TANGENT Speaking of iPod speakers
Sound system reviews
By Dan DeLorenzo
NEW YORK --Compact speakers for personal music players have been around since the original Walkman. Now that mini-hard drive music machines can hold your entire collection, the product category is back with a vengeance.
I had a few basic requirements for the systems I tried, which ranged in price from $20 to $300: They must go almost anywhere and fit in a book bag. Though several are geared toward the Apple iPod, all can be used with other players, too, because they accept a standard headphone-sized stereo mini jack.
I tested five systems for a month with my iPod mini in a variety of settings -- the beach, tanning on the roof and at a dinner party -- to see which had acceptable sound quality and volume and which were convenient enough to wriggle into my daily routine.
The newest is the Bose Soundock, which was available starting Friday.
Bose appears to have taken the remarkable speaker system associated with its Waveradio and attached it to an iPod dock. The system outclasses all others in sound quality, but, at $300, it's the most expensive and is also the heaviest. It ships with attachments for any iPod and a remote that adjusts volume and can skip tracks. If it had the radio and an RCA jack input, it could almost replace the living room stereo.
JBL's onStage is the size of an appetizer plate and has a hole in the middle. It costs $100 less than the Bose system but has less power.
It, too, works with any iPod, which can be docked in the onStage and controlled from a computer. That allows you to edit the iPod's playlists while you play music. This systems also works well as iPod's home away from PC, but $200 still seems too pricey.
While these systems sounded best and were the most integrated with the iPod, neither takes batteries. If you want truly portable, go-anywhere speakers, keep looking.
Creative Labs' TravelSound
Creative Labs' TravelSound was the most portable system I tested, and its four AAA batteries lived the longest. However, its two headphone-sized speakers drop about as much bass as Eddie Van Halen. Its tinny sound barely cut through the slightest rooftop gusts, and the first chords of a Metallica song almost did them in. Even at $60, it isn't worth it.
Altec Lansing's inMotion
While not powerful enough for a rooftop dance party, Altec Lansing's inMotion, about $120, is well-designed, rugged and about the size and weight of a paperback. With decent sound and integration with the iPod, it always found its way into my bag.
In conjunction with the iPod's alarm, it was my best friend during a week spent sleeping on couches while switching apartments.
The inMotion was still running on the first four AA's at the conclusion of the test thanks to a smart auto-shutoff feature. One flaw: Even mellow Willie Nelson unplugged was distorted at the highest volumes. But if you want a compact speaker to use on the go and you'll never try for disco-strength volume, it's the best choice.
Of course, the whole problem can be solved with a stop at Radioshack. There you'll find a product affectionately called "The Eggman" by the San Diego store's general manager. Available at any Radioshack store but not on the company's Web site, this pair of round-topped speakers is referred to in company literature as Portable Amplified Speaker System.
While tone control buttons have no noticeable effect on the sound, you can't beat the price: A quick trip to the mall, $20 and four C batteries and you've got a party.
It may not match your iPod's color, but it will do the trick for a fraction of the price of its more glamorous counterparts.