While we applaud the idea behind Boynq’s latest speaker system Sabre ($129) – namely, design a speaker in versions specially colored for men and women – we can’t say that we were impressed by the execution. Oddly shaped and flatter in sound than we would have expected given its large size, Sabre is an okay offering at a time when design, quality and value pricing are generally on the increase. The company’s earlier, $69 iCube II (iLounge rating: B) speaker was a cooler, better design.
To start with the positives, Boynq has clearly taken the time to sculpt Sabre into a new and distinctive housing rather than just copying one of the many now standard iPod speaker shapes. While we haven’t been able to describe the unit’s styling in a single conventional way, it looks from the side somewhat like an 1870’s-vintage high wheel bicycle, with one metal grilled speaker driver on each side where the rear high wheel would have been. With a steep front slope, its two-toned face holds one button and three dials, plus a resizable iPod dock.
The button and dial design is equal parts elegant and useful. Sabre features bass and treble controls – features we generally like to see in any iPod audio system – plus a more predictable volume knob and power button combination. And Boynq offers the system in two color patterns – Sabre pour homme, or for men, is silver and black, while Sabre pour femme, or for females, is pink and white. Both come with dock adapters that fit all current model iPods and nanos, as well as past Dock Connector models and minis. A power supply, video and audio cables are included in each package; the pink version comes with white cables rather than black ones, but includes a color-mismatched black power supply just like the male Sabre.
At a time when many companies have cut back on their rear ports for sake of simplicity and lower pricing, Boynq’s rear port design is fairly robust. There’s a Dock Connector pass-through port so that the system can be used as a computer dock, plus line-in and line-out ports, and finally, an S-Video output port. Along with the included stereo audio out, auxiliary audio in, and S-Video to composite video converter cable, these ports allow Sabre to serve as either a full iPod dock or a speaker system with docked iPod or auxiliary audio coming from its two channels. From a technical standpoint, the only thing missing from the system is a battery compartment: contrary to what you might assume from its size, the system runs only off of wall power, not batteries.
So what’s not to like about Sabre? The answer’s mostly in its sound, and otherwise in its styling. Though the black “boys” and pink “girls” coloration concept is an interesting one, it’s somewhat at odds with Apple’s own color schemes for its most popular iPod models, which now revel in seven different colors thanks to the release of red nanos and orange shuffles. The men’s model goes well enough with black and silver iPods, nanos and shuffles, but the pink unit is a lavender shade, not really matching or complementing Apple’s pinks or reds; thanks to white accents, it’s a better match for the ever-fewer white iPod models now out there. From what we’ve gathered, however, the unit’s shape – described by a female iLounge editor as looking like “the sucking attachment on a wet-dry vacuum” – isn’t going to win over many girls, anyway.
We weren’t really impressed with Sabre’s sound, either. Though Boynq’s previous, less expensive iCube and iCube II speakers were exceptions, the vast majority of speaker systems point most of their drivers towards you, with only dedicated bass drivers (aka subwoofers) firing audio towards the side, back, or ground. Sabre’s big drivers start out at a disadvantage because they only angle slightly in your direction, and are further encumbered by their size. Rather than multiple small drivers or pairings of small and medium ones, Boynq’s using what appears to be two oversized speakers inside – ones that are poorly equipped to deliver high- and mid-range detail, but are being forced to try and replicate the entire audio spectrum.
The results are fairly typical: at low to normal volumes, the big speakers produce loud sound that’s better in the lows (bass) than in mids, and weak in the highs (treble). Even with the bass and treble controls set as favorably as possible – a step we found that we had to take because the defaults were so lifeless – we found that the system produces disappointing typical volume sound for the dollar, flat and muddy with only small glimmers of detail. In other words, the bass and treble controls really don’t help much, and the drivers should have just been locked at the factory to optimal levels. On a more positive note, Sabre does unusually well for its size at high volumes: its large drivers are more capable of producing raw volume than most low-priced all-in-one iPod speaker competitors, a feature which may appeal to amplitude-obsessed users. But Sabre doesn’t include or work with any remote control, so you’ll need to stand right next to the system to turn it up to an ear-splitting volume level.
Overall, we weren’t especially impressed with Sabre: despite its interesting cables, rear ports and unique design, we didn’t feel that it looked or sounded like the type of speaker that we’d want to buy for ourselves, or recommend generally to our readers. We consider it best-suited to those who want a relatively small but high-volume audio system, yet aren’t put off by its looks, its lack of average-volume sound quality, and non-existent remote control functionality.
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Compatible: iPod 3G, 4G/color/photo, 5G, mini, nano, iPod 1G/2G*, shuffle*