Review: Pyramid Distribution Motz Tiny Wooden Acorn + Emotion Speakers & FM Radios
If it wasn't for the fact that there have been a few interesting and occasionally successful wooden iPod and iPhone cases over the years, we'd be completely scratching our heads over the potential appeal of the following two accessories to Apple fans. Pyramid Distribution has imported two miniature speakers from a Korean company called Motz, one called Tiny Wooden Acorn ($46) and the other called Tiny Wooden Emotion ($46). They are, respectively, a rechargeable battery-powered auxiliary speaker and FM radio tuner in the shape of a 1.5-inch-tall acorn, or the same general components housed within a 2.4-inch-long box, both made from carved apricots. As crazy as they might look, these little speakers pack surprisingly robust sound, and only have a couple of issues that may limit their appeal to the niche they're intended to reach.
Each of the Tiny Wooden units is bundled with an auxiliary audio cable and a separate USB charging cable; Acorn also includes a tiny cell phone strap that can be attached to certain cases, or removed if you prefer. Their integrated Lithium Polymer batteries have straightforward performance characteristics: if the unit’s being used as a speaker, it will run for roughly five hours in either iPod or radio mode, doubling that run time if it’s being used as a radio with attached headphones. Radio tuning and volume adjustment require the use of a tiny four-directional joystick built into each device, though the functions are only labeled on the acorn with +/ - volume indicators and arrow-marked station indicators; you have to guess what they do on Emotion. To use the speaker feature, you need to attach the included audio cable to your iPod/iPhone and the 3.5mm port on the unit’s side; on Emotion, you then flip a stiff little power switch on, press the joystick inwards, and listen. Acorn doesn’t have a power switch and instead turns on automatically when the cable’s connected, switching between speaker and radio features after you press the joystick inwards.
Radio performance on the two units is, in a word, unusual. Over the years, we’ve seen only a handful of radio accessories that have tuners but no screens, apparently designed for people who only want to hear one station—located after hunting around—or are willing to keep going back and forth on the dial blindly every time they want to find something new. Expect that sort of experience here, but coupled with relatively powerful reception of FM stations, particularly on the Emotion unit, which has a built-in, retractable antenna next to the headphone port. With the Acorn, you need to attach either the included auxiliary audio cable or a pair of headphones to use the radio, and the signal may waver a little in strength with the movement of the cable. In either case, both of these units do a good job of actually tuning in stations, apart from the challenges you’ll face in identifying what they are.
The other feature is the one that’s likely to be of more interest: the speaker in each unit is capable of churning out flat but loud monaural audio—a combination of the left and right channels from the iPod or iPhone, rather than just one or the other. Whether it’s due to a good speaker driver, the wooden casing, or something else, the sound from both units is strong enough to surprise people, with roughly twice the amplification of an iPhone 4, three or four times that of an iPod touch, and perhaps a little bit more power than an iPad. Not surprisingly, the speaker does distort considerably at the very top of its range, but it does enable most of Apple’s pocket devices to play considerably louder than they would have without assistance. When connected to external devices, the Motz speakers depend on those devices rather than the joystick for volume controls.
We only ran into one serious issue with these speakers, and even so, we had trouble reproducing it in subsequent testing. As we noted in our First Look, the dual-purpose headphone and charging ports on the speakers for some reason were triggering the Voice Control mode on recent model iPod touches and iPhone 3GS/4 devices immediately upon connection, interrupting audio playback. But during retesting, this issue disappeared, and we were able to play music through both units using iPhones, iPods, and iPads alike. We note the issue as one that might manifest at a specific stage of battery discharge, or under wireless interference conditions that may be intermittent.
While these accessories are both so niche in appeal that we wouldn’t anticipate that most of our readers would rush out to buy them, we’d call them both worthy of limited recommendations. If you have a wood fetish and are willing to take the risk of occasional Voice Control activation on newer iPhone and iPod touch models, you’ll find that the speaker power offered by the Tiny Wooden Acorn and Emotion units is a nice boost over the base output levels of Apple’s devices, and the addition of FM radio tuning functionality is a fine though very limited bonus. The novelty of each system is sure to inspire discussions, too.