We won’t claim to be excited by the latest iPod speaker genre – the hybrid iPod case and speaker combination – but since there are now multiple options out there, we’re doing brief comparative reviews for the three most prominent products: iHome’s iH19 ($70), Kensington’s FX 300 ($30), and Portable Sound Laboratories’ iMainGo ($70).
Of the three options, iMainGo could have been the best compromise overall, but its actual implementation left something to be desired. It combines the best features of iH19 – dual speakers and iPod control – with the smaller profile and AAA batteries (here, four, for a promised 30 hours of run time) of the FX 300. Unfortunately, its sound quality left a lot to be desired.
iMainGo’s single best feature is its approach to iPod control access. Rather than sealing the iPod inside and precluding your view of its screen or Click Wheel, like iH19 or FX 300, iMainGo provides a clear plastic rear window with full access to both items. Consequently, the case can be entirely zippered shut, yet still allow you to select any song in your iPod’s library – the correct way to let people enjoy their full-sized iPods and nanos on the go. Plastic and foam inserts are included to let the case’s simple iPod bracket system keep various models in place, and though the clear window clips a little of the 5G’s top corners, you get enough screen and Click Wheel access to use any model’s menus without a problem.
The case also includes a simple fabric carrying strap, which is durable enough to be hand-held, and a single zipper that shuts the entire unit when in use. A three-position switch inside toggles between “off,” “music,” and “alarm” modes, the “music” button a full-time on position, and the “alarm” button a low-powered way to have the unit turn on automatically when audio is sensed from the iPod. Alarm’s auto power-on lags about five seconds behind the iPod’s actual start of music playback, but can be used with the iPod’s integrated alarm feature if you desire, assuming that you don’t mind compromising either seeing the iPod’s screen, or having the speakers pointed at you when the alarm goes off.
Our biggest issue with iMainGo was its sound quality. Contrary to what was claimed by a viral marketer who posted a comment on this product, the $70 iMainGo is nothing close to the same-priced iHome iH19 in audio. When set to the 90% level of our test 5G iPod’s volume scale, our review unit’s left speaker shut off entirely, requiring that the power be switched off and on to restore functionality, while its right speaker distorted very audibly, together suggesting some amplification issue that should have been fixed before shipment. At above-average volumes, there’s also noticeable mid-bass and bass distortion – more so than in the much cheaper FX 300, which doesn’t try as hard, but doesn’t strain as much. But on the other hand, when iMainGo fully works, namely at low to average volume levels, it sounds richer and livelier than FX 300, which thanks to its flat-panel, monaural sound is flatter and less detailed.
Overall, for the dollar, iMainGo feels like a speaker that underperforms on sound quality relative to its expectations, and packs far fewer frills and benefits than iHome’s iH19. Though it has one very strong advantage over the FX 300 – the clear rear panel for iPod screen and control access – plus superior battery life, thanks to additional AAA batteries, few will find these features worthy of a premium of $40 over Kensington’s price, especially given the issues with its speaker and amplification performance. In our view, the best implementations of the speaker case concept are yet to come; iMainGo points the way better than most, but executes a bit less impressively, as well.
Company and Price
Company: Portable Sound Laboratories
Compatible: All iPods