Review: Klipsch iGroove All-in-One Digital Music Speaker System
Pros: A solid all-in-one speaker system with unique styling, a remote control, an adapter for non-docking audio devices, and a slightly lower-than-Bose SoundDock price. Smooth sound, good bass, and relatively low distortion at higher volume levels.
Cons: Some amplifier hiss evident in acapella tracks and/or at close distances. Remote control isn’t the best we’ve seen in an all-in-one system, even by Infrared standards, achieving around half the distance of SoundDock’s. Size is comparable to iM7’s, and price is higher, though overall sound quality and user-adjustability aren’t superior.
We’ve mentioned it in all of our higher-end speaker reviews, but the point bears repeating here: by releasing the $299 SoundDock (iLounge rating: B+) last year, all-in-one audio company Bose simultaneously drew a big bullseye on its back and inspired every other premium speaker maker to dip its toes in the iPod accessory market. No company has taken up the challenge with more vigor than Klipsch, which first debuted the even more expensive iFi system (iLounge rating: B+) in May, and later announced two additional, lower-priced all-in-one speaker systems called iGroove and iJam.
From the first moment you open the box, it’s obvious that iGroove ($279.99) was designed as a direct competitor to SoundDock: the funky, concave silver arc of Klipsch’s enclosure is the relaxed inverse of Bose’s stark, convex white brick wall of sound, but other than that, the units could have been designed by the same people. Both have large silver mesh grilles that extend past whichever iPod is docked in the center, volume buttons immediately next to the iPod, and small six-button infrared remote controls. iGroove is roughly the same height and depth of SoundDock, but several inches longer - roughly 16 versus 12. Though the comparison’s not precise because of iGroove’s unusual sloping sides, it’s only about an inch narrower than Altec Lansing’s inMotion iM7 (iLounge rating: A-). (The picture here shows general scale, though iM7 looks a little smaller than it actually is relative to iGroove because of distance from the camera. It’s actually wider.)
Klipsch adds a multi-colored power button to iGroove’s face, but leaves the unit’s back similarly bare: there’s a place to plug in the included power cord, but nothing else - a major contrast with iM7, which features video output ports, an auxiliary input port, and a headphone output port on its back, plus compartments for batteries on its bottom. A groove in the top of the curved rear acts as a grip; there’s nothing rubberized, like the iM7’s rear grip, but it works fine for the limited room-to-room portability iGroove can offer. Klipsch opted not to include a battery option with iGroove, a feature it is apparently saving for 2006’s iJam instead, so you’ll need to use the included black wall adapter if you want to listen to your music.
Interestingly, iGroove does support auxiliary input of sorts - an included “J-Cup” cradle connects to the bottom of the unit’s dock and provides a headphone jack connector. You can use this to connect iGroove to an iPod shuffle or other MP3 player, though the cord is short enough that you’ll have to hope your alternate device fits in the cradle, or supply your own audio cable.
A removable adapter is provided to accommodate the iPod mini, while a unique rubberized sliding panel inside the dock moves up and down on an angle to resize the cavity to fit various full-sized iPod thicknesses. All of the iPods we tested, from 3Gs and minis to various types and thicknesses of 4G and color iPods, worked without incident, both playing music through iGroove and recharging in the dock - just like SoundDock. And as with all of the other speakers we’ve tested, Klipsch doesn’t yet include an iPod nano cradle in their box, but we’d have to suspect one’s in the offing.
If there’s any way to easily win extra points on an iPod-specific speaker design, it’s this: design a great remote control. By great, we mean three things: use RF radio signals rather than Infrared light, make sure the remote’s buttons work properly, and include a few extra buttons for audio tuning or iPod control if possible. Regrettably, Klipsch’s iFi, Bose’s SoundDock, and Altec’s iM7 all previously missed the ideal for various reasons, but iFi’s RF remote was the strongest of the three, and the only one capable of transmitting through walls and/or from other rooms.
iGroove’s remote actually takes one step back and one step forward from iFi’s: like the SoundDock and iM7 remotes, it’s Infrared-based rather than RF-based, which means that its maximum theoretical broadcasting distance has been cut by around 70% from the iFi’s, and it won’t work through walls. In direct testing, SoundDock’s remote proved superior, reliably controlling the speakers from a 30-foot distance, while iGroove’s fell off at around 15 - better then iM7’s remote, which was the single biggest weakrness in the unit we tested, operating reliably from a myopic 10-foot range.
The step forward is in physical design. iFi’s remote was an odd little egg with five rubbery top buttons arranged in a straight line; iGroove’s is an unusually curved unit with six buttons, one each for system power, iPod play/pause, volume up, volume down, track backward and track forward. In addition to feeling more comfortable in the hand, the button arrangement makes sense this time, and parallels the SoundDock’s because of Klipsch’s addition of the system power on-off button. iFi’s mapping of that button as a third feature of the play/pause button was simpler, but the standalone button here is fine, as well. That said, we prefer the inclusion of shuffle songs and repeat buttons, like DLO did with its HomeDock’s remote control, but this one is alright.
In both packaging and marketing, Klipsch has continued to tout its iPod speaker systems as possessing “audiophile-quality” sound, a claim we challenged a bit with iFi and found even less applicable here. Though the phrase is loaded and amorphous, audiophile quality implies a reference level caliber of sound against which competing products at or around the same price level should be judged. As we’ve noted before in our reviews of semi-portable and non-portable speaker systems - ones that run off of wall power or are otherwise impractical to travel with because of their size - there’s no correlation between spending more money on one of these speakers and getting a better audio experience. A good pair of JBL Creature IIs (iLounge rating: A) or Encounters (iLounge rating: A-) will run you half or less the price and give you equal or superior clarity, better stereo separation, and more control over the equalization (treble/bass) of your audio.
But the appeal of these all-in-one systems is a bit different. They give you a charging iPod dock and remote control, plus speakers in one enclosure that requires no additional wires, parts, or fine-tuning in order to work. Bose’s idea, which Klipsch has now duplicated, was to create a single audio signature that average people would find appealing without needing to tweak treble or bass. This one-size-fits-you approach works well if you like the choices the company has made and aren’t looking for dramatic stereo separation, but not if you want control or truly “flat,” reference-grade sound.
iGroove includes two one-inch tweeters, each of which incorporates a MicroTractrix Horn, and two 2.5” woofers, all of which contribute to a sound profile that’s very comparable to the SoundDock in all but one way. On a positive note, iGroove continues in iFi’s tradition of delivering very rich bass - though audiophiles’ opinions will vary on the overall contribution of bass to an “audiophile-quality” experience, Klipsch appears to be of the opinion that strong, smooth bass is going to win the hearts of typical iPod customers, and if the SoundDock is any evidence, they’re right. We’d give the iGroove a tiny edge on bass and overall smoothness of sound, but the difference is small enough that most people won’t know or care. iGroove also delivers very similar stereo separation to SoundDock - surprisingly close given the unit’s wider-than-SoundDock body - which is to say good, but not as pronounced as what you can get with iFi or any of the less expensive component systems we’ve reviewed. Both systems can be driven cleanly up to very loud volumes, though as we noted with iM7, it’s much safer for your ears to do this with a system with a good remote, like SoundDock’s, than one that requires you to be up close to make adjustments.
The biggest difference between SoundDock and iGroove is this: at close distances, or in tracks without significant instrumentation, you’ll notice that iGroove has some amplifier noise - a low hiss - that’s considerably more noticeable than anything in SoundDock or iM7, closer to what we’ve heard in lower-end inMotion systems from Altec. And as between iM7 specifically and iGroove, the comparisons only get harsher from there. Given the fact that iM7’s enclosure consumes the same general amount of space as iGroove, it’s pretty quickly apparent that Altec packed more into its cabinet and got better results out of it. In addition to larger mid-range drivers (two 3-inchers versus Klipsch’s two 2.5-inchers) and two same-sized (1-inch) tweeters, Altec tossed a dedicated, powerful 4” subwoofer into the iM7 enclosure, and the result is bass that easily eclipses iGroove’s - if you want it.
Altec’s approach to user-adjustable audio, as we noted in our review, was pretty darned close to ideal. Not only did the company clean up the audio output from earlier inMotions and deliver great bass power, but it also gives you the ability to adjust your bass and treble levels to your personal preference. This is a feature that we continue to strongly prefer over the one-sound-fits-all approach that Bose took and Klipsch followed, and only adds to iM7’s otherwise great sound, which includes better apparent stereo separation and a bigger, bolder presence than both the SoundDock and iGroove.
As we noted at the onset of the review, Klipsch has been gunning for SoundDock, but Altec changed the rules of the game when it introduced iM7 - a system with superior audio, a lower price point, battery-powered portability, and at least equal (if not superior) industrial design. Merely releasing a system nearly identical to SoundDock isn’t enough at this point; iM7 is the target going forward, and any speaker system that’s the same size, costs more and delivers less versatility will be a tougher sell in our view.
That said, iGroove is still a generally good all-in-one speaker system that belongs in the same general class as SoundDock, probably a small notch below when all things are considered. Its all-silver design and curves will appeal more to some people and fit better in some homes than others, but it’s a bit of a harder sell on us right now given that it doesn’t match the body of any iPod currently sold by Apple (at least as of the date of this review). And as we’ve found through months of testing, SoundDock’s superior remote control and slightly narrower body make it easier to fit in the corner of a small room and use from a great distance away - it’s been a consistently solid performer for a long time, and the audio differences between it and iGroove are smaller than we’d expected.
Finally, there’s the issue of price. Though iGroove’s price is a hint lower than SoundDock’s, it’s not enough (like iM7’s $50 spread) to make that much of a difference. Spending our own money on the unit underscored this reality, and solidified our flat B rating: if we had to pick the unit best for our daily needs, we’d pick the iM7 first, SoundDock second, and iGroove third, with the latter two a closer call than the former two. While we’re sure that vocal Klipsch fans will write off the SoundDock and find reasons to proclaim iGroove superior, we’re relatively convinced that most unbiased listeners will prefer the iM7 on everything except its remote control, and the SoundDock on overall combination of performance and styling.