Though there are certainly hundreds and perhaps thousands of iPod speaker systems out there, most of the new ones more or less identical to previous models, there are occasionally innovations. Today, we’re looking at four recent releases, two from Logic3, and the other two from Memorex. Both companies are known for budget-priced offerings, and true to form, these affordable speakers range in price from $50 to $130. None is sonically phenomenal, but each has a unique design or feature that we’ve never seen before.
Logic3’s i-Station Rotate (aka i-Station27, $130) is, in essence, the company’s steroid-enhanced sequel to i-Station Traveller for iPhone & iPod touch, a $60, two-driver audio system that was clearly designed for portability. When compacted to its smallest size, Traveller measured 6.6” wide x 3.4” tall x 1.25” deep, expanding to 10.5” wide to accommodate an iPhone or iPod touch. By comparison, i-Station Rotate doesn’t compact: it always measures roughly 12.25” wide, 4.75” tall and 2” deep, bigger in every dimension than Traveller, but still briefcase-sized portable. It’s also significantly better appointed in the pack-in category. A remote control, power supply, and carrying case are included, as is a compartment for you to insert four AA batteries for system power; auxiliary audio in and video out ports are found on the system’s back.
Because Rotate isn’t designed to be cheap or compact, it competes most directly against speakers such as Logitech’s highly-rated, 13.25” wide by 3.7” tall by 1.6” deep Pure-Fi Anywhere 2 on both price and performance. Logic3’s design is a little taller and thicker, but Logitech’s is a little wider, and they both sell for the same $130 price.
Why does Logic3 need such a large chassis for this speaker? Part of the answer is its docking well. i-Station Rotate looks like an elongated, wide-orientation iPod touch, its Home button replaced with a power button, volume buttons on the other side of its face, and its screen replaced with both a metal speaker grille and a central dock. The dock is repositionable into both vertical and horizontal orientations, letting you watch videos or listen to music with whichever iPod or iPhone you may have. Logic3’s moving dock and wide body generally make more sense than the completely rotating speaker array in i-Station25; these two choices freed the company’s hand to use different, and better speakers in i-Station Rotate.
i-Station 25 used four decent 1.6” (40mm) drivers to create its sound; i-Station Rotate uses two 0.9” (22mm) tweeters and two 2” (50mm) midrange drivers that give this system superior detail, range, and maximum volume, as well as greater stereo separation and staging due to their increased physical distance. Though i-Station Rotate is still bass-deficient relative to some portable speakers, notably prior i-Stations that included dedicated bass drivers, the system does a very good job with the highs and mids by comparison with most of what’s out there.
Stacked up against the Pure-Fi Anywhere 2, however, i-Station Rotate has only three advantages. The first and strongest is its rotating dock, which we definitely liked, at least for iPod touch and iPhone use; it works with nanos and classics, but isn’t as compelling of a feature. Next is its inclusion of a composite video-out port on the back, compatible with current iPod and iPhone models. And the third is its use of four AA batteries for portable power rather than the rechargeable cell found in Pure-Fi Anywhere 2. This last one is debatable in that Logitech’s latest battery does a better job of holding a charge than its predecessors, and doesn’t require you to self-supply AA cells to keep the unit playing, however, the unit will require service or replacement when the battery dies; i-Station Rotate will not. We’d give the edge to Pure-Fi Anywhere 2 on this one, given that the systems cost the same and Logitech’s comes with more, but you may feel otherwise.
In the slight to clear disadvantage column are Rotate’s comparative sound, size, iPhone performance, and pack-ins. Thanks to its use of twin 3” pressure drivers, Pure-Fi Anywhere 2 delivers somewhat better bass than Logic3’s thicker, larger enclosure, and the difference in stereo separation is pretty dramatic, particularly when Logitech’s StereoXL feature is engaged. Heavily stereo songs like The Beatles’ Taxman really seem to come alive with Pure-Fi Anywhere 2, and sound good but not great with Rotate.
As with i-Station25, i-Station Rotate’s iPhone shielding isn’t totally impressive. Despite a Works With iPhone certification, Rotate is subject to the same TDMA interference heard on iPod-only speakers when an iPhone or iPhone 3G is in EDGE mode; the interference diminishes when Wi-Fi is activated and disappears if you have 3G. To Logic3’s partial credit, the noise is noticeable but not loud, and generally drowned out by music except during quiet or silent parts, but it shouldn’t be there at all. The noise is quieter in Pure-Fi Anywhere 2, which also comes with a nicer carrying case, easily packed power supply, more Dock Adapters, and a slicker but semi-problematic remote. We prefer the look and feel of Logitech’s remote, but Logic3’s isn’t as flaky.
In summary, i-Station Rotate offers a good but not great alternative to existing iPhone- and iPod-ready mid-priced portable speakers, with its namesake rotating dock and iPod touch-like body design as its most distinctive features. Though we would sooner recommend Pure-Fi Anywhere 2 on the basis of its included rechargeable battery, superior sonic performance, and somewhat nicer pack-ins, i-Station Rotate is a stronger option if you plan to watch videos while docked—the reason it merited a B+ rather than a B overall—and don’t mind giving up a little bit of audio quality in the process.