Pros: A fully dockable and portable iPod shuffle speaker system capable of running off of battery or wall power, with good sound quality for a shuffle-specific speaker, and a reasonable price. Includes shuffle syncing, charging, and audio output features, elegantly implemented, with USB and audio cables in the box.
Cons: Not a superior option on audio quality to top non-shuffle portable options we’ve tested. Carrying case isn’t large enough to hold i-Station and wall charger – it’s best for portable use only.
Though the bulk of iPod-specific speaker systems we’ve reviewed are model-agnostic, we’ve looked at a few that are dedicated to one iPod or another. Ironically, no iPod has attracted more model-specific speaker systems than the iPod shuffle, which has seen entries from PodGear (iLounge rating: B), Griffin (iLounge rating: B-), and Ignitek (iLounge rating: C+).
Now Logic 3, maker of the original and quite competent i-Station speaker system for full-sized and mini iPods, has released i-Station Shuffle (£29.99, approx. $50 US), an equally competent – though less powerful – system dedicated only to the iPod shuffle. (A U.S. release is imminent.) Like its competitors, i-Station Shuffle features a simple two-driver design with separate channels dedicated to left-and right-side audio, and you can choose to stand the speakers straight up, or use an integrated stand to put them in a state of recline. It loses a few gimmicky frills found in the full-sized i-Station, specifically the distinctive third speaker – a dedicated “subwoofer” – as well as a “3D” treble-boosting button, but gains something not found in any other shuffle speaker system – simple, simultaneous charging and audio output.
Each of the other systems screwed up the shuffle-to-speaker connection in some way. PodGear made no attempt to connect the shuffle right-side up. Ignitek had no shuffle charging capability. Griffin required you to connect a cable to shuffle’s top while it was mounted for charging using its bottom. Logic 3’s design – made from the predictable white plastic wth black and silver accents, and a blue power light – avoids all of this. You pop your shuffle in, and that’s it: if i-Station is connected to a wall outlet with its included power adapter, the shuffle charges. If it’s running off of four AA batteries – something you couldn’t accomplish at all with Griffin’s TuneBox – it won’t. But in either case, it will play back your music.
And the music will sound better than it does with PodGear’s Shuffle Station, which was the best of the prior options. The drivers deliver fuller sound that can be driven up to higher volume levels, and without the same amount of distortion. That said, none of these shuffle-specific speakers delivers the sort of clean, low-distortion audio we’d really like to hear in such a small, portable package – and can buy, for that matter, in a comparably-priced system like JBL’s On Tour (iLounge rating: A-).
But neither On Tour nor any of its competitors offer a portable iPod shuffle docking and charging solution like i-Station Shuffle. Logic 3 includes an inexpensive vinyl and fabric carrying case – large enough only for the i-Station – to facilitate its portability, and an audio cable as well. You can connect the audio cable to the system’s rear “Line Out” port to export shuffle audio to another device – not super useful – or bring audio in through a Line In port, expanding the i-Station’s compatibility to whatever device you might want to plug in. A volume knob on the unit’s left hand side activates a legitimate amplifier, which while not spectacular does provide true amplification of the shuffle’s audio, and an adjacent power switch turns the unit on and off.
The coup-de-grace of the design is a USB port on i-Station Shuffle’s rear. In addition to its audio and charging abilities, you can also use the system as a true iPod shuffle dock. An included USB cable successfully connected the shuffle-docked i-Station to our test computer without any issue, and let us transfer songs or play back music from the shuffle at will.
By iPod shuffle standards, there’s nothing this system can’t do – it’s the best shuffle-specific speaker system we’ve seen to date. Logic 3 took the time to properly design the outside and inside to match the shuffle’s unique size, charging and syncing requirements, plus it sounds better than any of the other shuffle-specific speakers we’ve tested, works as a portable or stationary unit, and falls right within the correct price range given other available options. While it shouldn’t be confused with the better iPod-agnostic options we’ve tested, if you have a shuffle and want something near-ideally suited to its size and limitations, i-Station Shuffle should be at or near the top of your list of options.
Company and Price
Model: i-Station Shuffle
Price: £29.99 (approx. $50)
Compatible: iPod shuffle, other iPods*