Pros: A slick integration of iPod shuffle and stereo speakers, with simple access to the shuffle’s controls for tracks and volume, and attractive use of black mesh grilles. Truly portable by virtue of its compartment for three AA cells; also runs off wall power.
Cons: Sound quality isn’t great for the price given competing options; can only be used with the iPod shuffle, yet offers no integrated shuffle charging solution. No wall power charger in the box, unlike most of its competitors.
Released right on the tail of PodGear’s comparable Shuffle Station (iLounge rating: B), Ignitek’s iCheer ($79.99) is a portable speaker system for the iPod shuffle that looks pretty great on the surface. It’s an attractive one-piece unit that runs off of AA batteries or wall power, with several very smart touches for iPod shuffle integration. Sized at under 7.5” by 5.7” by under 1” in thickness, iCheer can be carried in its simple included fabric bag and/or tossed into any briefcase or backpack without an issue. It’s larger than the Shuffle Station, but still highly portable – roughly the same size as Altec Lansing’s various inMotion speakers.
iCheer’s face includes two black metal mesh panels to cover four total speaker drivers and two air vents, plus an innovative central hole that’s shaped perfectly to accommodate an iPod shuffle with its standard USB cap on. Unlike the Shuffle Station, iCheer mounts your iPod shuffle right-side up and uses a sliding headphone plug to release or connect to its audio. (You can remove a sticker on the front that shows you how to use the plug.) A circular power button and Ignitek’s logo are on its bottom left, with a small blue light that lets you know that the power’s turned on.
iCheer’s rear is also well designed. You can remove the shuffle or access its back through a hole in iCheer’s center, and keep the whole unit upright with a detachable metal stand below that hole. Underneath the metal stand is a battery compartment for three AA cells (not included); a wall power port is on the unit’s left side. Regrettably, iCheer doesn’t come with a wall power adapter, unlike the Shuffle Station and other portable speakers in its price range, so you’ll need to buy one separately.
Also missing from the design by comparison with the Shuffle Station are volume controls; here, the iPod shuffle handles that. And there aren’t any separate ports for audio in or audio out, or iPod shuffle charging, each found in the Shuffle Station, which means that all you’re going to do with this is listen to iPod shuffle music – nothing else. For better or worse, Ignitek’s kept iCheer’s design simple – a choice which will work for some iPod shuffle owners, but not all.
Size aside, what’s most important in a portable speaker system is audio quality, and unfortunately iCheer’s audio isn’t anything to get excited about for the price. Like the less expensive Shuffle Station, it sounds flat and compressed by comparison with top-ranked portable options we’ve tested, and most noticeably lacks for treble. We’d call it “radio quality,” acceptable only for listeners who are more concerned with the looks of their speakers than the sound. There’s a noticeable and unpleasant quantity of distortion in the sound even at average volume levels, which we’re guessing has something to do with the unit’s default level of volume and lack of independent volume controls.
That’s really a shame, too, because iCheer is a significantly better-looking iPod shuffle speaker system than the Shuffle Station on the outside, and certainly smarter on proper shuffle integration, too. But with a higher price and less impressive sound quality, it’s hard to recommend regardless of its good looks – especially given its lack of an included AC adapter, which pushes iCheer further up the price chain by comparison with competitors. Given the comparative strength of Altec Lansing’s already similarly priced four-driver portable speaker designs (such as the inMotion iM4) and JBL’s great two-driver On Tour, we expected more from iCheer. It’s only a notch above okay for the dollar, but we’re sure Ignitek can and will do better in the future.
Company and Price
Compatible: iPod shuffle