Review: Vestalife Ladybug II 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 the Ladybug II ($100), a physically larger and more powerful version of the original model.
Like Ladybug, Ladybug II includes a wall adapter, auxiliary audio cable, five Dock Adapters, and an Infrared remote control—essentially the same remote as last time, with color tweaks. It can be run off of wall power or four AA batteries, which you need to provide yourself, and has grown an inch in diameter from its predecessor: the prior ball was 5.5” wide and had a roughly 13” wingspan, while the new version is 6.5” wide and has a roughly 16” wingspan when fully opened. Apart from this tweak, the units’ aesthetics are extremely similar; Vestalife has switched from a bright chrome to black chrome for the metallic accents, changed the blue lights in its dock area to white, and dropped the carrying bag that was previously included in favor of adding international wall blades for the power supply.
With the exception of the missing carrying bag, all of these changes are for the better, and Vestalife didn’t really need to alter the formula much from the prior Ladybug: we were wowed by its industrial design, and this version just looks and feels like a more polished and slightly bigger sister. That said, we were less than completely bowled over by Ladybug’s audio quality and one facet of its interface: as we said at the time, “an odd synchronization process  takes place while the system is playing your first song… [and] don’t expect the system to blow your mind, particularly in the bass department, at higher volumes.” Even with these issues, we felt that Vestalife had come up with a really nice little speaker for younger iPod users, and the $110 price tag was reasonable given its competition at the time.
With Ladybug II now selling for $10 less, Vestalife’s response to the prior model’s issues is simple: market the new model as an even better value than before, and improve it just enough to eliminate the glaring rough edges. Sonically, Ladybug II is not a huge improvement over the prior model in the aggregate: it doesn’t distort as much at above-average to peak volumes, but there’s still some bass distortion left to be heard at higher levels, and despite its larger physical size, it’s neither louder nor otherwise significantly clearer than the original Ladybug. There’s one exception: Ladybug II now has excellent iPhone interference shielding, and doesn’t display the TDMA noises found in the original Ladybug when an iPhone or 3G/3GS model is operating on an EDGE network, a nice improvement. In all of these audio-related regards, we’d call it a good starter or portable speaker system, and again, it’s a great choice for kids.
Audio quality isn’t the only consideration, however; Ladybug II fixes the glaring authentication-related delay that used to happen when docking iPods, so you can go right from docking to adjusting volume on this model, a welcome change. But it introduces a new issue: something small has changed in its Universal Dock well, such that encased iPod touches we tested sometimes had problems connecting to the system for audio or charging, even when they fit just fine in the prior model. The cases we tested with the iPhone 3G/3GS didn’t have this issue, but results will vary from case to case and potentially iPod to iPod. It’s also worth noting that Vestalife continues to include video-out and USB support in Ladybug II, but still doesn’t provide cables for either purpose.
Overall, Ladybug II remains worthy of the high recommendation earned by its predecessor, offering small but welcome improvements in aesthetics, sound quality, and interface, while introducing only one potentially troublesome new issue that users of iPod cases need to be aware of. Though we mightn’t have been as enthusiastic about the changes had this model preserved the $110 or $125 price points of its standard and limited edition predecessors, Ladybug II’s $100 asking price enhances its competitiveness with other budget-priced portable speakers, and its new iPhone compatibility broadens its appeal to other users, as well. Even with its small remaining issues, we’d be hard-pressed to point to any other speaker in its price range with such a nice combination of design and sound—apart, perhaps, from Vestalife’s other new models; Ladybug II is still a top pick for kids and those who appreciate fun designs.