Griffin Technologies has long been one of the biggest iPod-accessory vendors, but the Amplifi, released earlier this year, was the company’s first foray into speakers. (I’m purposely ignoring Griffin’s iPod-shuffle-specific TuneBox from a couple years back, which seemed to be a re-branded generic product.) And as first efforts go, the one-piece, desktop Amplifi is laudable, especially considering its affordable price.
Unlike most $150 iPod speakers, which include lots of features in a white or black plastic body, the Amplifi gives you only the basics, but puts them in a higher-quality, real-wood enclosure. The 13.8-inch wide by 8.7-inch deep by 5.6-inch Amplifi feels rock-solid and weighs nearly 10 pounds. The main body is painted black, with gray-painted panels on the sides. A black, metal grill on the front of the Amplifi protects the system’s two 2.75-inch speakers, and a similar metal grill on the bottom covers the 5-inch, downward-firing, ported woofer.
The top of the Amplifi features an iPod dock cradle, although Griffin has unfortunately chosen not to use Apple’s Universal dock design (which is odd, considering that some other Griffin products do features the Universal dock). The Amplifi instead includes six rubber spacers, each of a differing thickness, that attach to the rear of the dock cradle to accommodate iPods of different sizes. (None of these inserts fits the iPhone perfectly, but the iPhone does work with the Amplifi; however, as with most current iPod speakers, you’ll get some audible interference if you don’t put the iPhone in Airplane Mode.) Your iPod is charged while in the dock.
The front grill hosts the Amplifi’s only control: a large (2 inches in diameter), black-metal power/volume knob clearly inspired by Griffin’s PowerMate input device — right down to the bright-blue LED ring around the knob. You rotate the knob to adjust the volume and push it to turn the Amplifi on and off. The ring is continuously lit when the system is on, although the light blinks whenever the Amplifi receives a command from its wireless remote. A feature Griffin gets right that too many manufacturers don’t: When you turn the Amplifi off, your iPod is paused and put to sleep; when you turn the Amplifi on, your iPod wakes up and starts playing automatically.
The Amplifi isn’t as elegant in overall appearance as some of the more upscale speakers we’ve seen, but it’s certainly not unattractive — and it looks much better than most speakers in the Amplifi’s price range. My only real complaints, looks-wise, are that the black-painted surfaces show fingerprints easily, and that I wish you could dim or disable the light around the volume knob (or change its color to white); the ring’s bright-blue glow is a bit much for my tastes.
On the back of the system are its only connectors: one for the AC adapter (which includes four plug adapters for international use) and a 1/8-inch minijack for connecting another audio source (cable not included). This audio input functions only when there’s no iPod in the Amplifi’s dock.
The included remote control uses a flat, bubble-button design and infrared (IR) technology; the latter means the remote requires unobstructed, line-of-sight access to the Amplifi to work. The remote’s range is typical of IR models — approximately 15 to 20 feet — although that range drops off quickly as you move to either side. The remote’s six buttons include Play/Pause, Back, Forward, Volume Down, Volume Up, and Power. Thankfully, Griffin has chosen to use an intuitive button layout similar to the one used on Apple’s Apple Remote, rather than the layout used on Griffin’s AirClick and AirDock remotes.
(As noted above, because the Amplifi’s only non-remote control is its volume/power knob, you control all playback via the remote or by using your iPod’s own controls.)
The Amplifi’s finest attribute is its sound quality for the price. As a one-piece system, you don’t get much stereo separation, and the Amplifi emphasizes the midrange and certain treble frequencies in a way that makes vocals stand out a bit more than they should. But the Amplifi is a surprisingly enjoyable system overall. It’s especially impressive at the low end, where it produces tight, non-boomy bass that extends further than expected; and it can play quite loud without distortion.
Although the Amplifi can’t compete with some of the best desktop speakers for the iPod, such as JBL’s Radial and Logitech’s AudioStation, those systems cost twice as much. On the other hand, the Amplifi competes with the still-popular — and still $300 — Bose SoundDock; the Amplifi isn’t quite as flat on the high end, but provides better bass response and, in my opinion, comparable overall sound quality. That’s quite an accomplishment.