Review: Logic3 i-Station3 Speaker System for iPod
Based on the company's earlier i-Station Shuffle - an iPod shuffle-specific speaker system we reviewed around a year ago - Logic3's new i-Station3 ($60) has emerged as an ultra-low-cost portable docking speaker system for all iPods, designed to undercut earlier $100 offerings such as Altec Lansing's iM11 and JBL's On Tour. But appearing at the same time as its bigger, better brother i-Station7 (iLounge rating: A) hasn't done i-Station3 any favors: super budget-conscious shoppers might save some money, but they'll lose out enough on audio quality and extra features that we'd generally recommend other options instead.
Like i-Station Shuffle, i-Station3 begins with two total left- and right-channel drivers similar to those in the i-Station7, but from there, the key features vary from “similar” to “not as good.” On a positive note, i-Station3 now includes a locking, flip-down central Universal Dock for all Dock Connecting iPods at its center, much like the one in i-Station7. And both black and white versions of the unit are available, each with five color-matched Dock Adapters. In a new twist, Logic3 now incorporates flip-open clear speaker shields that provide partial protection while you travel. These shields are taut enough not to accidentally flip open, and though easier to use than the detachable plastic shield packed in with i-Station7, it’s a step down from the fabric carrying cases that Logic3 used to include with i-Station Shuffle to protect the speaker’s entire body. This is one of a few reasons that i-Station3 won’t win any beauty awards for design, but proves efficient at achieving its functionality.
Smaller than the i-Station7 (shown below in a comparison shot), i-Station3 manages to achieve most of the same basic electronic features. The dock opens to reveal power and volume controls on its front, lacking the trivial 3D Sound button and not-so-trivial remote control sensor found on the more expensive model’s front. Rather than illuminating the dock’s left and right sides with blue lights as in i-Station7, the power light now glows blue to indicate that juice is running through the system - a simple touch, like Altec and others have incorporated in their lowest-cost portable speakers - and the volume buttons are pressure-sensitive, lacking the abiity to be controlled from a distance, but improving on the knob used in i-Station Shuffle.
On the unit’s back are ports for audio and USB data, the latter less aggressive than the true Dock Connector port found on i-Station7, but rendered equivalent by an included USB cable: just as with i-Station7, i-Station3 can be connected to a computer for synchronization. Dual AA battery compartments (for four total AAs) in the rear let you take the smaller unit on the road without the included power supply. Gone are some of i-Station Shuffle’s touches - venting ports for the speakers, a line-out, and of course the shuffle-specific dock - but for most users, they won’t be missed.
Beyond the absence of a remote control - the feature that pushed i-Station7 over the top to our high recommendation - it’s quickly apparent that i-Station3 doesn’t match up in audio quality to its slightly more expensive brother. We weren’t surprised that i-Station7s dedicated bass driver delivers fuller sound, rendering i-Station3 somewhat thin-sounding and simple, but there’s also some fairly noticeable amplifier noise in i-Station3 at average to higher volume levels, and the apparent peak volume level is a hint lower than i-Station7’s - all of this is no surprise given the unit’s cost. By iPod shuffle standards, the i-Station Shuffle upon which this was based was a standout; by Dock Connector iPod standards, this is a competent little speaker at a low price, but not a fantastic offering.
On balance, it’s that price that makes i-Station3 a recommendable option - we’ve seen pocket speakers sell for roughly the same street price as this system, minus the power supply, universal dock with synchronization and charging, and with even less impressive audio quality. Here, you get a solid entry-level portable docking speaker system at a price anyone can afford. As between this and options such as JBL’s On Tour, which has been aggressively discounted to comparable levels, you’ll have to choose between audio quality (On Tour) and docking frills (i-Station3). Given those options, we’d tend to lean towards On Tour overall despite its omissions, but if you’re willing to spend a little more, the bigger, remote-equipped i-Station7 is substantially more likely than both of them (and similarly-priced alternatives) to satisfy your listening and daily usage needs.