Review: Miglia MicroSound Micro Speaker for the iPod nano and iPod shuffle
A small speaker? For an iPod? You don't say. Following up on Macally's PodWave/IP-A111 and Gear4's PocketParty, Miglia's MicroSound (£17/$30) is designed to be the smallest dedicated iPod nano- and shuffle-compatible speaker system, measuring roughly 2.5" across, 1" deep, and 3/4" tall, yet still packing twin speaker drivers and enough battery juice for around 12 hours of play time. Other pocket speakers look noticeably bigger alongside it, and though IP-A111's priced the same, PocketParty costs a little more. So if it's smaller and the same price or cheaper, you'll want to run out and get one, right?
Not so fast. In the world of speakers, it’s virtually a truism that smaller isn’t better: just look at what happened to XtremeMac when it shrunk its previously excellent MicroMemo from a 5G iPod size down to a slim, nano-matching enclosure. Smaller speakers typically sound more distorted, less bass-rich, and lower in maximum volume than their larger peers, all things being equal, so though it’s easy to make nano-matching speakers, most companies haven’t been willing to make those audio quality compromises and disappoint customers in the process.
MicroSound’s obviously an exception. It comes threadbare, with only a plastic headphone plug cap and matching rear battery compartment as detachments from its miniature chassis; you’ll have to provide the required AAA battery on your own. There’s a single switch - on/off - on its right side, and a soft rubber pad on the top that keeps both nanos and both iPod shuffles in place when connected to the headphone plug. All four of those iPods mount on top of the speaker, which can stand up on its own flat bottom surface, and though both shuffles are turned upside down when connected, each of these iPods does have properly separated left and right stereo channels with MicroSound in its standard position. (The speaker also connects to 5G iPods - a feature not advertised or suggested by Miglia, because it’s less attractive and the stereo channels reverse when mounted on those iPods’ tops.)
To describe the stereo channels as properly separated might be a bit of a stretch. It’s visually obvious and audibly apparent during close-up listening that there are in fact left and right speaker drivers in MicroSound’s casing, but we’re not talking about drivers positioned well-enough, or music that’s clear enough, for the separation to be heard in practice. At the iPod nano’s 50% volume level, the speakers are only a little louder than whisper quiet - just enough for background noise while you’re working - so you’ll need to turn them up to the 70% level or higher for “normal” listening. Here, they sound okay - flat, and noticeably less clear, bassy, or balanced overall than PocketParty or IP-A111, but roughly low-end pocket radio quality.
Songs with strings sound especially unnatural with MicroSound relative to the others, and bass is all but stripped away, leaving mids and mid-bass to scratch a little without its warmth as a sonic blanket. When the volume’s turned up to the 85% or 90% level, enough to be heard by a few people in a room, MicroSound suffers from a ton of unpleasant-sounding distortion across the board. It’s worth a brief note that iPod shuffle users will find achieving the right low-distortion audio balance to be even trickier, as they’ll need to adjust the volume without on-screen assistance, and upside down.
Overall, MicroSound is the classic example of an accessory that has passed the point of diminishing returns - true, it’s a bit smaller and a hint cheaper than PocketParty and IP-A111, but doesn’t sound as good and doesn’t achieve any major goal through its reduction in volume. Sure, it fits into your pocket. So do a bunch of other small speakers. On quality, and despite its small profile, we’d pick most of them, instead. The only users who will benefit from MicroSound relative to its peers are those seeking something that centers pretty well with the latest iPod shuffle, and are willing to give up audio performance to get it; for the same price, IP-A111 sounds a lot better.