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iPod Portable Docking Speaker Systems Roundup

by September 17, 2008
Boston i-DS2

Boston i-DS2

I constantly have people asking me about speakers for their iPods.  It seems everyone has an iPod these days, even those of us who prefer to listen to full-fidelity music on our big systems.  And the reality is, more often than not we are in the kitchen, at the office, or traveling - which means we need a more portable audio solution.  Is it any wonder the iPod is such a success?   I decided to do a roundup of portable docking speaker systems for the iPod, to get a better idea of what the latest offerings are from several manufacturers. 

Below you will find overviews of several systems, ranging from a tiny pocket-sized system with micro-drivers, to larger systems with rich fidelity that will fill a decent sized room with quality sound.  I personally tested each of these models in my home and office over the course of a few weeks to bring you a good overview of some current systems. 

Creative TravelSound for iPod nano

creativeIf you own a third generation nano and portability is your main concern, the tiny Creative TravelSound could be the answer.  This little speaker system is about the size of a pack of cigarettes once you have your 3rd gen iPod nano docked in it.  Measuring roughly 2" x 4" and less than an inch thick, this is by far the smallest of the speakers I reviewed for this roundup.  Weighing in at 0.2 lbs, this tiny system outputs 700mWatts per channel (yes, it is actually a two-channel system) via the four micro drivers and built-in digital amplifier.  The rechargeable Lithium Polymer (built-in) battery provides up to 15 hours of playback on a single charge.  Included with the unit is a plastic desk stand, travel pouch, and a USB wall charger that charges both the speaker and your nano.  

The TravelSound is built from a combination of aluminum and plastic.  The entire rear of the unit is an anodized aluminum grill, hiding the four micro drivers.  The front of the unit has a white plastic base and clear plastic sides that allow you to easily slide your nano into place, docking into the unit.  On the side there is an power switch, a volume control, and a USB port for charging or syncing.

As you might imagine, the sound from such a small device is pretty tinny and lacks any real bass or bottom end.  But that it not to say it is bad - I like this product, especially for travelers.  When you consider how easy it is to keep this in your purse, backpack or briefcase, the TravelSound is a great way to enjoy your iPod without earbuds when you are on the go.  My daughter enjoyed using it in her bedroom for a couple of days, and we were both surprised at how loud it would play.  Business travelers will enjoy the ease of setting it up on a hotel room desk or dresser  while on the road, enjoying personal music without adding any real weight to your carry-on.  It's also great for sharing a song or podcast (such as the excellent AV Rant) with a friend.

Pro:  minimal size
Con:  minimal fidelity
MSRP:  $79.99

Link: http://us.creative.com/welcome.asp

Vestalife Ladybug

ladybugMaybe you are looking for whimsy in your iPod speakers.  Whimsy is defined as "a thing that is fanciful or odd."  The Vestalife Ladybug is both odd and fanciful.  Odd in that it looks like, well, a ladybug.  It is a round ball with "wings" that open out to reveal a dock that is compatible with any iPod with a dock connector.  But it could also be seen as fanciful because it is sure to draw a smile as it sits on your desktop.  Not only is it fun, it is quite functional.  The two wings that fold out are actually speakers, and there is also a subwoofer on the rear of the unit, as well as a USB connector for synchronizing with your computer, an AV Out for video output, and an auxiliary-in jack to connect non-docking iPod, CD players, or other MP3 players.  The unit comes with a small remote control, a soft travel pouch, and can be powered by an included AC adapter or 4AA batteries.  Available in several colors, my review sample came in ladybug red.  The finish is slightly metallic and has a rubbery feel.

Sound quality is helped by the subwoofer, but is still nothing to write home about.  But it does a fine job filling a small room with background music, and will certainly please children and the style-conscious who are looking for something fun and functional to add tunes to their environment.  The ladybug is a very portable (it comes with a soft travel bag) little sound system that has respectable sound, allowing you to share your iPod's music with those around you. 

Pro:  fun & portable
Con:  average sound quality
MSRP:  $109.99 

Link: www.vesta-life.com

Cambridge SoundWorks PlayDock i

cambridgeThe PlayDock i is a traditional all-in-one stereo speaker system with an iPod dock built-in.  It can can be powered with the included AC power adapter or 8 C-cell batteries.  There is a built-in carry handle on the rear of the unit.  The shell is white plastic, with the front face covered in a black fabric (speaker grill) material.  The iPod dock is in the middle on the front panel between the speakers.  On the top of the unit there is a power button, a Wide Stereo Effect button, and a dial-type volume control.  On the rear of the unit there is connectivity options galore.  You will find a headphone jack, an AV OUT miniplug jack, a LINE IN miniplug jack, the power adapter input, and a bass control.  The entire unit is smartly designed and looks good, and I liked that you can power it with batteries, making it a truly portable system.   (Modern day "boom-box" anyone?)  It also comes with a credit-card sized remote, that allows control of volume and iPod transport controls.

The PlayDock i is compatible with iPod nano, iPod with video, iPod (color display), iPod U2 special edition, iPod (click wheel), iPod mini.  You can also connect your TV or any portable device to the system via the inputs on the rear.  The system has a 12 watt per channel stereo amplifier as well as a 24 watt amp for the built-in subwoofer.  The sub is controlled from the rear adjustment knob, letting you choose how much "thump" you want to have in your music.  This adjustable sub allowed me to dial in a nice warm sound from the system.   As for my assessment of the sound quality, it depends on how much you pay for the unit.  At $199.99 (MSRP), I find the sound to be just average, at best.  But if you find it (as I was able to online) for $99.99, this is a decent deal, and much better sound than I have found in comparable systems at this price.

Pro:  plenty of connectivity
Con:  average sound quality
MSRP:  $199.99

Boston Acoustics Horizon i-DS2

bostonFor those of you who are no-frills, audio-first people, Boston has a docking speaker system for you.  This compact, one piece unit looks like a small center channel speaker from the front.   The one piece mesh grill keeps two 3.5" speakers hidden, and is very clean with only a small Boston logo visible.  The iPod dock is on the top of the unit, as are the only buttons - a power button flanked by a volume up and volume down.  All three buttons are flush with the top edge of the speaker.  The power button glows blue.  The rear of the unit sports a bass port, power cord connection, AUX IN jack, USB connector, and a composite video out.  My review sample was gloss black, but gloss white is also available.  Boston also has optional interchangeable grilles for the i-DS2 in different colors available separately.  The unit controls and charges all dockable iPod models.

The dual high-performance 3.5" drivers are powered by a 15 watts RMS/30 watts (Dynamic Output Power) per channel amplifier, and is rear vented for extended bass response, which is also enhanced by Boston's BassTrac audio processing.  The styling is very understated - this is a small, compact, and very clean little unit.  For example, I liked that the power supply is located inside the unit, rather than as a wart box attached to the power cable.  And it is so simple - only power and volume buttons on the unit. 

But the main reason this should be at the very top of your iPod speaker system list is the sound quality.  Looking for "that Boston sound?"  You got it.  The bass is amazing - this is a very rich, clean sounding system that filled our kitchen with high fidelity.  Amazing sound for the size and price.

Pro:  killer sound quality
Con:  no battery option
MSRP:  $179.99

Link: www.bostonacoustics.com

Logitech Pure-Fi Dream

dreamAre you old-school, looking for a clock-radio on which to park your modern iPod?  Logitech has what is probably the most fun of all the systems I tested in it's Pure-Fi Dream system.  Not only is this a great sounding speaker system, but it incorporates your iPod into a clock radio that is very simple to use.  One of the cooler features is the motion activated, backlit controls.  When you wave your hand over the unit, the controls glow orange while you adjust them and then dim again once your hand is gone.  The unit also includes a backlit, full-featured remote control.

Sound is provided via a pair of 3" drivers coupled with 3/4" soft dome tweeters.  Bass and treble are adjustable, and the amber front panel LCD displays iPod song titles as well as the clock.  The clock display is a bit tiny, and can be hard to read from lying in your bed if you are off-axis from the angle of the display.  The display dims according to the ambient light in the room.  There is a dual alarm with the option to wake up to a buzzer, AM or FM radio, or any playlist on your iPod.  Want to snooze?  Just wave your hand at the Pure-Fi Dream to activate the snooze.   There is no question that the light and motion sensing technology of this unit set it apart from other similar iPod clock radio-type products. 

Pro:  great sounding and easy to use
Con:  display could be larger
MSRP:  $199.99

Link: www.logitech.com

 

About the author:

Over the years J. has constantly found himself to be an "early-adopter," spending way too much money on "new" technologies such as Compact Disc, LaserDisc, and DVD. He is one of the few people who actually purchased (and still owns) a CORE programmable remote control (bonus points if you remember this product).

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Recent Forum Posts:

gus6464 posts on December 20, 2008 22:09
How about the B&W Zepellin? Every time I see that thing at the apple store it cracks me up. But it does sound pretty nice and good bass too.
birdonthebeach posts on December 20, 2008 16:46
gbenfield, post: 499179
This is Emma, gbenfield's twelve year old daughter. I recently got a Vestalife Ladybug iPod System for my birthday and thought I'd add some thoughts from my point of view. I'm not very good with audio stuff and normally it takes me about a forty minutes to figure out how to use some new system that my dad reviews, just so I can watch a movie! The Ladybug system is easy to use, I just plugged my ipod in and it worked. I use it every day, the remote works great. For a little thing it can get very loud if you want it to, but also can be exceptionally quiet if you like to listen to music before going to bed. Music quality is plenty good enough for just listening in my room. It is easily transportable and comes with a little black bag for when you travel with it. I think any girl would enjoy one for their room.

Emma, I think you have a future in writing reviews!!! A young Audioholic - I love it!!! Glad you like your LadyBug!!
Clownfish posts on December 20, 2008 10:45
gliz, post: 457990
i am sick of IPODS, everything has an IPOD dock on it

Sorry to hear that.

I love my iPhone, I plug it into my computer desk top speakers at work.

When I'm on the move, I use just one earbud, so I can still hear what's going on around me, and listen all day…in the car, at the mall, yardwork, etc.

In a room with a conversation I don't want to participate in? Add the second earbud, no proob.

I haven't bought a “dock player” just yet, but I will before summer, so I can take it to the beach!

ilounge.com has some good reviews on portable players.
gbenfield posts on December 19, 2008 20:04
This is Emma, gbenfield's twelve year old daughter. I recently got a Vestalife Ladybug iPod System for my birthday and thought I'd add some thoughts from my point of view. I'm not very good with audio stuff and normally it takes me about a forty minutes to figure out how to use some new system that my dad reviews, just so I can watch a movie! The Ladybug system is easy to use, I just plugged my ipod in and it worked. I use it every day, the remote works great. For a little thing it can get very loud if you want it to, but also can be exceptionally quiet if you like to listen to music before going to bed. Music quality is plenty good enough for just listening in my room. It is easily transportable and comes with a little black bag for when you travel with it. I think any girl would enjoy one for their room.
birdonthebeach posts on September 18, 2008 09:12
gliz, post: 457990
forget Bose i am sick of IPODS, everything has an IPOD dock on it

I can certainly respect that!
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