Review: Macally TunePro Flat Panel Stereo Speaker with AM/FM Alarm Clock Radio
Compatible: iPod 4G, 5G, nano, mini
Pros: A visually unique and impressive combination of an iPod speaker dock, customizable dual alarm clock, and radio with solid AM and FM tuning, employing a flat mirrored panel as a stereo speaker surface. Reasonably priced given its looks and features, very good default sound right out of the box.
Cons: No remote control included or optional. Buttons could be a bit easier to use; SRS WOW and bass/treble toggles are unnecessary given system’s sound limitations. Doesn’t work properly with iPhone.
After Kensington released its radically thin, flat surface SX-series iPod speakers based on NXT flat panel audio technology, it became obvious to us that NXT—a company initially associated with mediocre, flat sound—was poised to make a strong comeback if it and its partners could create really cool, reasonably priced speakers using improved drivers. With TunePro ($130), which uses a mirrored front surface to hide a dual alarm clock, AM/FM radio, and stereo speaker drivers, Macally has succeeded in realizing that vision.
The idea behind TunePro is simple. Macally uses a single sheet of nearly opaque mirrored plastic to form a flat speaker panel that stretches 13 3/8 inches from side to side, then places an iPod dock at its front center, an almost iconic speaker design that’s as good as we’ve seen from much larger companies. There are also two antennas on its back, one hard-wired for FM radio, the other larger and detachable for AM reception. They’re arguably the only knocks on the otherwise extremely clean design; thankfully, if you’re not a radio fan, you can pull the larger AM antenna entirely and just keep the built-in FM antenna hidden away. TunePro also includes three adapters (5G and nano) for its iPod dock, a power supply, and an auxiliary audio cable that connects to its only other rear port if you want to listen to a device not supported by the iPod dock.
A brilliant little addition to the TunePro design is a digital clock hidden behind the upper right hand corner of the mirror. Though the system could conceivably have done without it, the radio, and alarms, Macally has done a good enough job with all of these features to make them worth using. Using a slightly—not hugely—confusing set of buttons, spread across the bottom left and right front, as well as the unit’s back side, you can set the clock, the twin alarms, and multiple presets for the radio, as well as toggling between 12 hour and 24 hour time, three inputs (radio, iPod, buzzer) for each alarm, and three dimmer settings for the clock. Once set, the clock and alarms are easy to update, and a central power/snooze button on the iPod dock is easy enough to find and use. Tiny interface tweaks would have made this all easier, but as-is, it all works as expected.
“As expected” might not be generous enough. We actually liked TunePro’s AM and FM radios; the AM radio in particular was stronger and cleaner than we would have anticipated, and though the FM radio had a base level of static, it wasn’t objectionably high, and we found station tuning to be very straightforward and easy. The alarms start out quiet and gradually increase in volume as time progresses, so you’re not initially shocked by what’s coming out of the speakers. Apart from all the buttons, TunePro feels better-polished than might have been expected from Macally, which has only limited experience in making speakers, and none with clocks.
The same holds true for the system’s sound. We’ve been as critical of NXT sound in the past as anyone, but between TunePro’s properly calibrated stereo drivers and a strong default audio setting, we found the system’s audio to be right about where it should be for the $130 asking price. Though you shouldn’t expect deep, booming bass, TunePro delivers nicely balanced, truly and properly stereo separated sound from its flat mirrored panel, with enough high, mid, and low detail to sound at least good, if not spectacular next to most other speakers at or below its price. It’s one of those speakers that we just enjoyed listening to without any sort of adjustment, despite a treble/bass/SRS WOW enhancement button on the unit’s back.
There’s a little slight of hand going on here, however. Macally touts the system’s SRS WOW technology and both treble and bass adjustments as user-selectable, but if SRS WOW is turned off, or if the bass and treble settings are tweaked at all, TunePro doesn’t sound as good. Unlike systems that actually have more bass or treble power in reserve, TunePro comes out of the box sounding the best it can, and having the settings there isn’t helpful.
Our favorite part of TunePro was something unexpected. When your music plays through the mirrored speaker, the speaker vibrates a little, somewhat like rippling water and a music video special effect we’ve seen in the past. The difference is that you can see the vibration pulsing through whatever’s reflected in the mirror—your face, the room, or the surface TunePro is sitting on. Because of the mirrored face, TunePro looks cool enough even when it’s not doing anything else, but when you’re shaking the speakers, it steps up a notch.
Macally missed only one feature that should unquestionably have been a part of TunePro: a remote control. Perhaps because it’s intended to be a desktop or nightstand clock radio and speaker system, controlled from up close, it doesn’t have or apparently support the addition of a remote control. Regardless of the reasons behind this, Macally missed the opportunity to make this system even more broadly appealing; at this price point, its absence is the only thing that reduced the overall rating from a flat A to a still impressive A-.
It’s worth a brief additional note that the TunePro we tested does not work properly with the iPhone, a fact which might also limit the device’s compatibility with future iPod models as well. When an iPhone’s connected to TunePro’s dock, it will initiate Airplane Mode and charge, but will not play any music back through the TunePro speakers. As Macally never promised iPhone compatibility, we don’t detract at all from the rating for this omission, but it’s unfortunate given how well the speakers cosmetically match iPhone’s body.
Overall, TunePro packs an increasingly rare combination of great looks, solid sound, and useful extras—a neat clock and very good radio tuning—at a $130 asking price that is reasonable given everything Macally has assembled here. Though TunePro could be further improved by adding a remote control, fine-tuning certain small elements of its design, and adding iPhone compatibility, this is a good enough speaker for current iPod and iPod nano owners to consider purchasing as-is, and very worthy of our high recommendation.