Review: Memorex iTrek Mi3000 Portable Speaker for iPod
Pros: The new benchmark for value in $100 portable iPod speakers, delivering nice aesthetics, impressive functionality, and great pack-ins for a surprisingly aggressive price. Includes digital FM radio, Infrared remote control, audio cables, and acceptable sound quality by standards of earlier $100 iPod speakers. Runs off of included wall adapter or self-supplied AA batteries for up to 15 hours. Great carrying case; well thought-out in virtually all regards.
Cons: Neither sound nor radio is as spectacular as one might expect from a system that concentrated less on doing many things well than doing a couple of things optimally. Remote doesn’t offer access to radio presets, which are all but necessary because of oddly implemented radio tuner.
Temporarily putting aside the rating you see above, we wanted to give Memorex a quick round of applause for what it’s being doing for the past year. We may not have been blown away by all of its iPod speaker releases, but the company has continued to catch our eyes repeatedly with reasonably priced, feature packed devices—the video player iFlip and clean clock radio iWake are only two examples.
Now the company has released the iTrek Mi3000 Portable Speaker for iPod ($100), which once again pushes the “what should you expect for this price” barrier beyond its established $100 competitors. Cosmetically, it looks like the child of Logitech’s $150 mm50 and Altec Lansing’s $200 iM9, a compact all-black unit with metal grilles that cover four total speaker drivers nestled alongside a pop-out iPod dock. Like the mm50, it has simple pop-out stands that let you prop the unit up, and like the iM9, the iTrek Mi3000 comes with a surprisingly nice armstrap-laden carrying case for easy use while you’re traveling. (Notably, a version called Mi3001 does not include the case.) When placed next to Logic3’s similarly priced i-Station 7, and actually many more expensive portable speakers, iTrek makes a very good visual first impression.
It also delivers from the standpoint of features. Memorex bundles an Infrared remote control, a number of Universal Dock Adapters, and a power supply with each unit; only a year ago, remote controls were impossible to find in $100 iPod portable speakers. This one’s basically the same in performance as in other recent Memorex speakers, differing only in its included “mode” and “bass” boost buttons, and lacking radio preset toggles. That’s right: unlike any other $100 speaker system we’ve seen, iTrek includes a digital FM radio. A little antenna telescopes out of the unit’s top left side, and you tune the radio with a screen, manual and preset buttons found next to the antenna.
Other buttons provide a button to open the dock, track and play/pause controls for the iPod, plus power, bass, and mode switches to toggle between iPod and radio features. There’s a headphone port on the top right side, as well as line-in, AV out, and power ports on the back. Memorex even includes the audio and video cables to use these ports. There’s simply no way to fault the company on its pack-ins or the value equation here.
If you’re keeping score at this point, you’ve probably realized that something has to give when all this stuff is in the box at such a reasonable price, and not surprisingly, the main answers are two familiar ones: speaker and radio quality. A simple way to put this is that iTrek, like i-Station 7, isn’t quite an audiophile-quality portable speaker system; in fact, it’s hugely similar to i-Station 7 sonically, with audio that’s only acceptable given the low price and features you get for the dollar.
On a positive note, the sound’s in true, properly separated stereo, and the system doesn’t sound tinny or terribly distorted at standard volumes. While the bass button adds little to the sound, mostly just skewing the equalization towards the mid-bass, there is literally nothing bad about the default audio setting. It’s just not as impressive as slightly more expensive speakers, such as Logitech’s mm50, which delivers clearer, more lively sound that better represents the entirety of the audio spectrum—highs, mids, and lows. iTrek is flatter, and when heard next to a system such as mm50, sounds radio-like, even though it’s really not that bad. Memorex’s four drivers just aren’t as impressive as Logitech’s.
Similarly, the radio works, but it’s not phenomenal. It tunes from 87.50FM to 108.00FM, bizarrely in .05 increments, which means that it takes four button presses to get from, say, 87.9FM to 88.1FM, whereas most speakers out there would require only one. In an attempt to be helpful, Memorex includes 20 presets and uses seek-only manual tuning buttons, which automatically lock on to new stations if you’re holding the button down. The only problem is that you need to re-start the seek every time it stops at a new station, which combined with the slower tuner means that you’ll be spending a lot of time moving from station to station, and therefore needing to establish those presets.
Radio reception is above average. Many stations come in with ease, but virtually never come in without a base level of static or a faint high-pitched sound, regardless of whether the antenna is telescoped up or left inside iTrek’s chassis. In other words, you have a very good chance of hearing the station you’re trying to tune in, but as with iPod music, you won’t hear it with the clarity an audiophile would expect for the price.
There were a couple of other, smaller corners cut in the design as well. Because it’s less expensive, you won’t find the rechargeable battery pack of mm50 here; instead, you’ll need to provide your own six AA batteries for roughly 15 hours of play time, a common limitation of today’s $100 speakers. And the central iPod dock works, but feels a bit cheaply implemented, and might well not fit the upcoming iPhone.
In all candor, though we feel obliged to impartially deliver our performance findings, we feel hard-pressed to let them significantly undercut iTrek’s final rating because of both the price, and some other nice touches in the design. Memorex’s carrying case has iPod accessory pockets and a pop-out rear stand built in, enabling you to really use the case on the road; Logitech’s mm50 case, while nice, seems comparatively miserly and impractical, and even Altec Lansing’s similar $150 radio-plus-speaker dock iM600 ships without a case at all. We also affirmatively liked the unit’s matte rubber back, which lets iTrek safely lay flat on any surface, and won’t scratch as much as many of its all-glossy competitors.
For a $100 speaker system, it’s obvious that iTrek had a lot more thought put into its features and design than many of the $150-200 offerings out there. Though our high recommendation is based primarily on the great value it delivers for the dollar, it’s also a pat on the back to Memorex, which is trying harder than most other companies to redefine consumer expectations at various price points. Ideally, the company will take steps to bring future products’ sound quality and radio functionality up to snuff with pricier competitors, but as-is, the iTrek Mi3000 will impress anyone save the pickiest listeners. Given its similar sound quality, the only reason some might prefer i-Station 7 at this point is its more aggressive $70-$80 street pricing.