degrading and popping more as we moved further away, and the sound cut off entirely at roughly 75 feet away through an open doorway. Between this and the Infrared remote’s performance, our impression was that the JiSS-600i is really best used in a single room where the speakers can be placed on opposite sides of an open space, and controlled from a base that’s relatively close to the user. This is a fundamentally different and more restricted use model than Evolve and some of the other wireless speakers we’ve tested, but it may work for some users.
In sum, JiSS-600i is the sort of speaker we’d classify as only “okay” in overall quality, falling short of even a limited recommendation due to its weak remote control and wireless performance—a potentially big issue for speakers that perform best at high volumes and are purchased with an expectation of being used at great distances from the dock. While the overall value equation here is typically Jensen in execution, offering enough features at a low price to make a purchase comparatively painless when considering other options, we’d pass on the JiSS-600i in favor of a design with superior sound and engineering. This is a fine option for budget-conscious users who want the thrill of moving speakers around a room without caring much about how they sound, but we’d hold out for a better-implemented alternative or sequel.