Well, this was a surprise. Sub-$400 iPod speaker systems are generally in the ‘good’ bracket, but this offering from Hong Kong’s Ravon Audio sits squarely in the ‘Very Good’ one.
The i332 is a stylish unit about the size of a home-theatre component, made of wood with a piano-black finish. A chrome-framed black metal grille at the front hides the two 2.5in full-range drivers and two 1in tweeters.
On top is a standard iPod dock with Power and Volume buttons, and firing downward is a 4in woofer. A single blue light on the front shows the power is on.
The i332 delivers a full and detailed sound, with the subwoofer providing that extra oomph for those who prefer a bit more bass. It’s nicely balanced at low to mid-levels, but crank it up and a bit of harshness creeps in.
The remote control gives access to the iPod controls (it didn’t work beyond Volume and Skip on my iPhone), but I always think that, with these units, if you’re close enough to read the screen you might as well just lean over and use the controls on the iPod itself!
There are RCA left/right inputs on the rear so you can use the speakers with other audio devices, plus an S-Video out for playing your iPod movies on a TV. The latter didn’t work well in our tests, throwing out an over-saturated and grainy image that we were unable to correct.
Australian Macworld’s buying advice. It can’t match the Geneva, Bose or Sonos in the audio stakes, but at the recommended price of $399, the i332 is a best-buy. It’s very well made, looks good and punches above its price point when it comes to sound.
The Bose SoundLink stands out from the pack for its sheer usefulness, though it’s really just a wireless monitor speaker that will play any sounds that would normally come out of your Mac’s speakers.
It’s super-easy to set up, which is always a blessing when you’re dealing with wireless devices: Turn it on and press the Wireless Source button on the remote. Then flip up the aerial on the USB key (it looks like a flash memory stick) and plug it into your Mac. The two connect using Bluetooth, and you’re away. Setup takes about five seconds (which is amazing in itself), though the first time you might have to go into System Preferences and specify the Bose in the Sound > Output pane.
Control is limited to Volume, Play/Pause and Skip Forward/Back, so if you’re using the SoundLink away from your Mac you’re limited in your choices – unlike the Sonos system which gives full control via an iPod touch or iPhone.
The SoundLink has a pleasing, neutral sound with enough bass to satisfy most users. Though it’s a little thin overall when compared to the Geneva it still delivers a better sound than most of its peers.
The sound isn’t limited to the wireless link; there’s also a 3.5mm auxiliary jack so you can plug in your iPod as well. A fairly hefty battery pack attaches to the back of the unit for taking into the garden or next to the pool. Bose specifies a wireless range of 18m, but I got to 35m, thorough two brick walls and up the garden.
Australian Macworld’s buying advice. This is an elegant but expensive speaker system, balancing very good sound with portability and minimal fuss. It’s a great travelling companion, though perhaps better suited to road trips than airline travel, as it weighs 8.4kg. If you do take it overseas, though, it even comes with easily interchangeable power adaptors.