Pros: A four-driver dockable, portable speaker system with impressively balanced, low-distortion sound, an included remote control, carrying case and internal rechargeable battery, all at a reasonable price.
Cons: Little sound control, IR-based remote requires line-of-sight and relatively short (though twice Altec’s iM3) distance to operate, battery runs only 10 hours.
iPod nano supported, but no cradle (yet) included.
Dock Connector port removed from some 2006 models.
When you’re on the road, you have two types of listening options besides headphones, which we defined in the past as “ultra-portable” pocket speakers such as Macally’s Podwave or Pacific Rim Technologies’ Cube, and “portable,” briefcase-ready speaker systems such as JBL’s On Tour and Altec’s inMotion iM3 series speakers. As you’ll see from a brief look at our speaker ratings – particularly if you look only at the “portable” speaker systems – there are many good options, but few great ones.
Logitech’s newest system, mm50 Portable Speakers for iPod ($149.95), is among the great ones. The one-piece glossy white plastic and metal-grilled system starts by fixing several of the deficiencies of Logitech’s earlier, cheaper mm22 portable speakers (iLounge rating: B), which included a couple of flip-up speakers, a simple metal table mount, and a little central cup to hold your iPod in place. The mm50 system instead combines four substantial, well-tuned speaker drivers and a true iPod dock into one white plastic enclosure with four top right-mounted buttons. Two buttons handle volume control, one handles power, and one activates a “3D Stereo” mode. An included infrared remote control preserves those and adds buttons for iPod track forward and backward, plus play/pause.
Since Logitech also thought to include a pass-through Dock Connector on the mm50’s back, the system can be used alongside a computer as a charging and synchronization dock. You connect the cable that came with your iPod to the rear of the mm50 and your computer. An adjacent line-in port lets you connect your computer to the speakers, as well, The infrared remote works reliably from a distance of around 15 feet if pointed directly at the unit’s front – about twice the distance of Altec’s iM3 – so you can mount it on a bookshelf and use it from a distance.
And as mm50 comes with a white plastic wall charger, a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery, and a padded carrying case, it’s equally easy to take on the road as a portable speaker system. The case isn’t as hard or rugged-feeling as the one that comes with Sonic Impact’s recent i-Fusion (iLounge rating: B+), but holds both mm50 and the remote control, as well as whatever cradle you might need to carry around.
If you’re near a wall outlet, you can drop your iPod or iPod mini into the central cradle using one (or no) included plastic holder, charge mm50 and your iPod, and listen to music at the same time. (iPod nano fits and stays in place, but no cradle was included with the mm50 we received. Non-docking iPods work with the rear audio input only.) But if you’re not, you dock the iPod without charging functionality and the speakers work just as well – for 10 hours. That’s less than the 15-hour run time of i-Fusion, but still pretty good.
How do the speakers sound? We’ve heard a lot of portable speakers, and the audio on the mm50s is about as good as we expect these systems to get for their price. Altec’s iM3s produce bass-heavy sound with a bit of distortion and hiss that are increasingly noticeable as volume increases; JBL’s small On Tours by comparison produce crisp, impressive sound with less bass, at a substantially lower price. But the mm50s deliver the clarity of the On Tours with the more solid bass of the iM3s. Better yet, because of their width and driver placement, they produce a very good sense of stereo separation for a portable system, and roughly equivalent volume to other portable speakers – at maximum, enough sound to be heard in a medium-sized room without a problem. They are to the under-$150 price point what On Tours are to the under-$100 price point.
Our only gripe with the audio is the lack of more substantial user controls, such as the bass and treble controls found on Altec Lansing’s larger iM7 system. Instead, there is a single 3D Stereo button that provides an on-off boost of sorts. On some songs, this button does next to nothing, despite Logitech’s suggestion that it can widen the apparent sound field of your music. But on other songs, it gives a mid-treble boost that adds pleasant extra punch. Its only slight disadvantage, and one barely noticeable except at close distances, is that you may hear a little bit more of the compression artifacting in lower-bitrate audio when it’s in use. We actually preferred to leave it on; though soundstage didn’t improve dramatically, it rarely hurt the sound of music as much as it helped.
There are only two issues of more than trivial importance in mm50’s design. First, at nearly 13” in width, the unit is noticeably wider than the other portable speakers we’ve tested, a design decision that permitted Logitech to include larger drivers and create the stereo separation that it has. Unlike the competing options listed above, it’ll fit in a briefcase or similarly sized bag, but not the typical purse. We don’t think most people will care, but it bears mention. Second, mm50 uses only passable, pop-out metal legs to stand itself up on a flat surface, which will be fine if you’re resting it on a table but not so great on some of the uneven surfaces we tested it with. Again, most people won’t care much about this.
Why? The price. mm50 hits the under-$150 price sweet spot for iPod speakers, and yet still delivers significantly more than the $179.99 iM3s: a rechargeable battery, better sound, and a better remote control. True, the battery could run longer or be easily replaceable on the road, there could be more sound controls, and the remote could have used RF rather than infrared for greater distance performance. But mm50 comes pretty darned close to each one of these features, and generally makes better compromises than the iM3s.
We don’t say this often, but mm50 is the best fully portable iPod speaker system we’ve seen at its price. Better yet, a quick scan of online retailers suggests that you might find it for $30 or $40 less by shopping around. If you don’t yet have a standalone, non-portable pair of speakers or an Apple Dock for your iPod yet, we’d recommend mm50 as a reasonable alternative until and unless you need to buy something significantly better.
Updated December, 2006: Several readers have informed iLounge that Logitech has quietly removed the Dock Connector port from the rear of currently shipping mm50 units, thereby disabling the newer version’s ability to be used for iPod-to-computer synchronization. The company now ships mm50s with iPod nano adapters.
Company and Price
Model: mm50 Portable Speakers
Compatible: iPod 3G, 4G/color/photo, mini, nano*, 1G/2G*, shuffle*