Brief Thoughts on Premium iPod Speakers

Brief Thoughts on Premium iPod Speakers 1

Backstage was originally created as a place where iLounge’s editors could share details about what takes place behind the scenes of the home page, preview articles that weren’t yet complete at the time of posting, and so on. We’ve cut back on some of that for various reasons, but today seemed like a good time to share a little.


Yesterday, you might have seen the photo above—it’s Sierra Sound’s new $399 iN Studio 5.0 speaker system for the iPod, previewed in our First Look. Since it arrived, we’ve been putting it through its paces, feeding it Apple Lossless (and other) music, and comparing it against other peer speakers. I was tempted to sum this up as “just another Tuesday at the iLounge offices,” as we now spend a lot of time testing tons of different iPod speakers, many of which have plenty in common with one another.

We rarely turn down the chance to check out something new and exciting that’s marketed at iPod owners. In fact, we’re almost always interested in seeing cool new iPod audio gear, in hopes that something will offer our readers better performance at a better price than last year’s top product. Last year, we notably passed on reviewing a pair of speakers very much like the iN Studios, in part because the company was posting phony customer testimonials to iLounge—deceptive marketing tactics forbidden around these parts—and in part because the speakers really had nothing to do with the iPod, even though they were being aggressively advertised to iPod users. Unlike the iN Studio system, this alternative had no iPod integration or remote control; it was just a pair of white-colored speakers at a high price point.



By contrast with that company, and with Vuum Audio’s VTi-B1 (above), Sierra deserves credit for actually integrating the iPod into a higher-end component speaker system, rather than just adding standalone amplifier and dock parts to a pair of existing speakers. As with Geneva Lab’s Model L and XL systems (below), I can’t emphasize enough how profound the difference is between these approaches.



The unnamed company and Vuum expect you to connect several multicolored cables and two power supplies to separate docks just to make everything work. As you can see in the right side of the photo below, it’s a mess. Like the all-in-one Models L and XL, Sierra’s integration is far simpler. You plug one cable into the wall and another into both speakers; that’s it. You control (almost) everything with the included Infrared remote. And you get virtually identical functionality—actually, superior low-end from the iN Studio system—at a $300 lower price than the Vuum, which is price premised on the warmth of its audio. Similarly, for $100 more than Logitech’s all-in-one AudioStation, you’d expect it to sound better, and generally, it does.



I mention this all because there are now literally dozens of companies trying to tout pricey new listening solutions as alternatives to last year’s designs, and more will be coming throughout the year. This week, The New York Times spotlighted iPod vacuum tube audio systems, without rendering more than a sentence of opinion on their sound quality relative to other options, and we’re expecting to see plenty of other high-end gear touted as the “next big thing” because of price alone. My advice is to be careful with your money, and don’t necessarily assume that “more expensive” means “better.” Going forward, you can expect us to continue to focus our attention—and praise—on systems that actually deliver superior iPod integration and sound quality for the dollar. At the $400 price level, it’ll be interesting to see how the iN Studio fares in that analysis.

  1. That’s one of the things I’m most struck by – the degree to which sound quality is ignored in preference to ease of use. Respect to iLounge for trying to redress the balance!

  2. Will you be doing a review of the vacuum tube amplifier type speaker systems? I would really like to get your take on them.

    I don’t think I would ever buy one, but if iLounge doesn’t review it, I’ll never read a review.

    Then I would die ignorant, and that would be a shame.

  3. alexarch,
    See [url=]Vuum review[/url]….

  4. Then again, my DLO HomeDock Deluxe interfaces to my Denon/Definitive Technology system and probably blows all the integrated systems away.

  5. The iN speakers look pretty nice except for the large Sierra logo on the left speaker. How does the sound compare to the GenevaLab Model L system?

  6. Flatline,
    “…the iTube looks exactly like the Chinese built Dared MP-5…”
    As revealed, back when the [url=]Vuum was intro’d[/url], the Dared is a device with many ‘faces’.

    [i]”So, we have so far –
    • VUUM Audio VUUM VTi-B1 (CAD $799.99)

    • Fatman iTube Valve Amp and iPod Docking Station (£499)

    • eyeTEK MP5 eyeTune Basisstation und HiFi Hybridverstärker im edler Chrom und Klavierlackoptik (499,00€)
    (sounds real grand that one…)

    And could this be the company churning out this “audiophile” (stick a few vacuum tubes in it – that will make it look worthy of the inflated price tag) gear?….

    [url=]A-Zone International Co. Ltd[/url]”[/i]

    Does basking in the warm glow of a set of “tubes”, or “valves” as I prefer to call them, lull the listener into a false sense of audiophilia? Just because something uses valves doesn’t make it good. Exposing the valves in a “look at me” manner might satisfy the eye more than it does the ear…

  7. The Times article seems like they’re trying to find their own version of Mossberg.

    As for SQ, at least with one: the Fatman iTube described in that NYT story has generally been well-received around the internet as being an excellent-sounding amp, both for driving speaker and for use with cans. In fact, one review I read even suggested at its conclusion to dump the iPod dock portion altogether and use the iTube amp in a traditional analog stereo setup with a CD player as the music source (though if going down that road I’d prefer a Rega P7 or P9 phono table instead).

    That said, the iTube looks exactly like the Chinese-built Dared MP-5 (since discontinued, at least under Dared’s own brand name), except with a different logo. I seem to recall that Dared tried to market their branded version here in the U.S. on their own. Now it seems U.K.’s Fatman will try to scratch out some resemblance of success where Dared itself failed.

  8. Flatline,
    “…the iTube looks exactly like the Chinese built Dared MP-5…”
    As revealed, back when the Vuum was intro’d, the Dared is a device with many ‘faces’.

    I just knew I had posted something about this before. I just couldn’t remember where on the web I did it.

  9. just wanted to get some input on the geneva labs xl it worth the money or should i stay clear. it looks pretty decent and i like that phrase they have embracing sound meaning a sweet spot of sound from all over the speaker rather than just the midde. has anyone heard these speakers work with their ipod and if so how would you rate it.thanks.


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