Review: JVC RA-P10 Portable Audio System/Clock Radio with iPod Dock
There are now dozens of portable iPod speaker systems out there, many at least vaguely similar in design, sound quality, and features, and most rectangular in shape. In recent months, Logitech and JVC have released two more rounded, tube-like portable speakers - Logitech the MM32 ($80) and JVC the RA-P10 ($130) - each with four audio drivers arrayed in a straight line. For Logitech, the mm32 is a big step down in pricing and performance from the earlier, superb mm50, while the RA-P10 is JVC's very first portable iPod speaker, and more sophisticated in features. Our combined capsule review looks at both systems together.
Unlike its more expensive but less iPod-specific NX-PS1 component speaker system we reviewed earlier today, JVC’s RA-P10 actually contains a true iPod dock, complete with a collection of plastic sizer plates designed to hold any type of Dock Connecting iPod released over the past 3 years. Though the included iPod nano plate is only first-generation nano-compatible, putting a second-generation nano on top without the plate is no hassle thanks to the oversized docking well, and we had no sound or stability issue using one inside during our testing. By contrast, the mm32 uses a cheaper mounting system that makes a headphone port connection rather than a Dock Connector one, and has a plastic bottom plate that’s designed only to fit older nanos. While you can use newer nanos - and any iPod, for that matter - inside, the second-gen nano’s fit will be considerably more awkward than with the RA-P10 and virtually any portable speaker with a Dock Connector inside. As with all headphone port-based audio solutions, you’ll also need to set your iPod’s audio level manually before using the mm32’s integrated volume buttons to achieve maximum audio quality and/or volume.
From an audio standpoint, the speakers are nearly equally matched overall, though each has its advantages. The RA-P10 has a higher maximum volume level, slightly punchier sound - especially in the treble - and less distortion at its peak than the mm32, which uses smaller audio drivers. But it also has an ever-present, low static level no matter what level its volume is on, which isn’t an issue with the mm32. Logitech’s design sounds very good for its lower price, but doesn’t have quite the detail or apparent separation of instruments and voices found in the RA-P10, even when the volume levels are properly optimized between the headphone port and built-in amplifier.
The bigger differences between the speakers come in features: JVC’s design is far more fully equipped. RA-P10’s integrated Dock Connector generally makes the unit easier to use and offers charging while the unit is connected to wall power, but isn’t exploited for data, video, or any other purpose. But there’s also an 11-button remote control, a complete FM alarm clock radio with a front-mounted, nicely backlit LCD screen, and even a digital thermometer and simple calendar built into the JVC unit. Though the alarm is relatively simple, with a single timer and a digital chiming buzzer or timed play from the iPod as its only settings, the fact that it’s there will be of use to many travelers, and the buzzer’s sound isn’t offensive, just persistent. We also really liked the fahrenheit- or celsius-switchable thermometer, which like the clock, calendar, and buzzer keeps working even when the unit has neither wall power nor the six AA batteries you can use to keep the unit running on the road. This is thanks to an included lithium cell that’s housed in the RA-P10’s back, alongside its only port, an auxiliary audio input.
JVC deserves special credit for the quality of its FM radio tuner and, with one exception, its remote. We found the tuner to deliver excellent sound quality on numerous stations - clear and strong, with low static, by comparison with similarly priced systems we’ve seen - and the remote worked reliably from 30-foot distances to activate the unit’s various features. Our one and only issue was that the remote doesn’t include a power button - you can turn the backlight and volume entirely off, but the unit’s still on.
By contrast, the mm32 is pretty stripped-down. Lacking any port save for wall power from its included adapter, all that it does is play music from its headphone port cable, and lacks remote, radio, clock, iPod charging, and other functionality; there are battery compartments for four total AA cells, which provide a relatively meager 10 hours of playback time. Other than the simple dock inserts, the only pack-in is a nice little fabric carrying tube designed to match the unit’s shape, which would have been nice to see in JVC’s package, as well, but isn’t there.
Overall, it’s our view that the RA-P10 is, on balance, a slightly better overall package for its somewhat higher price than the mm32, which still delivers pretty good value for the dollar given the limited amount that it attempts to accomplish. Though both systems could use a little work by contrast with our top-rated speakers in this price range (Logitech’s mm50 and Logic3’s i-Station7) - RA-P10 mostly on low-level static and mm32 in the Dock Connector-to-iPod interface - they’re both cool and affordable little audio systems that will suit your purposes well if you’re traveling, on a budget, or just like their style.