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Podspeakers Micropod and Dock review

January 20, 2007 by Jon Hicks

Website: http://www.podspeakers.com/

Pros: Superb sound, design and build quality. Compact size.

Cons: Let down by poor quality remote, lack of auxiliary in on the standard dock.

Rating: ★★★★☆

I felt it was time I wrote a proper review of my Micropod Speakers, particularly as there doesn’t seem to be much written about them on the interwebs (In particular, they haven’t been covered by iLounge).

Specs and Sound

Sold as a set (but also available separately) comprising of ‘The Dock’ and 2 Micropod SE Speakers. ‘The Dock’ is a combined iPod dock (with inserts for all dock connector models) and amplifier (two 15w Class T amplifers to be precise). At the back are 4 bare wire & banana plug (which is superior apparently!) connections for the speakers, as well as a line out to attach a subwoofer. The Micropod speakers come with what Scandyna call ‘Sputnik Spikes’ as stands, but they can be used without (if you get some rubber feet) or even wall-mounted. You also get speakers cables and a basic remote control.

When you first pop your iPod in and play, the sound fades in smoothly – a nice touch. The sound is wonderful – bright, clear and crisp across all ranges, but doesn’t allow for Bass & Treble adjustment, presumably using the dynamic approach used by the Bose SoundDock. Playing music through these speakers reveals previously unheard parts of the music, and even compressed mp3s sound good. While you can get a Minibass or Microsub subwoofer to go with this setup, but chances are that you won’t need one as the bass is well served.

Design

The first thing you notice when you unpack the speakers and dock is the build quality. Solid, weighty, refined and smooth. Normally, I would advocate ‘Black = Cool”, but the white podspeakers option is a subtle creamy off-white (you can’t really tell from the photographs), that gives them almost a ceramic look. I also like the contrast of the creamy white with the black speaker rings.

JBL aside, dedicated iPod speaker manufacturers have tended towards very square designs, the most extreme example being the couldn’t-be-more-sharp-cornered-if-it-tried Logitech Audiostation. While JBL produce more rounded designs, they do tend towards a Darth Vader helmet look, whereas Podspeakers are much more natural/organic, with their mollusc-esque curves. They just look superb.

The downside

A minor quibble is that the ability to input an extra audio source would’ve been preferred, and video out better still. Their newly launched ‘V Dock’ offers all this, but it’s too new to find anywhere outside of Switzerland at the moment, and the price is yet to be announced (I’ve been quoted £200 by one shop!). I’m sure that once the V Dock gets proper distribution, they will be sold with Micropod Speakers as reasonably priced set.

However, a more major grumble is that with the speakers and dock oozing such quality, it seems odd that Scandyna chose to throw such a crappy looking remote. The plastic is the cheap textured kind, and controls are just a ‘pop dome’ type with a grey/silver sticker overlay. With so much thought and effort going into the speaker and dock design, it feels like too much of an afterthought, it can’t possibly have been created by the same team. It doesn’t let you rewind or fast forward, but it does mute, play/pause, skip, power on/off are. Harumph. The Apple Remote uses a high gloss plastic that feels much more at home with the podspeakers.

Conclusion

Once the V Dock is bundled rather than the standard dock, and the remote is given an overhaul, it would get a 5. As it is, these niggles aren’t enough to take away from the fact that these are superb (dare I foolishly use the word ‘audiophile’) speakers that look like design musuem exhibits. The sound and design of the Micropod and Dock is so good, that other choices look a bit bland in comparison.

I do highly recommend these speakers, but if you’re interested, I’d advise you to wait until Scandyna start shipping a set with the ‘V Dock’ instead of ‘The Dock’. Buying these elements separately would be much more expensive. The other option would be to get the Micropod SE Active speakers (which contain there own amplifier) and attach a Apple Remote & Dock into that. While the design won’t match exactly, it would be an opportunity to get a much better remote.

What I’ve decided to do is marry a pair of Micropod Speakers with a Denon micro hifi & dock, so that it can properly serve as a complete replacement for the old stereo. In the end, Leigh and I just couldn’t do without a radio, but would’ve waited for the V Dock otherwise.

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The gadget I'm most excited about

It’s been a good week for the gadget obsessed, what with CES and Macworld. I practically wet my pants about the iPhone, but there are just a few things that hold it back from the “Gadget I’m most excited about right now”. Namely, the fact that we won’t get one until the end of the year, that it won’t allow third-party applications and not knowing what the price/contract tie-in will be in the UK.

Its not Apple TV either, although I was expecting it to be. What does Apple TV give me that my Front-Row equipped Macbook and a video cable doesn’t? 40gb isn’t enough for my music and videos, so presumably the rest has to be streamed, bringing a performance hit with it? Hmm, I hoped for more functionality. Now if they included a CD/DVD drive and integration with EyeTV we’d be talking.

No, the gadget I’m most wooping about is a new bluetooth device announced by Belkin. It’s the Bluetooth Dock Adaptor

The Belkin Bluetooth iPod adaptor

I’ve always thought that most remote controls fail the task of navigating and playing iPod music, and that the iPod itself is the best remote you’ll ever get. There have been solutions launched recently even look just like an iPod, with an LCD screen. Why bother recreating the iPod? Why not just use the iPod? Thats where this comes in.

No extra plugs, batteries or wires, just 2, small dock connected devices and you’re away.

It doesn’t stream video, but that’s less of a concern for me. Assuming there isn’t any loss of audio quality (I’ll wait for the iLounge review), the battery life of the iPod is the only real drawback. The Belkin TuneStage II will use a ‘pass through’ connector so that you can use the iPod adaptor while charging it, and I’m hoping this will have the same.

Now imagine this. Connect one of these to the dock connector on an iPhone, and navigate & play your music using the widescreen coverflow view. Now that’s what I’ve always wanted to play my music!

iPhone with coverflow view

Podspeakers

Thanks for all the suggestions for compact iPod speakers! As promised, for those that want to know what I went for, I ended up getting a set of Scandyna Micropod Speakers

Designed by the team that created the mollusc-esque Nautilus for B&W, they follow the same design aesthetic.

The fact that they look a little bit like my logo had nothing to with it of course. ;o)

These gorgeous speakers wowed me when I got to hear a demo with my iPod. I also fell in love with the shape and subtle off-white ceramic style colour (it’s not really that obvious in these photos). I believe off-white will be next years black (watch out for the powerbook).

All the possible options had one drawback, and with these it was lack of an all-in-one design, meaning more wires. But once I got them home and installed, I just don’t notice the wires. Also, as a previous commenter pointed out, none of the non-apple products feature a remote as well designed as the Apple Remote, but the Micropod remote is pretty neutral.

I’m using them without the ‘Sputnik Spikes’ so that they fit in the small area I intended them for. Scandyna will soon be releasing a ‘V Dock’ that will allow me to output video, as well as take auxiliary audio in. I’m so happy with these speakers, but when the V Dock comes out, I’ll be truly sorted!

Looking for an iPod speaker with...

One of the (many) reasons I don’t put advertising (other than Amazon affiliation), wishlists, or donation/begging buttons on Hicksdesign, is that occasionally I like to take advantage of the readership and ask them questions. It’s better than posting on forums, and has always come up trumps in the past. So I’m hoping that someone out there can help me!

I’m looking for a ipod speaker system that fulfils the following needs:

  • Decent sound, but doesn’t need to be ‘audiophile’ quality.
  • Must have Composite Video out
  • Must have External audio in
  • It doesn’t need to be portable, but an all-in-one Bose SoundDockish design is preferred. Small, compact (or at least ‘not very high’), and less wires. I currently use an Apple universal dock and remote, attached to a bulky stereo, but want something that will fit either underneath the TV with the DVD, or on a bookshelf.
  • Remote controllable.
  • Charges iPod while docked, extra points for being able to sync too (but not a deal breaker)

The video-out need rules out Apple’s iPod Hi-Fi, and the SoundDock. So far the best fit I’ve found is Altec Lansing’s iM7. There are a couple of niggles with the iM7, I’m not enamoured with the cradle bit that you put the iPod into, and Leigh is none too keen on the tube style design. Oh, and apparently the remote isn’t that great. The Klipsch iGroove “Klipsch iGroove” comes very close too (size, shape and styling and audio in), if it were not for the lack of video out.

I’ve been trawling the interwebs for a weeks, looking through all the very helpful reviews on iLounge. There are options like the new Logitech Audiostation (which loses points on style), and the Monitor i-Deck (which is another possibility), but maybe I’ve missed something new out there. I could get a non-ipod dedicated system such as a Denon DM33, but I’m looking for less wires if possible.

Hit me with your suggestions!

Return of the iPod

hicksdesign iPodLast December, you might remember that I was having problems getting my iPod to mount on my G5. Having tried all manner of fixes – resetting firewire ports, restarting iPod, rubbing Marmite into the play/pause button whilst simultaneously placing a paper clip into the headphone socket for 3 seconds, singing The Safety Dance at half speed. Nothing.

After giving up hope of ever getting the little bugger to show itself to iTunes, Finally I’ve found a solution that works, thanks to this post on the Apple forums. Thank you Stefano Stefani, you rock (as the kids say).

I shouldn't be allowed near computers

I’ve not had a good time with hardware recently. In the last 2 months, the following has happened:

G4 Powerbook – Tried to defrag using TechTool (yes 10.3 does still need defragging, as it only defrags files under 20mb), managed to corrupt the hard drive, and lost 8 months of digital photos. Now I know I was an arse to try this without backing up first. My freelance work is backed up religiously every night, its just the personal stuff I was slack about.

Tried to re-install the OS using my 10.1 disk and upgrade disks for 10.2 and 10.3. The 10.1 disk no longer worked, so I had to buy a new copy of 10.3 to get the OS re-installed.

G5 – Graphics card died (one whole week after the warranty ran out), no OEM parts available for a few months, so got a third party card which was outputting a signal too powerful for my monitor that it made it switch into standby. A driver upgrade was eventually found, and all was, finally, well.

G4 Powerbook – again. Stopped charging, needed new internal DC connector.

Backup Drive – dropped from a height of 12 inches, and promptly stopped working. Bought a 200gb Firewire 800 drive for less than half the 20gb drive cost me over 2 years ago. Sheesh.

iPod – no longer mounts. Still haven’t solved that one, any ideas gratefully received. It still charges and shows up in system profiler’s list of firewire devices, but no show.

Netgear ADSL Modem – Dies, taking my internet connection with it. No more broadband for me, I’m currently on a restricted dial up connection, and boy do I feel withdrawal symptoms. However, this at least has a good story, as the Netgear comes with a 3 year guarantee, and a replacement is already in the post! When I rang Technical Support, I was straight through to an informed, friendly chap who was enormously helpful. No switchboard – nice one Netgear, I’m very impressed!

Engineers time to attempt to recover data £90
OS X 10.3 £100
Loss of family photos and movies priceless
New ATI Radeon Graphics Cardcard £280
Engineers time to diagnose problem and fit new card £90
New OEM DC Conenctor and engineers time to fit £115
New Firewire drive £120
Total cost *£795*

The only hardware left not to fail is the printer and the scanner. I’m waiting.

The moral of story is, don’t go freelance. Let your company pay for it. Oh, and also, you can’t make too many backups…

Playing iPods via iTunes

My ‘working away from home’ kit consists of just 2 things. My worn but trusty G4 Powerbook and my iPod. The iPod means I can play music in the car, as well as backup work to it. I’ve been trying to find a way of playing the music on my iPod through the Powerbook, without losing the link to my G5 where the music library is kept. There are plenty of apps that enable you to copy the iPod library onto your computer (such as PodWorks) – but I just don’t have the HD space for such a task. It also seems a little overboard – why copy everything when I should be able to just playback from the iPod?

I tried an app called iPodRip, but was less than satisfied with its ramshackle, ugly-relative-of-iTunes interface, tendency to crash regularly, and inability to display tracks in the right order. A better solution, was a free little app called Music Publisher which shares your iPods music library, allowing it to be played through iTunes. This also works across networks.

Even better however is an undocumented feature that I found after prompting by Shaun Inman. When you plug in your iPod you’ll be asked whether you want to break the existing link with the other iTunes database, and sync with the powerbook’s. Select no, and click the iPod icon at the bottom of the iTunes window. Click ‘Enable for Firewire use’ if you haven’t already, and change updating to manual (deselecting all automatic options), and lo! The tracks and playlists from your iPod show up in iTunes!

light & Day

hicksdesign iPodAfter what seems like an eternity, my shiny new iPod has arrived! Opening the packaging is such a treat and so well thought out. Its just about stops short of releasing dry ice when you open it. Everything inside is wrapped in cool little silver pouches waiting for you to just … ahem. Sorry, getting a little carried away here.


Of course, the second you touch it, big greasy fingerprints stick out like a sore thumb. It needs to be kept in a perpetual state of polish to keep it looking fresh.


So what better first song to play on it, than the one that’s really doing it for me at the moment (and is also used the US volkswagen/iPod ads) – ‘Light & Day’ by the Polyphonic Spree! Filled with spiritual joy of life, I’m off to find a white sheet to make me a robe…

New iPods

Apple released their new iPods today to coincide with the release of iTunes 4 and their new music download service (not for the UK though – sheesh!). They’re looking thinner and smoother and better then ever. Combine it with an iTrip FM transmitter, and you could be playing it almost anywhere.

And you can play Solitaire on it…

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