Several years ago, Bose managed to accomplish what then seemed like an impossible mission: it released the then-pricey $299 SoundDock (iLounge rating: B+), then subsequently managed to convince millions of people to buy them. The secrets: austere, inoffensive design, competent sound, and strong marketing. Since then, many companies have been trying to create SoundDock killers, first at similar price points, and later at much lower ones.
Today, we review one speaker that’s decidedly in the SoundDock-alike camp—Klipsch’s iGroove SXT ($170)—and one that’s not, iHome’s iH80 OutLoud ($100). As different as they may be from one another, these speakers both draw obvious inspiration from the simplicity of the SoundDock, relying on limited on-unit controls, slightly more complex Infrared remotes, and easy-to-carry all-in-one designs to appeal to different users. iGroove SXT is, in essence, Klipsch’s best attempt yet to offer a lower-priced, different-looking, and similar-sounding alternative to SoundDock, and iH80 is iHome’s best-looking semi-portable speaker to date, with a cool rounded cube design similar to Griffin’s wireless Evolve system.
Klipsch has been through a lot since it entered the iPod speaker market; it aggressively targeted the SoundDock by name when it released higher-end (iFi) and similar, peer-priced (iGroove) systems, but neither product was able to dent Bose’s success. iGroove went through two iterations, later including iGroove HG, dropping in price and shifting in color from a champagne-hinted silver to jet black, but the Salvador Dali-style take on the SoundDock—it looked like a melted-down Bose—didn’t appeal as much to women as the cleaner Bose design.
iGroove SXT is a different animal. Though it still didn’t win over our female editor on looks, the design is a considerable improvement on the prior iGrooves, combining a silver-accented black plastic and fabric chassis with curves that are more conservative, attractive, and clean. Inside are two 2.5” full-range drivers and two 0.75” tweeters—a nice collection of hardware given the unit’s size and price—as well as a central Universal iPod dock with seven included adapters, and ultra-simple top-mounted power and volume controls. iGroove SXT’s sides have ports to let the drivers breathe, and its back has aux-in, power-in, and S-Video out ports. The design is clean enough that anyone can figure it out; the only question is whether you’ll like the shape.
Klipsch’s new remote control is also an improvement over past versions. From the top, it looks unspectacular, but a tapered shape, unusual solidity, and nice weight make it feel instantly comfortable and resilient in your hand. Simple play/pause, track, volume, power and mute buttons perform all the standard functions people have come to expect in Infrared remotes, and SXT’s has no major issues working at a 30-foot distance if pointed at the unit from a direct line of sight.
As with most of the SoundDock challengers that have emerged over the past two years, iGroove SXT takes only a modest step down from Bose’s sound signature while offering a $130 lower price. Without performing direct A-to-B comparisons between iGroove SXT and other speakers, we found its sound to be enjoyable at average volumes, rendering songs with a judicious amount of warmth and a roughly par level of detail to good $200-300 options. However, there was an increasingly apparent strain in the midrange and bass as the volume was increased to above-average and loud levels; this is not as strong of a high-volume performer as we’ve seen.
Only when it was compared against other speakers, such as the SoundDock, did its omissions become more obvious: though it is similar to Bose’s classically warm sound signature, with extra bass emphasis rather than a truly neutral presentation of music, it falls slightly short of the SoundDock in both highs and lows; music doesn’t sparkle or thump quite as much. As we’ve noted before, the SoundDock is a good speaker but not our sonic ideal, especially for the price; iGroove SXT is a step or two off Bose’s sound mark, but considerably less expensive, too. If it wasn’t for the presence of numerous competitors—Athena, Griffin, and others that previously released aggressively priced, great sounding $150-180 rivals to the SoundDock—iGroove SXT would be commensurately more novel and exciting.
It’s also worth noting that iGroove SXT looks great and works—mostly—with the iPhone. Oddly, inserting an iPhone into the unit’s dock doesn’t always trigger Apple’s “this accessory wasn’t designed for use with iPhone” nag screen, and if that happens, music plays only from iPhone’s speaker, and not from SXT. Similarly, the system isn’t shielded against TDMA noise, or truly “Works with iPhone” certified, so if you want something that’s 100% iPhone compatible, you’ll want to wait a while, but iGroove SXT does a nice job with iPhone music when the nag screen’s been triggered and Airplane Mode’s turned on.
Overall, iGroove SXT is a strong but not amazing new speaker option from Klipsch: we think it’s the company’s best iPod offering yet on performance for the dollar and aesthetic design, and hopefully a sign of great things to come in the near future. If the company rapidly updates it with complete Works with iPhone compatibility, look out: properly marketed, it could be a blockbuster.
Company and Price
Model: iGroove SXT
Compatible: iPod 4G, 5G, mini, nano, iPhone*, Other iPods*