Review: Desktop/tabletop speakers
Klipsch iGroove HG
Klipsch’s $250 iGroove HG ( ) is actually an updated, gloss-black version of the company’s older silver/gray iGroove. The 16-inch (wide) by 5.5-inch (high) by 6.5-inch (deep) unit looks larger than it actually is thanks to a “shell” design that leans the curved front face of the iGroove back at an angle. In the middle is one of the more unique iPod dock cradles we’ve seen: The back of the cradle features a sliding, padded “backrest” (as the company calls it); since the rear of the cradle is angled backwards, like the iGroove’s face, moving the backrest up results in a deeper cradle for thicker iPods, whereas moving it down gives you a shallower cradle for thinner iPods. This design is much more convenient than dock-cradle inserts, especially if you want to use your speakers with multiple iPods. However, mini and nano iPods are too thin for even the shallowest setting, so Klipsch includes iGroove-specific nano and mini adapters. When in the iGroove, your dockable iPod is charged, even when the system is turned off.
Like the M602, the iGroove accommodates non-dockable iPods, iPod shuffles, and other portable players using a cradle adapter; however, the iGroove’s adapter is much nicer. It actually fits into the dock cradle, like an iPod; a 1/8-inch stereo miniplug on the bottom of the adapter slides into a minijack hidden in the bottom of the dock cradle. You place your player in the cradle, which has a rubber-padded back to keep the player in place, and a short cable with a miniplug connects to your player’s headphone jack or line-level-output minijack. The adapter is large enough, and sturdy enough, to accommodate a Sony PSP.
Behind the iGroove HG’s expansive black-metal grill are four drivers: left and right 2.5-inch “woofers” and left and right 1-inch tweeters. The latter are Klipsch’s proprietary MicroTractrix horns, making the iGroove the only iPod speaker system to use horn technology instead of traditional speaker drivers. The only controls on the iGroove are small buttons for Volume Up and Down and Power On/Off; turning the unit off also puts your iPod to sleep. One odd volume-related issue I experienced is that each time you turn the iGroove off or remove your dockable iPod from the dock cradle, the iGroove’s volume is reset to a default level—one that’s a bit too loud in a small room or on a desk.
Unlike the other speaker systems covered here, the iGroove has no other connections; only a jack on the rear for connecting the AC adapter. However, you do get an integrated “notch” handle on the back of the iGroove for carrying it from room to room.
The iGroove HG’s remove provides the fewest functions of any included remote here: Play/Pause, Volume Up, Volume Down, Back, Forward and Power On/Off. However, the remote is laid out well, with the buttons oriented logically. (I point this out because I’ve been critical of Klipsch’s iPod-speaker remotes in the past.) The iGroove’s remote uses IR technology, rather than RF, so its range is limited to line of sight; I was able to control the iGroove from 10 to 15 feet away.
The iGroove HG’s sound quality is impressive—only the Radial bests it among the desktop/tabletop systems we’ve tested. Treble and midrange are both good, with solid bass extension down to around 90Hz to 100Hz. Soundstage and imaging are also good for a one-piece system, slightly better than those of the T24 and M602, but not quite as good as the Radial. The iGroove HG is also the loudest of the systems covered here—and louder than Bose’s SoundDock—but did exhibit slight distortion at the highest volume levels. Overall, the iGroove HG offers good, rich sound for a system this size along with good detail—it sounds very similar to the SoundDock but with better midrange. The only significant audio issues I experienced were related to noise. Our sample of the original iGroove last year had a problem with low-level background hiss; the HG improves on the original significantly, but I occasionally still heard a slight hiss when no music was playing. In addition, when playing some bass-heavy tracks at loud (but not full-blast) levels, the iGroove HG’s front grill actually vibrated, producing a slight rattling noise.
Sonic Impact T24 Made for iPod Shelf System
Compared to Altec Lansing, JBL, and Klipsch, Sonic Impact is a relative newcomer to iPod speakers. However, we were impressed by the company’s first efforts, the i-Fusion and i-Pax portable systems; the $199 T24 Made for iPod Shelf System ( ) is the company’s first foray into desktop/tabletop speakers. The gloss-black, 13.8-inch (wide) by 6.8-inch (high) by 6-inch (deep) T24 is the most basic of the four systems here—and the most like the SoundDock—in terms of aesthetic design. A rectangular, gray-metal grill on the front hides the system’s left and right 3-inch drivers. In the middle is a recessed Universal iPod dock that charges your iPod while docked, even when the T24 is turned off. Sonic Impact includes Universal dock adapters 2, 3, and 5, which together officially accommodate 30GB and 40GB third-generation iPods, iPod minis, and 40GB fourth-generation iPods, respectively, although some other iPods also fit. Unfortunately, if your iPod requires a different dock adapter, you’ll have to use the one included with your iPod or buy one from Apple—and those adapters will be bright white instead of gloss black.
The only controls on the T24 itself are Volume Down and Up buttons on the front of the system. The rear of the unit is similarly sparse, hosting just a composite-video output for viewing photos and video on your TV (cable not included); a stereo-minijack auxiliary input for connecting a second audio source (6-inch cable included); and a jack for connecting the AC adapter. Unlike most iPod speaker systems, which either mix iPod and auxiliary audio or mute iPod audio when a second audio source is connected, the T24 lets you switch between the two via the system’s remote. Turning the system off—which can be done only from the remote—also puts your iPod to sleep. Unfortunately, there’s no power indicator on the T24, which makes it difficult to tell whether or not the system is turned on—an issue if your iPod goes to sleep on its own, as you’re left trying to figure out if you need to turn the T24 on and then resume playback, or just press play. As an aside, although the T24’s manual claims that the system will reset to a volume level of 30 percent whenever you turn the system off and then back on, in my testing it remembered the previous volume, which I consider to be preferable behavior.
The T24’s credit-card sized remote offers good functionality: Play/Pause, Back, Forward, Toggle Repeat, Volume Up and Down, Mute, and Power, as well as the aforementioned buttons for switching between iPod and auxiliary-input modes. However, as an IR remote, it’s limited to line-of-sight; overall, the remote’s range was good and its off-axis performance was decent.
The T24 offers good sound quality with its main flaw being poor treble response. The result is a full, warm sound—midrange is good, if a bit pronounced—but without much detail compared to the other systems. Those who prefer a warm presentation may actually prefer the T24, but those looking for clear treble will want to look elsewhere. The T24’s 15-watt-per-channel, Class T amplifier and relatively large enclosure provides good bass response that extends fairly smoothly to around 100Hz and is still fairly solid down to around 80Hz. The system’s soundstage and imaging are both decent for a one-piece system, although not as good as that of the iGroove HG or Radial. The T24 can play about as loud as the SoundDock—enough to fill a room—although at the loudest volumes I did get a bit of distortion. Unfortunately, like a number of other iPod speaker systems we’ve tested, the T24 exhibited a noticeable amount of hiss when no music was playing.
As I was testing these systems, two things became clear. First, the SoundDock is no longer the king of the desktop/tabletop speaker market. Granted, it may continue to be the top seller, but it’s been surpassed by other products in terms of features and sound quality. All of the systems covered here offer more functionality than the SoundDock, including one or several additional features—for example, computer syncing, video output, and support for non-dockable iPods and other audio sources. And Klipsch’s iGroove HG and JBL’s Radial offer better sound quality—in the case of the Radial, significantly better. The second development is that the SoundDock finally has some serious competition in terms of performance for the price. All of these systems except the Radial are available for significantly less money than the SoundDock, and the two lowest-priced systems, Sonic Impact’s T24 and Altec Lansing’s M602, provide sound quality that’s likely to satisfy many people—and include more features—for $100 less. This may not be the best news for Bose, but it’s good news for iPod owners, who have a growing list of quality choices for compact speaker systems.
On the other hand, if you’re in the market for iPod speakers, it’s worth nothing that desktop speaker systems are still limited by their size and one-piece design. You can get better sound quality from similarly-sized three-piece systems such as Monitor’s $250 i-deck, or “bigger” and better sound from a subwoofer/satellite system such as Jamo’s $400 i300. In fact, Altec Lansing’s own $250 inMotion iM7, a bulky but portable system, provides sound quality that surpasses the M602 and competes well with the Radial, especially in terms of volume and bass response. But if you’re looking for an attractive, compact system to stick on a table, desk, or countertop, a desktop system is tough to beat.