Review: Vestalife Firefly Speaker Dock for iPod + iPhone
Only a handful of companies truly understand how to riff on Apple's industrial design, and Vestalife is one of them: as the developer of the original Ladybug, it is now offering three new speakers that build upon that breakthrough expanding globe concept, each with iPhone compatibility, three color schemes -- black chrome with soft touch silver, black, or red finish -- and individual twists. This review covers Firefly ($130), a cosmetically enhanced version of Ladybug II with some other small tweaks.
First things first: though Firefly doesn’t exactly reinvent the aesthetic formula that Vestalife used for Ladybug, the changes from model to model are non-trivially positive in Firefly’s favor: the new model has roughly the same dimensions as the newer Ladybug II when collapsed, with a 6.25” diameter, but its wing-shaped speakers expand to a narrower 10” width for a softer, more refined look, while its subwoofer retains a similar but smaller ring of black chrome. Even today, many months after we first saw Firefly, we’re still impressed by the level of polish its design shows—by budget speaker standards, it’s a real standout.
The highlights of the new design are most obvious when Firefly is closed: sleeker wing curves can be seen on the top and center, with a black chrome circle running from speaker one to power button to speaker two, hiding a redesigned volume level indicator in front of the Universal Dock inside. It’s all just nicer and cooler than before—just some of the many reasons we’d surmise that Firefly was originally planned to replace Ladybug rather than sit alongside it, and that Ladybug II was only released as an inexpensive afterthought to cater to a value-conscious market.
Pack-ins are the same from model to model: Firefly includes a wall adapter, auxiliary audio cable, five Dock Adapters, and an Infrared remote control with track, volume, and menu navigation features. It can be run off of wall power or four AA batteries, which you need to provide yourself, and incorporates white lights for power and volume indication: on Firefly, the volume buttons themselves are illuminated, adding to the five-stage volume meter and the modestly glowing power button on front. As with Ladybug II, Firefly does not include the carrying bag found in Ladybug, but does come with international wall blades for the power supply. We continue to prefer the carrying case, and particularly given the $30 price difference between these models, it would have been easy to include with Firefly.
Thankfully, the differences between the models aren’t merely aesthetic: Firefly actually sounds a little better than Ladybug II, which itself sounded a little better than the original Ladybug. Our chief complaint with the original Ladybug was that its bass driver was a little out of control, producing distortion that was evident at average to above average volumes—acceptable for younger users but not for serious listeners. Ladybug II took some of the edge off the bass, and Firefly goes even further, virtually eliminating average- to high-volume bass distortion except in the most low-end heavy songs. Its presentation of music is a little clearer and more balanced at average volumes, too; in essence, we’d call it the polished sound signature we would have hoped Ladybug or Ladybug II would have had at their lower prices. None of these systems is designed to reach ear-splitting levels of volume, and they’re all in the same league of amplitude, but Firefly sounds better than its less expensive sisters by enough to justify the price differences—at least, when the aesthetic improvements are also taken into account.
Otherwise, the systems are electronically very similar. Firefly benefits from the same aggressive iPhone interference shielding found in Ladybug II, eliminating all traces of the TDMA chirping noise that could interrupt audio in the original Ladybug when an iPhone, 3G or 3GS was operating in EDGE mode; it also removes the authentication-related delay in volume adjustment that the first Ladybug suffered from. On the flip side, Vestalife continues to include USB and video-out ports on Firefly’s back, just as on the Ladybug models, but still doesn’t include cables for either of these features.
The introduction of Firefly creates a modest challenge for iPod and iPhone users: Vestalife’s $130 model offers somewhat superior sound and, in our view, better looks than the $100 Ladybug II, but the two models are so conceptually and sonically similar that the choice of one over the other will likely come down more to your budget and aesthetic tastes than anything else. If we were forced to pick one, we’d go with Firefly, but each system is equally worthy of our high recommendation at its given price point; the extra dollars buy a more polished, truly next-generation design, but you’ll do very well with either model.