Sometimes, a company releases a product that needed to go back to the drawing board, but sometimes, all it needed was a little fine-tuning to create something substantially better. Kensington’s SX 3000R ($170) is a prime example of the latter situation: based on the company’s earlier, eye-catching white SX2000 flat-panel, Universal Dock-equipped speaker system, Kensington’s new jet black version features a highly similar physical and speaker design with added features. We’ve opted for a capsule review only because most of the fine points were covered in our prior review; this update includes key improvements you’ll want to know about.
As before, you get a highly simplified all-in-one enclosure that has a large flat-faced speaker on the left side and a Universal iPod Dock on the right side. This time, the dock properly fits all of Apple’s Universal Dock inserts, but it still doesn’t come with any of its own – modestly regrettable because of the unit’s black coloration, which now begs for matching parts. There’s still no video or computer output port, an omission that will bother some users more than others, and the new 3.5mm audio input port for non-docking iPods is more of an obvious addition than a major improvement. However, remedying a more considerable omission from the prior model, you now get a remote control in the package, which offers five simple iPod control buttons and three extras: there’s a slightly noticeable bass boost button, which we think is mostly there for marketing reasons (think: “now with bass boost!”), as well as a toggle between two modes: iPod and radio.
The radio feature is unique in that Kensington uses the iPod’s screen for FM dial tuning – a feature we expect to become more common, and better-looking, over time. Tuning is accomplished through an interface that isn’t Apple’s, but provides simple channel surfing on 4G, 5G, mini, and nano models – not 3Gs. Three presets are available for your favorite stations, added and accessed simply through the remote, and stations actually sounds pretty good – lower static and better clarity than we would have expected for a number of reasons. The only oddity here is the radio’s .1 increment tuning – even though U.S. users are typically looking for 100.3 or 100.5 FM, it makes you click through 100.4FM as well. It’s a trivial inconvenience.
As before, Kensington is using NXT flat panel speaker technology, which as we noted in the SX2000 review legitimately sounds better than we would have expected given how it operates, conducting sound waves through a flat surface that can look – as here – very stylish rather than speaker like, and operate bi-directionally, radiating audio from the back as well as the front. This time, there’s a metal mesh grille on the front, which doesn’t detract in any way from the speaker’s looks, and protects the flat surface from easy damage, a nice improvement.
Though SX 3000R isn’t up to the performance levels of the very best $200 speakers we’ve heard, lacking mostly in bass and exhibiting a bit of amplifier noise at higher volumes, Kensington has done right by pricing it at $170 given its style and radio functionality – it looks, sounds, and feels like a pretty good value at that price level. The bass boost does almost nothing to improve the system’s low-end response, which can best be described now as clean rather than rich or deep, but you don’t feel as if you’re listening to terrible speakers when SX 3000R is in iPod or radio mode, which we honestly can’t say about some of the other options we’ve tested at and above this price level. Differences between SX 3000R’s sound and Logitech’s well-priced portable mm50s (iLounge rating: A-) are smaller than before, and though the mm50s create better faux spacialization with their 3-D boost button turned on, the SX 3000R holds its own, and looks a lot cooler besides. Overall, this is a sharp improvement from the prior SX2000 system at an only slightly higher price.
Company and Price
Model: SX 3000R Speakers for iPod
Compatible: iPod 3G*, 4G/color/photo, 5G, mini, nano, shuffle*, 1G/2G*