Last week, we covered a large collection of Bluetooth wireless speakers that spanned a wide range of different sizes and features. Today, we’re continuing our speaker roundup with looks at three speakers with 30-pin Dock Connectors, a standard Apple is currently in the process of phasing out — and a fact that each company has addressed in a different way. The speakers are JBL’s OnBeat Venue ($199), Kicker’s Amphitheater ($300), and XtremeMac’s Tango TT ($150).
First shown in January at CES, Tango TT is the sort of speaker we’ve come to expect from XtremeMac over the past several years: a design that’s unconventional but smart, targeted at a specific and practical user experience, and arguably just a little late to market. Unlike any other speaker system we’ve seen for Apple’s devices over the years, Tango TT is shaped like an oversized tray, housing four total speakers inside a roughly 11.6”-wide, 4”-tall, 6.6”-deep black plastic enclosure that tapers in every direction. The tray bulges at the sides, emphasizing a wraparound black fabric grille that covers the speakers and rear venting ports. Most of the plastic chassis is black, except for a gray metallic stripe with four buttons on the front, one each for power, volume up, volume down, and “lock.” A same-sized black stripe on the back has power and aux-in audio ports.
The “lock” button is part of XtremeMac’s way of dealing with the single biggest problem that has historically challenged iPad speaker designers: finding a way to accommodate tablets in either landscape or portrait orientation. Rather than using a fixed-position Dock Connector plug or rotating the entire iPad-holding tray, Tango TT uses a Dock Connector at the end of a cable. If you want to place your iPad in portrait orientation, where the Dock Connector plug naturally rests within a recess in the tray, you just do that; counterintuitively, whenever you want to pull the portrait iPad off the tray, you hold down the “Lock” button to keep the cable from pulling out. Otherwise, removing the iPad will also pull out the plug and cable, which can then be placed off to the right side of the tray, and the iPad in landscape orientation.
The solution doesn’t make sense at first, and it isn’t ideal, but it does accomplish both device rotation and case compatibility—things that can’t always be taken for granted in iPad speakers. Similarly, XtremeMac uses a flip-out support inside the tray to support three different iPad angles, two upright and one superior for typing. Like the cable solution, the requirement that you manually manipulate both the iPad and various components of the speaker doesn’t feel perfect, but it works to achieve versatility that is hard to find elsewhere. Tango TT also supports pre-Lightning iPhones and iPods using the same components.
While XtremeMac has long been known for cool industrial designs, its sonic track record has been mixed enough that we’re never sure what we’ll hear when we turn on its new speakers for the first time. Tango TT packs pleasant sonic surprises, sounding bigger than its footprint might suggest, and better than many docking speakers in its $150 price range. At regular near-field listening volumes, it has a really nice balance of treble, midrange, and bass, and performed each song we threw at it with not only appropriate stereo separation, but the sort of left/right-channel distance we’d have expected from a system 50% wider. While the bass falls off at low volumes, it’s normally solid, and even can be heard without noticeable distortion at the system’s high volumes, which are enough to fill a small room. Amplifier noise is very modest, and there are no obvious problems with interference even when Tango TT is used with an iPhone. XtremeMac did a very nice job with this unit.
Tango TT’s only misses are fairly obvious ones. There’s no remote control, no wireless functionality, and no simple solution to the Lightning connector dilemma except to buy an adapter or wait for a sequel. While this isn’t an issue today—the day before Apple announces the first iPads with Lightning ports—it will definitely be an issue going forward. It’s also worth a brief note that XtremeMac offers a free app for Tango TT called LifeSlides, which presents photos, album art, and/or content from your Facebook and Twitter feeds as an automated slideshow while your iPad is docked. LifeSlides does what it’s supposed to do, and looks nice, though it’s no substitute for just being able to hold your iPad and do whatever you want with it while listening to music wirelessly.
Those issues aside, Tango TT is a winner—at least, as current-generation iPad-focused speaker systems go. Between its clean industrial design, very good sound, versatile stand functionality, and reasonable pricing, XtremeMac has come up with an overall package that very nearly approaches true greatness. An even simpler cable and stand implementation, Bluetooth wireless support, and a Lightning option certainly wouldn’t hurt a future version, but if you’re looking for something right now that works with older, Dock Connector-based Apple devices, this is a very good option at a relatively low price.
Company and Price
Model: Tango TT
Compatible: iPad 2/iPad (3rd-Gen), iPhone 4/4S, iPod nano 6G, iPod touch 4G