Review: Macally IP-N111/B and IP-N1112 Portable Stereo Speakers
Pros: A nicely designed nano-complementing, circular speaker that’s small enough to fit in a baggy pants pocket, delivering superior sound quality and volume to smaller tube-like pocket speaker designs. Looks great standing up on a flat surface; powered by three AA batteries (included) for around 20 hours. Very reasonable pricing.
Cons: Left and right speakers are reversed. Other than that, sound quality is great given size, but not on an absolute scale. Unlike top competing option, can’t run off of wall power.
We hate when a small but sloppy flaw forces us to rate an accessories lower than it would have scored otherwise. That’s the case with Macally’s new IP-N111 ($40), a pocket-sized, iPod nano-specific circular speaker that’s available in standard glossy white and new iPod glossy black (IP-N111B); it was on track to receive our high recommendation, but fell short in one of our standard audio tests. Updated: On November 1, 2006, we received Macally’s IP-N1112 speaker, an update of IP-N111 to fit the second-generation iPod nano. Since Macally hasn’t bothered to fix the audio issue identified below, our prior rating of this product stands for the new one, a real disappointment given the unit’s otherwise nice design.
In past speaker reviews, we’ve distinguished between four basic types of iPod speakers - pocket-sized/ultra-portables, portables, semi-portables, and non-portables - and focused largely on the latter three kinds. There just hasn’t been a lot of competition in the pocket-sized speaker market - typically, the prices are low, sound quality is so-so, and the designs all follow the same general pattern: they’re tubes that fit on the tops or bottoms of iPods. There are two noteworthy design exceptions to this. One is Pacific Rim Technologies’ Cube Travel Speaker (iLounge rating: A). The other is IP-N111.
Like Pacific Rim’s Cube, IP-N111 stretches the definition of pocket-sized a little - this one will fit in a large pocket, but not in your tightest pair of jeans. Its most conspicuous feature, a speaker puck with a 4-inch diameter, houses separate multiple audio drivers, while a rectangular rear compartment opens to reveal three included AA batteries, together providing around 20 hours of play time. The only control on IP-N111 is a power switch on its top left, and the only status indicator is a blue power light on its front top right. Your nano rests inside its cradle, its screen and controls framed by but left accessible through the speaker’s plastic shell. Like almost every other pocket-sized speaker we’ve tested, the iPod’s controls handle volume changes.
The benefits of IP-N111’s unique design are several. It looks especially nice on a flat surface by comparison with all of the other miniature speakers we’ve tested, stands up better with your nano than most of them - tied with Gear4’s PocketParty for iPod nano (iLounge rating: A-) - and packs more battery and audio power, thanks to its larger chassis and three AAs. More specifically, it’s noticeably but not tremendously louder at any iPod-set volume level than PocketParty and all of the tube-like speakers we’ve tested, and has a bit more presence, particularly in the mid-bass and bass departments.
As we’ve mentioned with other pocket speakers we’ve tested, though, there are some obvious consequences to buying a speaker like this. On an absolute scale, and for obvious reasons, its sound quality isn’t up to snuff with that of larger and more expensive iPod speakers - by their standards, its distortion is comparatively high, approximating what you’d expect from a clock radio, and exhibiting especially noticeable bass distortion at the top 10% of the iPod’s volume meter. It won’t charge your nano, or run off of wall power. And this one, unlike most of the earlier pocket speakers, only works with the nano, nothing else. Though it’s not as visually well suited to the nano as IP-N111, Pacific Rim’s Cube does a little bit better in each of these departments.
The flaw that crippled IP-N111’s rating was its stereo separation. On a positive note, it’s there, albeit modest because of the unit’s small size. Unfortunately, like a handful of other small speakers we’ve tested, Macally mixed up the left and right speakers, so if you’re listening to a song where certain sounds are supposed to be on the left, they’ll be on the right, and vice-versa. Because the soundstages are so small on these little speakers, and because fewer people expect perfection from such small designs, we don’t dock as much from reversed pocket speakers as we do from others, but the sloppiness here literally cost the IP-N111 the A- it otherwise would have received.
In our view, the IP-N111’s other issues are generally unimportant given what else is out there for $40: as of the date of this review, it’s impossible to find a small, iPod nano-specific speaker that looks as nice for the dollar as this one, and other than the reversed speakers, its sound quality is better than what you’ll get from the pocket-sized tubes on the market. That said, if proper left- and right-speaker orientation is important to you, or you need something smaller, PocketParty for iPod nano is a worthwhile compromise alternative; similar, if you want something a little better and more versatile, Pacific Rim’s Cube is still our top pick overall. IP-N111 is good, but it could have been great.