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3 High-End iPod Speaker Systems Reviewed 67

phaedo00 writes "Ars Technica has put together a round up of three high-end iPod speaker systems, including the new Apple iPod Hi-Fi. From the article: 'With the seemingly unending success of the iPod, accessories for the popular digital music player have become a more and more popular option for companies looking to hop on the bandwagon and make a quick buck. Companies that once had no business selling product accessories for consumer electronics are now jumping into the game because of the success of the iPod. With the growing number of stores carrying the personal audio device and a growing crop of users desiring to hear their music in more places, speaker systems have become an increasingly popular accessory.'"
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3 High-End iPod Speaker Systems Reviewed

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  • by SlashdotOgre ( 739181 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @05:35PM (#15193352) Journal
    Personally I'm happy using a $4 mini jack to composite audio adapter to connect my iPod to my stereo. Sure I might not be able to control the iPod via a stereo remote, but it sure beats dropping $250 (the speaker system in the article).
    • Personally I'm happy using a $4 mini jack to composite audio adapter to connect my iPod to my stereo. Sure I might not be able to control the iPod via a stereo remote, but it sure beats dropping $250 (the speaker system in the article).

      That's all I have. The speakers in my stereo are already in place, and way better than the ones in these systems. And I'm not worried about controlling the iPod since I've got a shuffle and just want random anyway.

      However, if you don't already have the stereo, or need a sys

    • Exactly. Also works great with the right car radio. Anyway, at home I'd prefer PC->Airport Express->Stereo. Fewer wires, more disk space, better control and better sound than any of the iPod speakers for less than half the price.
      • I personally use an EchoAudio Indigo DJ CardBus audio interface [echoaudio.com] in my laptop connected to my upper-midrange receiver connected to my midrange speakers. Even though I paid $30 for the speakers (used) and the interface and amp were given to me I'd guarantee the setup sounds way better than any of these "desktop" speakers.

        But I agree it's subjective. I went from one $400 pair of speakers (which I liked a lot) to another $400 pair of speakers and found it hard to go back. The new ones are so much better in re

    • JBL makes a nice system called On Tour, which retails for $100. I found it at Sam's Club for $50 a while ago. Great sound for the price, so if you're looking for something better than headphones, but don't want to spend several hundred dollars it is a very good buy. Takes batteries or AC, so you can use it wherever you want.
  • by Malor ( 3658 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @05:52PM (#15193432) Journal
    When I read this earlier, as soon as I saw that he strongly preferred the look of one of the speakers, I immediately predicted that he would like its sound the best. And, of course, he did.

    It's important to do blind testing in audio. People just don't hear as well as they think they do.

    Also note that everyone appears to hear differently. Vision is highly specialized, and differentiation between people is fairly low. That's why it's easy to pick out 'best' monitors, for instance. But audio isn't like that; each brain appears to figure out hearing a little differently. The brain uses, relatively speaking, very few neurons on auditory signals, which leads to (relatively) wide variations.

    All sound reproduction is an illusion, and all speakers make tradeoffs, especially in the low end. It's important to listen to speakers for yourself, in blind testing, to find a set that fits your particular hearing strategy well.

    Because of this, speaker reviews are much less useful than other kinds. Being geeks, we're used to being able to categorize and rank things by technical merit. Speakers just don't work like that.

    Unfortunately, there's also a vast number of people in the audio business selling snake oil to take advantage of the poor hearing of most humans. So you DO have to listen for yourself.... but with BLIND testing. That's the only way to find out if a given effect is real, or just psychological.
    • Huh? I read the whole article and I didn't see him express any preference about the appearance of ANY speaker set.
      • From the article:

        While the subwoofer is big and boxy, as most subwoofers are, the satellites are, in my opinion, dead sexy. They come with grills, but they look so hot without them on I'm not sure why anyone without toddlers would want to put them on.

        And they also sounded the best. This is not a surprise. Blind testing is important. They may actually sound better to the reviewer, but blind testing is required to be certain.
    • by planetmn ( 724378 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @07:35PM (#15193899)
      [quote]Because of this, speaker reviews are much less useful than other kinds. Being geeks, we're used to being able to categorize and rank things by technical merit. Speakers just don't work like that.

      Unfortunately, there's also a vast number of people in the audio business selling snake oil to take advantage of the poor hearing of most humans.[/quote]

      Unfortunately, it's too easy to find reviews of non-quantifiable items (such as speakers) but it's near impossible (I've been unable to find) reviews of quantifiable components such as interconnection cables. Cables have power loss, impedence, bandwidths, etc. which would make it easy to determine if the $50 cable is any better than the $10 one. But I digress. Just a pet peeve of mine.

      Oh yeah, and being somebody who does spend modest amounts of money on components and speakers, everybody's hearing is subjective, and to all my friends who can't tell the difference between a pair of B&Ws and a sony all-in-one from circuit city, well, they get through life spending less money than I do.

      -dave
      • and to all my friends who can't tell the difference between a pair of B&Ws and a sony all-in-one from circuit city, well, they get through life spending less money than I do.

        Ahh, finally a justification for the hearing damage I suffered from standing too close to the speakers at concerts when I was young: in fact, I was actually looking ahead to my middle age. Now I'm saving money!
      • Cables have power loss, impedence, bandwidths, etc. which would make it easy to determine if the $50 cable is any better than the $10 one.

        I'll save you some time: It's not.

        Unless you are talking about shielded cable (where the shielding matters) or twisted-pair cable like CAT-5, there's no difference.

        This is particularilly true of speaker wire. 14-guage copper is 14-guage copper. There's only 5 machine designs in the world for pulling copper wire, and a small group of factories using those machines. Mon
        • For your average audio system I would agree that you won't hear much difference between the $10 cable and the $50 one; but once you've upgraded your sources and speakers, eventually your cables to factor in. Also, most Monster cables are crap that your average audiophile would never touch. But the audiophile community is very divided on the issue of cables [audiogon.com]. Most will agree that there is some noticeable difference between cables. If you do your homework you'll find that there's a wide range of technologies
          • If you'll note: in blind testing, there is essentially never a difference. I'm aware of exactly one instance in which cabling made a real difference in a system, and that was because both sending and receiving units were out of spec. Some cables would force the pair into audible failure, where other cables would just barely allow the two to work. Audiophiles raved about the 'revealing quality' of the units in combination, when in fact what they were hearing was the failure of bits to be correctly transmi

      • it's near impossible (I've been unable to find) reviews of quantifiable components such as interconnection cables.

        Well, my friend, you just haven't been looking hard enough. [pipex.com] Scroll down for cable reviews.

    • That's why it's easy to pick out 'best' monitors, for instance

      No, but not for biological reasons. It's been often reported that people like to crank up the saturation on their TV and like to have flat screens that "over-enhance" the sharpness, not to say crank up the high frequency components in the image.

      My point is, we might see the same thing, but -in a way- not see it the same way, and that because of this, some people will like some fucked up badly setup low-end flat screen TV over one that according

    • He provided the necessary audio tests. iPod Hi-Fi had the flattest frequency response. End of story.

      • Speakers are much more complex than that. WAY more complex than that. A 'flat response' says nothing whatsoever about impulse response and transient control, plus tons of other things that I, frankly, don't understand very well.

        Sounds can be described in (at least) two ways: in the frequency domain, and in the time domain. Flat-frequency-response speakers with poor abilities in the time domain will sound like crap. If it takes longer, for instance, for treble to get through the crossover than bass, thi
  • by mkiwi ( 585287 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @06:22PM (#15193566)
    It would have been helpful if the ars reviewer had included a number of known speakers as a base-line for their testing. Few people have these speaker systems yet, and providing a high-end and a low-end comparison to actual speakers that people own would be more useful.

    I'm partial to logitech models, especially the Z-680, but I'm sure ars could have found something to give us a better indicator of sound quality. Having no baseline to compare your systems to is not a very good benchmarking schema.

    • by Golias ( 176380 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @11:16PM (#15194632)
      It also would have been helpful if the Slashdot summary (instead of simply copy/pasting the first paragraph of TFA) had listed which speaker systems were being reviewed. Then it would have saved me the trouble on clicking the link to see that, in fact, the headline should have read "Zero High-End iPod Speaker Systems Reviewed."

      To save the rest of you said hassle:

      There's the Apple "Lo-Fi" (as I like to call it), a boom box from Altec Lansing, and Yet Another Puny Satelite System With A Subwoofer made by Klipsh. All junk. All overpriced.

      What would be nice is if somebody made a rugged $50 lo-fi plastic boom box with an iPod dock. Something you could carelessly throw into an open pick-up truck bed and head to the beach with. What's the point of building a small, portable, speaker system if it's as delicate as gossimer wings, more expensive than a monthly car payment, and still sounds like ass anyway?
  • Bose (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rhesuspieces00 ( 804354 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @06:26PM (#15193583) Homepage
    It would have been nice if they had included the Bose Soundock in the lineup, and possibly other iPod speaker systems, like the Klipsch iGroove. Its much more interesting to see side-by-side comparisons than read seperate reviews performed by different people.
  • But...did they review the iZilla [thinkgeek.com]?
  • . . . my High-End iPod Speaker System is a 20 something year old Pioneer SX 1050 in my living room, and an equally 20 something year old Pioneer SX 5580 (the Black version of the SX 1050) in my bedroom. Makes the cat spin in circles and the dog howl . . . do that with one of THOSE three . . .
  • Bose SoundDock? (Score:2, Informative)

    by singularity ( 2031 ) *
    I am disappointed that a Bose Sounddock was not included as one of the speakers compared. While I despise Bose products, they are a very popular seller to a large part of the iPod buying population.

    Between crappy sound, non-portability, and lack of an auxiliary in, it is a terrible product. I would like to have an article I point people to and say "See, it is a crappy product and if you are so hyped up about buying a speaker system specifically for your iPod, there are better ones out there."
    • Try this one. [slashdot.org]

    • Fully agree with you about the bose speakers.

      Theirs a great saying in the Pro-audio Industry.

      "No highs? No Lows? Must be Bose"

      so true. My pet peve is I go to the bose store to look at their headsets, only to find they don't have any frequency response graphs out or any other technical info.... just price and that its "Sound Canceling!"

      ARG!! I'll take my sennheisers anyday.
  • by batkiwi ( 137781 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @06:54PM (#15193728)
    None of those speakers look high end to me. The apple one is CLOSE, but having all 3 speakers in the same enclosure will have some issues with stereo seperation. And don't get me going on the klipsh POS... while two tiny satellites and a sub you can hide away is nicer LOOKING (and is exactly what I have in my family room), never kid yourself that they sound anything but tinny and boomy.

    Where's the comparison to a $150 stereo amplifier and a $250 pair of bookshelf speakers to see how much you lose by going "IPod enabled" ?
    • They all seem pretty crummy to me, the Apple one is Bose designed and has even more horrible high end and boomy bass than the others. The horribly sad part is that it's fairly difficult to find a decent set of speakers these day, between overpriced boutique crap (designed to look stylish), and tinny satellite systems (designed to be hidden), both with horrid frequency response curves just distributed differently. Far too much focus on Wife Acceptance factor, in my not so humble opinion. There aren't any
      • s. The horribly sad part is that it's fairly difficult to find a decent set of speakers these day, between overpriced boutique crap (designed to look stylish), and tinny satellite systems (designed to be hidden), both with horrid frequency response curves just distributed differently. Far too much focus on Wife Acceptance factor, in my not so humble opinion. There aren't any companies that even make anything vaguely similar to a Klipsch Cornwall, or comparable JBL's these days.

        Two outstanding "bookshelf" sp
      • try studio monitors.
        they sound better than hifi speakers
    • I have the Klipsch iGroove - one-unit speaker with iPod firewire input - and it sounds pretty good for a one unit speaker and can really fill up a decent-sized room. If you want higher-end sound quality for this price range, go with a pair of powered studio monitors like the M-Audio BX-5's (which you should be able to pick up for about $250 for a pair) or even the Roland MA-8s which run about $80 and deliver a nice clean stereo sound. The drawback is you have to go in from the iPod's audio out rather than
    • How empty. So is it "Looks high end" or "Sounds high end"? Did you read the article? They address stereo separation in the article, and the balance between size, portability, and affordability. I mean, you talk about how much you lose by going iPod enabled... how much do you lose by being tethered to a power cable? Or requiring a carrying case to move the speakers?
      • Okay then, compare it to "all in one" systems that aren't ipod enabled. And what does a "carrying case to move the speakers" mean?

        My point was that article adressed almost nothing audio quality wise, and that it was odd to call those speakers "high end."
  • There is a fundamental flaw in the concept of using an iPod for any kind of 'true' high-end audio application, and that flaw is the iPod's output.

    The iPod has a small power amplifier at its output, which is how it drives the headphones - and this is not a good thing if you are planning on connecting it to another preamp and power amp, or to an integrated amp / receiver. The power amp section is a major source of sonic artifact, and no matter how wonderful the backend electronics and speakers are, you are

    • Switched back to vinyl? Why even bother running thet test? You already knew how it was going to turn out. Anybody who's still listening to vinyl doesn't care about the technical merits of what they're listening to, they just want whatever makes it sound as close to vinyl as possible.
      • There are lots of reasons for still listening to vinyl that don't make you a backward maniac.

        e.g. stuff that isn't on CD, performances that are not or badly digitized, and indeed stuff that for some reason still sounds better on vinyl. Admittedly, the last reason meaning that your ear is more attuned to the typical vinyl sound, so in that case it doesn't mean the vinyl is "better".

        But the first two reasons still count. Especially if you're not solely into "popular" music. Which doesn't necessarily mean you'
    • I'm pretty sure the main problem with sound quality from an iPod is that all the music is encoded in that lossy mp3 or AAC format. Pick a random teenager with an ipod full of music and buy them a $1000 set of headphones, and their music still won't osund any better, and will probably sound worse, because now you can hear all the things wrong with it.
      • Well, it depends. While I don't own $1000 headphones, I do own at set of Grado SR-80s, which are quite decent 'phones, and my iPod sounds just fine through them, playing AAC files encoded at the setting that gives you ~192kbs bitrate. No, it doesn't sound identical to the same music played off CD, but it's astonishingly hard to tell the difference.
      • You can always encode in a lossless format. The iPod takes WAV, AIFF, and Apple Lossless codec.
        • Indeed you can, and I do, in many cases. But your average iPod user doesn't. They tend to worry more about the looks and maximum volume of music devices and headphones far more than sound quality.

          I'm not yet sensitive enough that low sound quality, but I am getting to be more picky. Pink Floyd, for example, I simply can't tolerate as an mp3 or played on crappy speakers.
    • by dr.badass ( 25287 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @07:26PM (#15193867) Homepage
      The iPod has a small power amplifier at its output, which is how it drives the headphones.

      None of the speaker systems reviewed here connect through the headphone jack. They all use the dock connector.
      • Thank you for tidying up my uninformed original post, wherein I had made a dumbass of myself.

        While I appreciate the information on the iPod's docking port, I will still stubbornly refuse to listen to it, for several reasons which I shall make-up as required.

        • While I appreciate the information on the iPod's docking port, I will still stubbornly refuse to listen to it, for several reasons which I shall make-up as required.

          And that, smartass, is how people get on my friends list.
        • No need to make up reasons. The audio pins on the docking port are as analog as the headphone jack. The only thing digital transmitted over the port is artist/album/song information.
    • by gEvil (beta) ( 945888 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @07:36PM (#15193904)
      The dock port on the ipod has a set of pins that act as a line-level output. This is how these speakers are connecting. Not to mention, there are numerous other adapters that you can buy that give you stereo RCA line-level outs from the dock connector.
    • So next time try it with Rockbox and some fLAC encoded music. It won't sound like your precious vinyl, but it at least will sound like a cd.

    • IMO it is also dependent on which iPod you use, I found that the Nano sounds much better than the 3G iPod (15Gb version). Did anyone else come across this?

      B.
  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Monday April 24, 2006 @07:40PM (#15193917) Homepage Journal
    Note to the reviewers....

  • Nothing sourced from an iPod, mp3, aac, or ogg, is ever going to sound Hi-Fi. We must remember that these audio formats are highly compressed. The frequency range just isn't there. If you plug an iPod into a $10,000 audio system, it's still going to sound like an iPod. Personal audio players are for convenience and portability. They are great at that. They are not reference systems. Want background music at a party? Sure, plug in your iPod, it will be great. Want a real listening experience? Pick
    • If lossy compression is all you're worried about, any iPod but the Shuffle is perfectly capable of playing AIFF, ALC, and any kind of WAV, including uncompressed. Assuming SACDs and DVD-As are rippable, you might even be able to reproduce those at full quality--I'm not sure what the sample rate limits on supported lossless formats are.
    • ...such as AIFF and Apple Lossless [wikipedia.org].

      Also, these systems don't use the headphone jack to get the music. They use the dock connector, which allows for much higher quality.

    • I do live sound with a 15000 watt "HIFI" PA system designed for national touring acts. I always use my iPod Video between sets, sometimes I'll even DJ with it. No one has ever complained about the compressed sound of the iPod, yes some songs are poorly encoded, however I encode my CD's at 160kps and set the level at around 80% max. If you want real HIFI sound go find a used QSC rmx1500 amp and a pair of Electro Voice SX300. That's what we use in the living room. My kids have dance parties all the time to bl
  • How do I switch playback from an iPod to a device connected to the audio input port?

    If you have an iPod connected to the dock connector port and a different audio device connected to the audio input port you can select between the playback of these two devices by press and holding the Menu button on the remote.

    http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=303 333#faq11 [apple.com]

  • any system that retails for under $400 is not highend

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