Years before the iPod was even an idea in someone’s head, JVC was making “executive minisystems” — compact stereos designed to offer reasonably good sound in a package small enough to fit on a desk or shelf. The NX-PS1 is among the latest of these systems (and likely the smallest, at least in terms of the size of the main amplifier section and the satellite speakers). But whereas previous JVC minisystems offered CD players, radios, and even MiniDisc decks, the NX-PS1 has no audio source of its own; it’s up to you to provide the music, in the form of an iPod or other digital media player.
The NX-PS1 comprises four block-shaped components: three diminutive blocks — the main amplifier unit and left and right satellite speakers — and a larger box for the subwoofer. The satellites are each approximately 3.5 inches wide, 3.75 inches high, and 3.5 inches deep; the amplifier matches the speakers in height and width, but extends to just over 5.5 inches deep. All three of these pieces have an attractive, white-gloss finish, with the front of each speaker covered by black mesh. The subwoofer is also fairly compact as subwoofers go, but dwarfs the speakers and amp at approximately 8.75 inches on each side. Each molded-plastic satellite includes a 3-inch, full-range driver, with the wood-bodied subwoofer using a 6.25-inch driver. You connect the speakers to the amp using standard speaker cable; 5-foot cables are included for each satellite, along with an 8.5-foot cable that lets you place the sub out of sight and near a wall for increased bass response.
By foregoing a CD player, JVC was able to shrink the NX-PS1’s main unit — which includes various controls and an LCD display — down to a surprisingly small package that will easily fit on any desk, dresser, or bookshelf. But despite its small size, the main unit includes a digital amplifier that provides 50 Watts of total power: 10 to each satellite and 30 to the subwoofer. It also includes an impressive array of inputs — necessary, given that the system provides no audio source of its own. (In this respect, it’s useful to think of the NX-PS1 as a set of self-powered “computer” speakers that just so happens to include playback controls and a remote control.)
On the back of the amp unit are connections for an iPod (using the included dock-connector cable) and USB audio. The latter, when connected to your computer via a USB cable (not included), lets you use the NX-PS1 as a digital speaker system for that computer. On the front of the unit, behind a flip-down door, are a standard 1/8-inch stereo minijack for connecting an analog audio source, as well as a USB jack for connecting an USB Mass Storage Class device (a flash drive, USB hard drive, media-card reader, or even a digital camera). Assuming the connected USB device provides the proper support, the NX-PS1 can play back MP3 or WMA files stored on it. (Unfortunately, you can’t connect a first-generation iPod shuffle to this USB port; you’ll need to connect the shuffle to the audio-input jack via a minijack-to-minijack cable.) You also get a headphone minijack for listening via headphones.
When the system is on, the black-and-white LCD display shows the current input, EQ setting (five presets are available), and, optionally, the time. It also briefly shows which button is being pressed on the remote or the front of unit (mostly; some buttons don’t get onscreen feedback). When the system is turned off, the display shows the current time, although at a small size that’s difficult to read from across a room. The display has two brightness levels, although the lower setting is still fairly bright in a dark room, which may bother some people.
Along with the clock function, you get sleep and alarm features. The former can turn the system off after 10 to 120 minutes of playback. The latter is set up as an on/off timer; you choose at what time the system starts playback (and using which source), at what volume it plays, and at what time playback stops.
Unfortunately, even though the NX-PS1 includes the necessary built-in display and control buttons, there’s no radio. I’m surprised the NX-PS1 doesn’t include at least an FM radio, which would have been a welcome feature.
Another unfortunate omission is a true iPod dock; instead, you get the aforementioned dock-connector cable along with an odd “reclining” stand that lays your iPod nearly horizontal on a desk or table and includes a notch for the dock-connector plug and cable. Once your iPod is connected to the system — which charges the iPod, as well — you control iPod playback using the Play/Pause, Forward, and Back buttons on the front of the amplifier section or the same buttons one the wireless remote. (Although the remote provides Repeat and Random [shuffle] buttons, these buttons don’t affect iPod playback. Oddly enough, the remote’s Set button replicates the iPod’s own Center/Select button; however, as none of the Click Wheel’s other controls are available, you can’t take advantage of this feature. Also missing is any onscreen feedback for iPod playback; you see only the volume level, the word “iPod,” and a Connect indicator to let you know that an iPod is connected.
The NX-PS1’s overall sound quality is decent but not great. Because it uses separate satellite speakers, it offers better stereo separation, and the subwoofer offers increased bass response, compared to most desktop iPod speaker systems (along with the ability to hide the largest part of the system under your desk or in a corner). However, a noticeable lack of midrange gives the NX-PS1 an ends-heavy sound. Although there are four EQ presets (Rock, Pop, Classic, Jazz) you can apply, and adjustable bass and treble levels, none of these tweaks can overcome this midrange issue. As a result, the NX-PS1 sounds better with some types of music than others; for example, vocals aren’t the system’s strong suit. I actually preferred the overall sound of several other $250 systems we’ve tested, including Altec Lansing’s “transportable” inMotion iM7 and Klipsch’s one-piece iGroove.
Overall, the NX-PS1 is a unique system thanks mainly to a “minisystem” design that foregoes any audio source of its own, but also due to its diminutive overall size. A USB-audio connection also makes it a good companion for a desktop computer. However, the lack of an FM tuner is puzzling, and the system’s overall sound quality is a bit disappointing given some of the competition at the NX-PS1’s $250 price point.