There are very few speaker systems designed specifically for the second-generation (2G) iPod shuffle. Creative’s TravelSound i50 is one of them, and it’s a clever and compact gadget.
About the same size and shape as a thin “candy bar” mobile phone, the i50’s 3.8-inch-long body has an iPod-shuffle “dock” on one end — basically, a small platform with a 1/8-inch headphone miniplug and a sturdy plastic tab. When you insert the miniplug into your shuffle’s headphone jack, the plastic tab fits into the shuffle’s belt clip; between the headphone plug, the tab, and a plastic rim around the outside edge of the i50, your iPod shuffle is held firmly in place.
The body of the i50 is made of white plastic with a sturdy, aluminum grill on the front — color-matched to the silver iPod shuffle — to protect four small speaker drivers. On the back is an attachment for an included strap and metal carabiner. (Most of the body is 0.6″ thick, but the case is slightly thicker where the strap attaches.) The right edge hosts a power switch, an LED power light, and a mini-USB port. You use your iPod shuffle’s own controls to adjust playback volume.
Also included is a clear-plastic cap that fits over your iPod shuffle to protect the iPod while connected to the i50; unfortunately, the cap on our review unit fell off so easily that I ended up never using it.
The i50 includes an internal, rechargeable (Lithium-Polymer) battery that provides approximately 15 hours of playback time. You charge the battery using either the included AC-power adapter, which plugs into the i50’s mini-USB port, or by connecting the i50 to a USB port on your computer using a mini-USB cable (not included). The i50’s LED light glows amber while charging, green during normal use, or red during use when the battery is low. A useful feature is that either charging method will also charge a connected iPod shuffle, provided the shuffle’s own power switch is set to Off. (If you’re charging just the i50’s battery, charging time is approximately 2.5 hours; if you’re also charging your iPod shuffle, this time will be longer.) You can’t sync your iPod with your computer using this USB port.
As you might expect from a speaker system of this size, there’s no real bass, and even the lower-midrange frequencies are missing. You also don’t get much, if any, stereo separation, since the i50’s four drivers are positioned so closely together, and cranking the volume too high results in distortion. On the other hand, the i50 isn’t as “tinny” as some other tiny speakers I’ve heard, and I was able to listen for extended periods without a lot of treble fatigue. Given the i50’s slim, compact profile, there’s not much out there with better sound quality, although if you’re willing to move up to a slightly larger size, Logic 3’s $35 i-Station Traveller, also reviewed here, offers noticeably better audio in a 5- by 3.2- by 1-inch package.
One other caveat: as with most accessories for the iPod shuffle, the shuffle sits upside-down in the i50’s cradle — a consequence of the shuffle’s only connector being on the top.
The TravelSound i50 is a cleverly-designed and attractive speaker system for the 2G iPod shuffle, although you’ll pay more for these attributes than you would with a more-traditional set of compact speakers. As long as you keep its size-based limitations in mind, the i50 is a handy travel companion for listening to music and podcasts.