Review: Speakal iBoo
Speakal has already managed to impress us, mostly, with one cute iPod speaker system: iPig, a $140 globe with volume-controlling, touch-sensitive ears and a glowing mouth, which begat iPanda, a version identical save for coloration, its nose, and slight changes to its Dock Adapters. Now the company has a truly different, lower-priced version called iBoo ($90): as the name suggests, it's a ghost-shaped speaker, and thanks to a bright blue light on the bottom, it glows.
Unlike the iPig/iPanda evolution, iBoo isn’t just a repackaging of the same parts into a recolored shell; it’s a strategic stripping down of the bigger and more expensive units into a smaller and lighter yet still formidable little system. iPig surprised us by including five total audio drivers—two tweeters under the ears, two midrange drivers as eyes, and one big bass driver on the bottom, a collection of speakers that produced legitimately strong sound for the price. For iBoo, Speakal has removed the midrange drivers, repurposed the tweeters to handle some of the mids, and reduced the power of the bass driver from 15 Watts to 9.
Yet the results are actually still pretty impressive. iBoo’s sound doesn’t have quite the body of the iPig and iPanda, but between the added clarity and treble detail, it does generally sound better than lower-priced systems such as the iHome iH15 we reviewed earlier today: the tweeters and big bass driver give it the ability to reproduce a bit more of the audio spectrum, versus the more midrange-focused drivers in the iH15. What this means in practice is that music sounds less flat, with crisp highs that your brain will interpret as more lifelike and precise. One unfortunate offset is iBoo’s amplifier, which is undeniably noisy even at low volume levels, contrasting sharply with the nearly silent iH15; it produces a light drone when the system’s on and not playing anything, overlapped enough when music’s playing that it’s hard to notice.
Another offset is iBoo’s control scheme and dock interface. Whereas iHome and most other companies use Apple’s Universal Dock and a series of pressure-sensitive buttons, Speakal continues to use an odd alternative dock that neither looks good nor exposes enough of a small iPod’s Click Wheel, a fact that the company tries to make up for by including alternative touch-sensitive play/pause and track controls, along with touch-sensitive volume controls that now sit in roughly the ear positions of the earless iBoo head—surface-mounted, rather than atop actual ears like iPig and iPanda.
Sadly, the controls aren’t always responsive; even though iBoo’s bottom light flashes to indicate every touch, which some users may find annoying, the unit doesn’t always otherwise respond to presses. There’s also the matter of the unit’s odd bottom-mounted power switch, moved from iPig’s back, and its lack of any iPig-like bass or treble controls. Add to this the fact that you may need to use an included prying tool if you want to pop Speakal’s special dock adapters out without hurting your fingertips. In short, iBoo compounds issues that we noted with some discomfort in our iPig review; the question is whether or not these sorts of things will bother you enough to make the lower price moot.
Thankfully, most of these issues are reduced in practical impact by the presence of a 12-button Infrared remote that includes a power standby button, iPod menu navigation controls, and the same buttons found on the unit. The remote is responsive and works exactly as it should even from 30-foot distances; iBoo’s mouth now serves as an Infrared receiver. That said, better engineering of the dock and touch-sensitive controls on iBoo might have made the remote less necessary.
A couple of other small changes are also worth noting. In addition to an auxiliary audio cable, Speakal now includes a power supply that has the advantage of requiring less wall juice but the disadvantage of requiring a bit more room in a power strip due to its thicker, plug-heavy design. More positively, the company now offers red, blue, and white versions of iBoo versus the yellow and pink heavy versions of iPig; ultimately, you may prefer one unit or the other based on color, but we found the yellow pig we previously reviewed to be odd, and preferred these color options.
Overall, what iBoo offers is a legitimately cute, nice-sounding audio system that—amplifier noise aside—is based upon the right general pairing of tweeter and bass drivers to produce good sound at a low price. While we think that Speakal really needs to rethink its control and dock design a bit, many users will find the flush, capacitive buttons to be at least as much of an aesthetic asset as they are a functional impairment, and the overall package of iPod audio system, charger, and remote is surely a good value for the price. Though we’d lean towards the better sounding and somewhat more usable iPig first, iBoo still merits our general recommendation, albeit with a bit less gusto than its predecessor.