Review: Macally IP-S111 Portable Speakers for iPod shuffle
Pros: An iPod shuffle-specific pocket speaker system with enough volume for one- or two-person listening, 12 hour battery life on a single AA battery.
Cons: Noticeably lower audio quality than prior Macally model, exhibiting noticeable bass distortion, and limited in use to the iPod shuffle, which needs to be inserted upside down.
A year and a half ago, Macally released its first PodWave (since renamed IP-A111, iLounge rating: A-), a nice and affordable pair of speakers housed in a tube that fit on top of any full-sized iPod or iPod mini. A single AA battery powers the speakers for 12 hours, and there are no controls besides a power switch - volume is provided solely by the connected iPod, which is adequate for one or two-person listening. The formula has worked, and other companies have released highly similar devices - PodGear’s PocketParty and Mythix’s iChant, among them - but they’ve all had the same limitation: they’re too big to fit on top of the iPod shuffle.
So Macally went back and created IP-S111 ($40), which is essentially PodWave/IP-A111, only moved from the iPod shuffle’s top to its bottom. We say “essentially” because there are some differences - the metal speaker grilles on its left and right sides are actually larger than PodWave’s, which would lead you to believe that the drivers inside might be bigger and better. And the battery compartment has been moved from a horizontal position between the speakers to a vertical one, such that IP-S111 has an unmistakably phallic look, and now stands straight up on a flat surface. The shuffle is placed upside down onto a headphone port connector between the speakers, and cannot be made to stand rightside up while inside.
Unfortunately, IP-S111 has taken a step downwards on audio quality, though the difference in housing has nothing to do with it: rather than benefitting from the full length (and potential resonance) of their tubular designs, both speakers use small, shallow enclosures. The drivers just haven’t been tuned properly in the new unit, resulting in bass and mid-bass distortion that’s evident at normal listening levels, and lessened only when you turn the volume down below its peak.
Is the sound acceptable? Unacceptable? That depends on what you’re expecting. Pocket-sized speaker systems aren’t inherently stellar audio performers, and are basically intended to be convenient alternatives to carrying something more substantial around. But with its fairly high bass distortion level, we’d characterize the IP-S111’s sound as comparatively unpleasant - not unlistenable when heard in isolation, but not good overall.
Would we recommend IP-S111 as worth purchasing? Honestly, no, at least at this point in the iPod shuffle’s lifespan. All things considered, unless you are seriously in need of keeping your iPod shuffle vertical, the old IP-A111 is a much better choice - it’s not specific to a single iPod model, doesn’t require you to insert your iPod shuffle upside down, and sounds better besides.