Review: Sprout Creation Vers 2X Hand-Crafted Wood Sound System
We've noted in a number of recent speaker reviews that as the number of iPod-compatible speakers continues to climb, and as certain "sound quality for the dollar" metrics have been established, the major differentiators between options have become looks and pricing. Buying an iPod speaker these days is mostly a matter of finding an option that looks good, suits your budget, and sounds acceptable to your ears; breakthroughs are becoming fewer in number with every passing month.
Clockwise, from bottom left: JiSS-330, JiSS-550, i-Station Concert, Vers 2X, and iH82
Today, we briefly review five recent iPod speakers priced from $100 to $180, each with a polarizing body shape that will either immediately appeal to or offend your sense of good design. At the low end of the price spectrum is Jensen’s Banshee JiSS-330 ($100), an ultra-glossy black and chrome system with three speaker drivers, with the company’s bigger and more deluxe JiSS-550 model ($130) instead possessing five speakers. At the same price is iHome’s iH82 ($130), a two-speaker version of the $100 rounded cube iH80 OutLoud Portable Speaker System we’ve previously reviewed. Then there are Sprout Creation’s Vers 2X ($179), a wood veneer and plastic enclosure with two speaker drivers inside, and Logic3’s i-Station Concert ($180), an update of the previously released i-Station 8, which houses 9 speaker drivers—4 each on the left and right sides, and one 2.5” woofer for bass. Like many of the other speakers we’ve reviewed, each of these units has at least one major selling point, and one or two issues that prospective buyers should be aware of before a purchase.
Of all of the systems we’re reviewing today, Sprout Creation’s Vers 2X is unquestionably the one that has generated the most interest amongst iLounge’s editors and our wives; the reason is almost purely visual. Unlike the vast majority of sub-$200 iPod speaker systems we’ve tested, Vers 2X looks mostly like it’s made from wood. Wood blends into traditional home interiors. It matches or accents traditional wooden furniture. And a wood cabinet can, under the right conditions, add additional resonance or warmth to speaker drivers that wouldn’t sound as good in plastic or metal cabinets.
The good news is that Vers 2X looks almost exactly as one might expect: using the same rounded rectangular shape as the iPod Hi-Fi, a reddish brown cherry wood covers most of its body, interrupted only by a removable cloth front grille, silver plastic top and rear accents, and a black plastic bottom with rubberized feet. While the cherry wood used in the cabinet is only a veneer—basically, a cover for a non-wood shell—it’s a thick veneer, and you’d be hard-pressed to recognize this on your own if it wasn’t disclosed by the company.
Sprout Creation has thoughtfully hidden away its audio-in, -out, and power ports on the unit’s nice-looking black bottom, and a small bright white power light on the top is, like the black and wood surfaces, a classy touch. Removing the fabric grille yields black and cherry wood surfaces, just like the front of a traditional standalone wooden speaker, and the included power cube and audio cable are also black in color. These parts of the unit are undeniably handsome; the wood and black combination works well every place it appears on Vers 2X.
Unfortunately, the unit also includes a fair amount of metallic silver plastic, which cheapens the look of Vers’s top iPod dock, back speaker ports, and remote control. That’s a shame, as there’s nothing wrong with these parts besides color: the 14-button remote’s well-equipped, including iPod track, menu, volume, and playlist controls, along with a shuffle toggle button and a power button for the speakers. Black matte plastic would have matched the front grille, and stood out a lot less from the rest of the cabinet design.
We focus so much on these cosmetic issues because they are so critical to Vers 2X’s appeal; as an audio system, the unit is otherwise only a little better than OK. Chalk that up to Sprout Creation’s use of two relatively large (3”) speaker drivers, which like other tweeter-less designs make Vers 2X a very mid-bass and bass-slanted performer, enough so that you’ll get this impression even without putting the unit directly next to a more balanced speaker system. Rather than attempting to make the twin drivers strain at all to perform treble detail, the company lets them do what they’re best at, which is mid- and low-end sound; consequently, no matter what it’s placed next to for comparison, Vers always sounds like it isn’t performing all of the frequencies you’ll remember hearing in your songs.
Compared against Logitech’s less expensive, $150 Pure-Fi Anywhere, for instance, Vers always sounds flatter and less dynamic, with voices and instruments that blend into each other rather than popping. However, it’s hard to fault Vers’s bass presence and depth, which outstrips that of shallower, smaller-drivered systems, including Pure-Fi Anywhere; if you love bass so much that you don’t care about balance, Vers 2X might be just fine for you. We preferred the wider, more dynamic sound created by Pure-Fi; with the exception of the iH82, the other systems we’re reviewing today deliver a better balance, too.
It’s worth a brief note that Vers 2X has been described in certain places as iPod and iPhone-compatible, but it’s not truly a “Works with iPhone” accessory: it’s susceptible to the same phone interference, nag screen, and other issues that affect typical iPod speakers. However, assuming you turn the iPhone’s wireless features off with Airplane Mode, Vers 2X does work with the iPhone, and its remote control’s menu navigation buttons function properly, as well.
Our general recommendation of Vers 2X is based more substantially on its unique looks, which we’d rate a B+, than on its sound quality for the price, which we’d rate a B-. There is no doubt in our minds that smart companies should be focusing now on new, post-glossy plastic looks for their iPod speakers, and with Vers 2X, Sprout Creation is at the forefront of an up-and-coming design trend. But audio quality and value for the dollar are at least as important to our speaker ratings as aesthetics, and Vers 2X’s bass-skewed sound won’t appeal to some of the people who would otherwise find its looks and price tag appealing. We’re holding out hope for a reasonably-priced Vers 4X that’s equally appealing to our ears and eyes.