There’s a fine line between “inexpensive” and “cheap,” separating value-laden products from junky ones, and Jensen has for years walked directly on this line: its iPod, iPhone, and iPad audio systems are all sold at or under a mainstream $150 price point, made from black or white plastic, and come reasonably equipped with speakers, clocks, and/or radios. We’ve been impressed by some of these systems — notably the early budget HD Radio-equipped JiMS-525i — generally liked others, such as the wireless JiSS-585, and been disappointed by a bunch, including the unstable iPad-holding JiPS-250i. Consequently, while the Jensen name always guarantees a low price, the design, features, and audio quality are always variables, so we’ve gone into each new unit with an open mind; what happens from there is a question mark.
On the surface, Jensen’s latest all-in-one system JiPS-310i ($130) seems fairly conventional. From the front, this docking speaker system looks somewhat like a small video projector—a black fabric-faced Optoma Neo-i, for instance—with a fairly typical Jensen black plastic back, including a composite video-out port, a line-in, and a power port. An Infrared remote control is included, featuring surprisingly tiny buttons for playback, volume control, and other features, plus a larger circular five-button set for track changing and menu navigation. At roughly 16.5” wide, it slightly evokes the design of Bowers & Wilkins’ Zeppelins, though with an eye-like concave front.
New-ish by Jensen standards are an iPad-compatible dock on the top, with room for iPhones and iPods as well, and chrome accents on the front, back, and remote. Oddly, the JiPS-310i packaging specifically calls out the rear and remote chrome accents several times as a feature, though it’s really the front oval that makes the unit look atypically slick by the company’s past industrial design standards. A single power indicator light on the front is roughly centered inside the top of this oval, directly below the Apple device dock, another pretty nice and possibly Zeppelin-inspired touch.
Sonically, JiPS-310i has some problems. Jensen appears to have tried to balance out the highs and the lows of its three speakers—two full-range drivers and a subwoofer—to deliver sound that’s not exactly “boom and tizz,” but a little better: fairly rich bass with enough treble not to sound hugely deficient. Unfortunately, the midrange is somewhat of a mess, such that songs we tested had a tendency to warble audibly at even average listening volumes, suggesting an issue with driver selection, tuning, or both. Virtually every song we tested sounded off in some way or ways, many enough so to raise eyebrows soon after starting to play. JiPS-310i’s peak volume isn’t particularly loud, either, as the system will struggle to fill even a small room, which is to say that it doesn’t have any particular sonic advantage to speak of over rivals. At best, this system is made for non-discerning listeners; at worst, it will actually make good songs sound bad.
Your experience with JiPS-310i’s dock and interface will vary depending on which of Apple’s devices you’re using. On a positive note, Jensen came up with a unique capacitive touch control panel that turns five buttons—track back, volume down, play/pause, volume up, and track forward—into only three, letting you change tracks with a tap and volume by holding the button down. These controls are found off to the right of the top dock, and though their labeling doesn’t look very good, they really work well, assuming that you want to use these buttons rather than your device’s built-in controls for these features. On the other hand, the remote control feels really lightweight and cheap, and its menu navigation features remain spotty with iOS devices, sometimes working and sometimes not. This is largely Apple’s issue—operating system-level inconsistencies in the way touch-based menus can be accessed from afar—but given how navigationally focused the remote appears to be, the limitations are worth mentioning here, regardless.
Also, if you’re using an iPad inside a case, you’ll almost certainly find this unit’s dock design to be problematic, with a stiff rear support and flexible but not quite right Dock Connector that work fine for bare Apple tablets, but not with any of the cases we tried. Nearly two years after the first iPad’s introduction, Jensen still hasn’t gotten its iPad dock design quite right yet, while competitors such as iHome and Soundfreaq have continued to improve their docks for superior case compatibility. That said, encased iPods and iPhones generally work without an issue in this system.
Overall, JiPS-310i is only an okay audio system for its $130 asking price. Though the idea of chrome as a spotlighted feature of a speaker struck us as a little silly, we wound up liking the unit’s looks more than we’d expected from the company’s official photographs—the design actually turns out to be its strongest suit. It’s regrettable that JiPS-310i is let down by small and large issues: shaky sonic performance is the biggest one, followed by the iPad dock limitations, and finally, the so-so controls. We appreciate the fact that Jensen is experimenting with new shapes and finishes in an effort to upgrade the class of its speaker designs; now the company just has to deliver consistently good to great sonic performance, and it’ll have a chance at the big leagues.
Company and Price
Company: Jensen/Spectra Merchandising International
Compatible: iPod nano 3G/4G/5G/6G, touch, iPhone 3G/3GS/4/4S, iPad/iPad 2