If there was any truth to the old saying, “talent borrows, genius steals,” the Maestro 1070 ($199) would earn Blue Raven a Mensa membership. An almost unabashed clone of Apple’s iPod Hi-Fi, this all-in-one speaker system might have seemed downright brilliant a year ago, when the Hi-Fi was being criticized for not meeting value expectations at its $349 price. However, as interest in Apple’s speaker has deservedly cooled off, Blue Raven’s “nearly the same thing, only $150 cheaper” proposition isn’t as exciting today.
Both systems start with the same general premise: toss three total speaker drivers into a single heavily reinforced plastic enclosure with two front-mounted breathing ports for the bass. Apple coupled two 3.15” full range drivers with a single 5.12” subwoofer, and Blue Raven followed suit, laying its parts out in almost precisely the same way as the iPod Hi-Fi did. Both have a universal iPod dock on top, with volume buttons in front. Apple’s buttons are touch-sensitive, while Blue Raven’s are pressure-sensitive, and accompanied by a play/pause button.
There are other changes, small and large.
Apple put an Infrared remote control sensor to the left of the subwoofer; Blue Raven moves it to the right. Apple includes a multi-colored light to let you know the speaker’s receiving remote signals; Blue Raven does not, but rings its top-mounted buttons with blue lights. Both have detachable face plates, but Apple’s is fabric and reveals a clean speaker surface; Blue Raven’s is plastic, adorned with chrome rings, and comes off to show a much less attractive surface that probably shouldn’t be revealed to the user. A set of larger, more conspicuous dock inserts is included in the box, along with a plain audio cable. To its credit, Maestro 1070 comes in two versions—one black (shown), and one white, but next to the iPod Hi-Fi, this design looks comparatively low-class.
A few other differences on the units’ bodies are also interesting. Maestro 1070 is physically a bit larger than the Hi-Fi, lacks Apple’s compartment for six D batteries, and runs only off of its shorter, non-detachable power cable. Thus, its side handles aren’t as prominent as Hi-Fi’s, and it’s not going to be tossed into the back of your car for a tailgate party or day at the beach.
It has an analog-only auxiliary input port, rather than the dual analog/optical port on Hi-Fi, but adds a video out port for use with fifth-generation iPods. There’s also a power switch, which like the play/pause button on its top is a reminder that the engineering inside isn’t up to snuff with the Hi-Fi, which turns itself on and off automatically without the need for a power switch, and realizes an iPod is playing without the need to hit a second play/pause button; Maestro 1070 doesn’t.
Though we can’t claim to be huge fans of the Apple Remote that comes with iPod Hi-Fi, Maestro’s remote isn’t great, either. Besides the fact that you never know from the 1070’s face whether it’s receiving commands, the 12-button remote actually has a few you’d like to be able to gauge, including bass and treble buttons without an obvious “return to default” button. Track controls, iPod navigation buttons, an input select button, mute and volume controls all appear here too, with labels and shaky responsiveness that make Hi-Fi’s simpler but more reliable remote seem comparatively great. We had problems getting Maestro to respond to commands from 10 or more feet away, and couldn’t control it across a room without light interference, like we could with Hi-Fi.
Though we felt obliged to point out these issues up front, the $150 price difference between Maestro 1070 and iPod Hi-Fi would be enough to help some users get past Maestro’s limitations, assuming the audio quality was similar. On that front, Blue Raven has mostly succeeded, albeit again in a qualified way. We’ve mentioned many times that we didn’t really like how iPod Hi-Fi sounded, either on overall detail for its $349 asking price, or on bass-skewed sound balance regardless of price.