Review: Kentech Labs Odio PS-Mi
Pros: The first multi-driver speaker system for iPods to pack three standard drivers and a dedicated subwoofer into a tall tower-like enclosure rather than a larger footprinted horizontal design. Delivers reasonably balanced sound with enough bass to satisfy mainstream users, and decent stereo separation, despite the narrowness of the chassis. Slide-out iPod dock helps to further conserve space. Includes carrying case and Infrared remote control.
Cons: Though satisfactory, audio quality isn’t up to snuff with best $150 speakers we’ve heard in detail or stereo separation. Despite carrying case, lacks ability to run off of battery power. Controls on unit and remote are limited, omitting user-adjustable audio features and other conveniences of peer speakers.
There are times—lots, actually—when the size or shape of a speaker is more important to its appeal than anything else it may have inside. Such is the case with Kentech Labs’ Odio PS-Mi ($150), a new iPod speaker dock that differentiates itself from the pack with a single feature: the fact that it packs left, center, and right 1.5” drivers, plus a 3” side-firing subwoofer, into a plastic enclosure that’s around 9.25” tall, 3.5” wide, and 8” deep.
Most companies spread the same or fewer drivers into enclosures that are wider and deeper than they are tall, so PS-Mi’s advantage is that you’re basically guaranteed that its footprint will fit in any limited amount of room you have available. In fact, as its iPod dock slides out 2.5” from its face, and most of its weight is behind the dock, you don’t even need eight full inches of desk space to store it, assuming you’re willing to slide the dock back in or let it hang off of your desk. Kentech includes a carrying case, USB and S-Video cables, an Infrared remote control, and dock adapters for older iPods, plus the wall adapter necessary to power the system; surprisingly, despite the carrying case, Odio PS-Mi does not run off of battery power, so you’ll need to have a power outlet handy wherever you carry it.
Though Kentech Labs has taken design cues from any number of earlier iPod products, the silver and glossy black audio tower manages to look different enough from other offerings that you wouldn’t confuse it with any of them. There’s a Griffin AmpliFi-style blue-ringed volume knob on the front, along with a dock that looks like Klipsch’s RoomGroove, and metal speaker grilles that could have come from any number of products, such as iHome’s iH5 or Ignitek’s iCarrier. But the system Odio has most in common with visually is the Timex Ti700, a $69 clock radio that also sought to save space with its unusually tall orientation.
On a positive note, you won’t confuse the $150 PS-Mi with the Ti700 in the audio department. What Kentech offers sonically is a fixed equalization option that sounds like a $100 iHome clock radio, such as the iH9, but with lower lows. Part of the PS-Mi’s bass performance is impressive—thanks to its integrated subwoofer, the system doesn’t distort low-end sounds nearly as much as the iH9 does at higher volumes, and despite their significant audio similarities, there’s a heightened sense of warmth in PS-Mi’s renditions of the same songs.
Having said that, we’re not totally blown away by the system’s sound for the price. Though the subwoofer makes the PS-Mi a bit warmer than the iH9, the bass can sometimes overwhelm midrange detail in songs; similarly, the other 1.5” drivers don’t offer noticeably better clarity than the speakers in iH9’s chassis, and the treble’s a little sharp on occasion. This wasn’t enough to bother us, but it bears mention that the bass and treble can’t be turned down on the EQ-less PS-Mi; speakers such as iH9 include at least some user sound balance adjustability. Then there’s the fact that the iH9 is hardly a great benchmark, given that it sells for $50 less and also includes really good clock and radio features; $150 systems such as AmpliFi, Logitech’s Pure Fi Anywhere, and Altec Lansing’s iM600 are more comparable, but also have their advantages and disadvantages. AmpliFi’s the largest and most powerful in bass, while the portable Pure Fi Anywhere offers balance and clarity, and the equally portable iM600 packs a radio and nearly Logitech-matching sound quality.
What Kentech Labs promises with Odio PS-Mi are a “high degree of spatial separation” and “exceptional stereophonic/surround sound with an infinite ‘sweet spot’,” claims that audiophiles will recognize as familiar—if often disappointing—in larger, more expensive sound systems. Without spending a lot of words detailing the veracity of these claims, it suffices to say that they’re best left to the big boys. PS-Mi’s speakers don’t magically create a 3-D sound field, and don’t have a faux 3-D spatialization button, either; rather, the left speaker fires left, the right and subwoofer speakers fire right, and the center speaker fires towards you. They sound like their locations would suggest, save for the subwoofer, which spreads its bass warmth out evenly; as with most subwoofers, listeners can’t tell the difference as to where it’s located.
Spatial separation isn’t markedly better than on front-facing twin speaker arrays; in fact, at low volumes, it’s hard to discern, as the center channel driver contains data from both sides. At higher volumes, the separation is more obvious, but still not as impressive as, say, the Pure-Fi Anywhere, which rendered big, bold parts of songs such as Madonna’s Hung Up without a sense of artificial compression, as did PS-Mi. It’s just hard for Kentech’s design to compete with horizontal speaker designs; the system’s narrow cabinet physically doesn’t spread the left and right drivers out as much as the other $150 systems noted above.
There are a few other little touches that take away a little from the PS-Mi’s appeal relative to the systems that it calls to mind. The front-mounted dock needs to be manually popped out by hand rather than sliding out like Klipsch’s, a minor difference that we don’t mind for the price. That illuminated front volume knob, unlike Griffin’s, doesn’t also serve as a power on-off switch; Kentech hides that feature on the system’s back, making powering off inconvenient unless you’re using a mirrored button on the simple six-button Infrared remote control that’s included. Also on the back are an S-Video out port, which works only with pre-2007 iPods and not the current nano, classic, touch, or iPhone; there are also an auxiliary audio input and a USB port for syncing.
In our book, PS-Mi is a good speaker for a specific type of user: one who is horizontally space challenged and wants to approximate the sound of a similarly priced horizontal speaker system without dropping down in performance to a cheaper, single-driver design. Though you shouldn’t expect it to perform the spatialization miracles its marketing suggests, or rival the other features of its peer-priced competitors, it’s a solid-sounding, nice-looking system with enough bass for the $150 price to satisfy most people. It’s worthy of our general recommendation.