In recent months, we’ve decided to focus less on me-too iPod accessories and more on truly innovative ones. Consequently, our review of the Tannoy i30 ($400) — an all-in-one speaker designed by a noted British speaker company — is brief.
Simply put, we’ve heard the pitch and the sound signature behind the i30 countless times before: Tannoy created the i30 as an audiophile alternative to the Bose SoundDock, which we’ve noted many times does a good but not spectacular job of performing any Dock Connector-equipped iPod’s audio in a single room. Rated a B+ by iLounge, the $300 SoundDock sounds good without tweaking right out of the box, but has been surpassed in both aggregate sound quality and value for the dollar by many of its competitors, most notably including Altec Lansing and Logitech speakers that deliver considerably more dynamic audio and other superior features, often at lower prices.
i30 is basically a bigger and louder alternative to the SoundDock. Measuring roughly 17.5” wide, it’s longer than the SoundDock but rounded on the sides and back, and similarly has a Universal Dock in the center. Silky fabric speaker grilles on the front are non-removable, and the only major visual differentiator to set i30 apart from the scads of all-plastic speakers we routinely receive for testing.
The more subtle and important difference is that it has literally no buttons on its body; unlike all of its competitors, which feature at least volume controls, and most often power buttons, i30 is entirely remote controlled with an included seven-button Infrared unit. Power, USB, audio-in and video-out ports are on its rear, with metal screw holes for wall mounting. Inside are a DSP for iPod audio optimization, two four-inch drivers, a 50-watt custom BASH amplifier, and an international-ready power supply. You can pick i30 up with a handle on its rear and tote it around, but it runs only off of wall power, not batteries.
If i30 had actually sounded better overall than the SoundDock, we might have been willing to overlook its control idiosyncrasies—despite its necessity, the remote’s not always responsive, and its simple power, volume, mute, and track controls are not as fully featured as many lower-priced competitors, which offer shuffle, repeat, and sometimes menu navigation features as well. But in our testing against the SoundDock, the i30 came across as comparatively slanted in the bass department at normal volumes, with a relative lack of treble and mid-treble detail.
That says something, as the warm-skewing SoundDock also isn’t known for its high-frequency performance, where it routinely loses out in comparisons with peer-priced systems such as Logitech’s Pure-Fi Elite and AudioStation, as well as less expensive options from many other companies. It’s not that i30 sounds bad—it doesn’t—but it’s flat by comparison with many $200 and $300 speakers we’ve tested.
For comparison’s sake, we took the time to play tracks through i30 and a few other options, such as the SoundDock, AudioStation, and Apple’s iPod Hi-Fi, expecting that the i30 would best at least one of the systems in some way. Unfortunately, Tannoy’s bass-heavy sound signature failed to win over any of three iLounge editors during testing; it’s the rare system that makes the now-discontinued and similarly bassy iPod Hi-Fi sound good, even balanced, for its $349 asking price, and after an hour or two of comparative testing, we found ourselves just wanting to turn it off and ship it back. It didn’t help that the system was apparently designed and released overseas some time ago, and therefore its video-out feature doesn’t work with current-generation iPod classics, nanos, touches, or iPhones.
There’s a temptation in the case of rounded, super-simplified, and expensive systems such as the i30 to presume that their prices and smooth curves make them good speaker choices, but the contrast between this system and, say, Bowers and Wilkins’ Zeppelin is a sharp one. Zeppelin is a daring, innovative, and well-balanced speaker that happens to be too expensive; i30 is a forgettable design with a polarizing sound signature and controls that were underthought rather than streamlined.