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.
In addition to the interference shielding challenges that iPhones created for speaker makers, Apple’s decision to include widescreen video playback and accelerometers in their phones and some iPods—the fourth-generation nano and both versions of the iPod touch—forced many companies to reconsider their approaches to design. With i-Station25 (aka i-Station 25, £68.50/$100), Logic3 joins iHome’s iH41 in offering a budget speaker option that actually includes its own accelerometer, enabling you to flip the system on its side and still continue listening to your audio. However, apart from their accelerometers, the two companies’ offerings are markedly different, both in iPhone compatibility—i-Station25 promises it, iH41 does not—and in functionality.
iH41 was shaped like an L, included only a single, monaural speaker, and used the accelerometer to re-orient the screen of a built-in alarm clock. i-Station25 isn’t a clock and doesn’t have a screen. Instead, it is shaped like an odd little rounded pyramid that can be positioned horizontally or vertically, and the accelerometer is used to change the sonic orientation of its four speaker drivers. When i-Station25 is upright, with its dock open on the top, two drivers on the left and two drivers on the right perform stereo properly; the drivers shift to maintain their left and right orientation no matter whether the system is laid on either of its sides, or even positioned upside down. A light at the top of the unit’s dock indicates whether the accelerometer is in horizontal or vertical orientation. i-Station25 also comes with a remote control, power supply, auxiliary audio cable, and compartment for inserting four AA batteries for semi-portable use.
It’s obvious that Logic3 viewed the accelerometer-aided trick alone as a justification for developing the i-Station25; a separate new Logic3 system called i-Station Rotate, reviewed separately today, offers similar iPhone and iPod orientation functionality by preserving the orientation of its four drivers while rotating just its central dock. Rotate is, however, much wider—around 12.25” to i-Station25’s 6.75”—though shorter at 4.75” versus roughly 6”, and shallower at 2” versus 3.75”.
Because of i-Station25’s comparatively narrow body and its need to rotate its speakers, Logic3 has made a couple of engineering decisions that limit the system’s audio quality. First, all four of the drivers are the same size, and second, they are all small at 1.6” (40mm), and lack for the dedicated large bass drivers found in top past i-Station units. This leads to relatively flat, uninspired sound: the stereo separation is proper, but not pronounced, and the audio is fine, but lacks the depth and detail of the more expensive i-Station Rotate. It is roughly on par with the $50 Memorex miniMove reviewed earlier today, lacking in the bass department, and not exactly sparkling in the highs, but doing fine with mid-highs and mids. i-Station25 can reach loud but not ear-splitting volumes, seemingly lacking significant distortion because it wisely stops short of amplitudes that would strain the drivers.
So what would justify a $50 premium over the miniMove? Arguably, the accelerometer functionality and some other small features. i-Station25 has a composite video output that’s compatible with current-generation iPods. The shape and design are less girly than the purse-like Memorex system. And the included remote control includes iPod menu navigation and audio control buttons. You give up miniMove’s so-so FM radio, and by reference to the $80 iHome iH41, the clock and alarm.
Then there’s the issue of iPhone compatibility. i-Station25 has a weird but semi-impressive dock that uses a flexible Dock Connector and two spring-loaded grips to nicely hold the iPhone, iPhone 3G, or iPod touch in place, with a softer grip on the iPod classic, and none on the iPod nano. These grips make the system ideally suited to hold the touchscreen iPods and iPhones in place on a vertical orientation, but less so for the iPod nano; obviously, rotation isn’t appropriate to the iPod classic.
Oddly, i-Station25 somehow managed to get a Works with iPhone certification from Apple, despite the fact that the unit exhibits very obvious—albeit not piercingly loud—TDMA interference from an iPhone or iPhone 3G operating in EDGE mode. The good news is that this issue goes away when you switch to 3G mode on the iPhone 3G, and diminishes in frequency when you activate Wi-Fi on either the iPhone or iPhone 3G. The bad news is that the same can be said about most non-Works With iPhone speaker systems we’ve tested.
Overall, i-Station25 is certainly a unique little speaker system due to its rotating functionality and budget-conscious pricing, but its less than completely impressive audio quality and surprisingly incomplete iPhone EDGE shielding reflect design compromises that will put off some users. It might well have rated higher if the shielding was up to the standards of other iPhone-certified speakers we’d tested. Similarly, the fact that it’s only semi-portable, largely due to its thickness, may well deter people who were previously enthusiastic about Logic3’s flat-folding, easily packed i-Station products. We would sooner recommend the better-sounding i-Station Rotate despite its higher price; even for $100, i-Station25 is more of a gimmick than a gem.
Company and Price
Compatible: iPhone, iPhone 3G, Dock Connecting iPods