Speakers continue to be amongst the most popular iPod accessories, and new speakers consequently keep appearing here at a rate of at least two or three per week. Two of the most recent arrivals are Memorex’s Mi1111 Home Micro System for iPod ($100) and Sharp’s i-Elegance DK-A1 Music System for iPod ($200), which despite their significant price differences have a lot in common. Both systems are ostensibly 2.1-channel all-in-one speakers. pairing twin full-range drivers with a dedicated subwoofer, and both pack FM/AM radios, blue lights, and Infrared remote controls in addition to Universal iPod docks. From there, they differ: Mi1111 also includes a CD player, while DK-A1 does not — that feature’s reserved for Sharp’s more expensive DK-A10.
In short, neither of these systems is groundbreaking, and each has a significant issue that precludes it from receiving our high recommendation, but both are at least interesting enough to merit brief individual reviews. Of the two, we’re far more inclined to recommend the Mi1111 because of its strong value for the low $100 price, but neither one of the systems is an audio replacement for the best $150 MSRP speakers we’ve heard, such as Griffin’s recent AmpliFi, or “available for $150” speakers such as Altec Lansing’s iM7.
Mi1111’s design is what we’d call Target chic—not highbrow, but not offensively tacky, either. Most of the system is glossy white plastic, but the unit’s front-firing speakers sit behind a black metal mesh grille. An iPod dock’s in the center, right above a blue-backlit LCD clock display, which is complemented by modest blue lights on the unit’s undercarriage and top. Memorex includes a video and audio cable, plus 9 Dock Adapters, along with the unit and the remote; Mi1111 has aux-in, headphone-out, and A/V out ports on the back, with one hardwired antenna wire and one hardwired power cord sticking out from the bottom.
The appeal of Mi1111 is obvious: a $100 price point is magical for speakers, and try as you might, you won’t find a system with a CD player, radio, and iPod dock for this MSRP—iLive’s unimpressive IBCD3816DT retails for $30 more, and Emerson’s similarly weak iTone iE600BK sells for $150. Both of these competing options were done in by poor sound quality and iPod control oddities, and it’s to Memorex’s credit that it’s tried to remedy both of these concerns.
On a positive note, Mi1111’s full-range drivers do a better than decent job of rendering iPod audio listenable at typical volume levels. While the company provides bass and treble controls as four of the buttons on the included 22-button remote, you don’t need to play with them much to get generally unobjectionable sound. Overall, the system’s highs and mids are fine for the price—a bit flat, but not bad—though use of the bass up button may be needed to compensate for a modest default bass presence. There’s also a bit of amplifier hiss that’s constant at all volume levels, and thereby less noticeable if you turn the volume up. If this sounds like faint praise, it is, but bear in mind that you’re paying for a lot more here than just the speakers.
Under certain conditions, however—basically, the volume level at which an iPod’s music was encoded—serious listeners will quickly notice some bass distortion, which varies from unobjectionable to bad enough that you’ll want to turn the unit’s default level of bass down. We’d attribute this to the use of either an improperly tuned or truly inexpensive subwoofer system; as with Griffin’s AmpliFi, proper control of a down-firing driver like this is necessary, and Mi1111 doesn’t achieve it. This is the primary reason Mi1111 missed our high recommendation level, which it might have achieved given its aggressive price.
The system’s other features are pretty good, but not fantastic. Mi1111’s AM/FM radio tunes in most stations without a problem, but predictably exhibits a low to moderate level of static depending on where it’s placed. We liked the fact that it didn’t have twin antennas sticking out of the back, but reception arguably suffers a little as a consequence. The CD player also works as expected—properly.
That said, we weren’t especially impressed by its clock functionality; the clock screen isn’t always easy to see if you’re on off-center viewing angles, and the clock disappears while the unit’s other features are being used. Setting the timer isn’t as intuitive as it could have been, either. Generally, it feels as if the clock functionality wasn’t totally realized in the Mi1111 design.
Memorex’s remote control is better than one might expect for the price, but not absolutely stellar. Visually, it’s clean, with 18 standard gray buttons and a silver-ringed four-way iPod control button that doubles as tuning and skip buttons for the radio and CD player. While the remote isn’t as complex as it could have been given all the unit’s features, the buttons are small and labeled with miniaturized text, so you’ll have to struggle a little to figure everything out the first time. It works pretty reliably from around 20 feet away under normal lighting conditions.
It’s worth a penultimate paragraph to note that Mi1111 mightn’t receive the praise it’s due for what it has achieved. Having tested both the Emerson and iLive units, we’re quite familiar with how much sloppier similar features can be tied together in an iPod-ready audio system, and the sort of disappointment that can ultimately cause. In our view, apart from the subwoofer issues—ones that are regrettably common in down-firing speaker designs, and could conceivably be fixed in a later production run—Mi1111 has been put together pretty well.
Overall, though we weren’t blown away by Mi1111’s sound quality, we were impressed by what Memorex has assembled for the $100 price point. Packing a CD player, clock radio, three decent speakers, an iPod dock and a good remote into the same box for that price is no easy feat, and for the price, some users will be pleased, if not blown away, by the value proposition here. Our ideal implementation of the same concept would pull the blue lights in favor of a better clock, tweak the low end, and include a wider variety of color options: at this price, a well-done system with similar features could be very popular.
Company and Price
Compatible: iPod 4G, 5G, mini, nano