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Portalbe iPhone Speaker Systems

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LiveSpeakR and Logitech Pure HiFi Anywhere 2: size comparison

LiveSpeakR and Logitech Pure HiFi Anywhere 2: size comparison

My only, and do mean my only, disappointment after switching from a G1 iPod Touch to a G3 iPhone, was that all my various speaker systems, potable and in home, would not work with the iPhone unless I put it on airplane mode. I mean, its a phone. If you have to shut off the phone part to use speakers with the iPod app, what’t the point? And the GSM buzz whenever the phone communicates with the cell tower is not something you can ignore. It gets under your teeth.

I can live with having the phone shut off when I am using my Audio
Technica noise reduction headset, which also buzzes. I only use it on airplanes anyway, and they make you put the iPhone on airplane mode on airplanes anyway. Go figure.

But at home, or in my hotel room on any of the 170 nights per year that I am in one, I want to plug in and listen to my tunes, and I don’t want to miss a call while listening. That is the beauty of the iPhone.

At home I have iPod speaker connections in both the livingroom and bedroom/office: a Klipsch modular system in the livingroom (not to mention a jack to the back of the main surround sound system), and an excellent 85 watt Phillips compact system made for computers in the bedroom/office.

On the road I have carried, at various times, portable speakers from Creative, Altec Lansing, Logictech (the original mm50s), and most recently, Phillips.

All worthless with the iPhone. Disappointment personified.

So when I picked up a piece on Egadget about the LiveSpeakR for iPhone, I had to take a look. Shielded against cell buzz. Compact. Very clever design. They were running an introductory special and I ordered one. It came. I tried it.

Which lead me, indirectly, to more extensive research on shielded portable speakers for the iPhone. I will get to the reasons why as we progress here, but this afternoon, while out running errands, I picked up a Logitech Pure Hi Fi Anywhere 2 speaker system for the iPhone.


The LiveSpeakR package: unit, tension plate for Touch, wall charger, USB cable

Interestingly enough both the LiveSpeakR and the PHFA2 sell for exactly the same price. $129.95 That, however, is where any similarity stops. (Oh, there is one more: neither unit is perfectly shielded from cell radio noise. Both, when idle (no music playing) can be head to cackle softly when the phone talks to the tower. Neither is objectionable, and neither can be heard while music is playing.)

The LiveSpeakR sprang from the mind of a young California inventor. You can see some of his story on the LiveSpeakR website. It is an interesting story, and it is an interesting product. Which is why I ordered one.

It has a lot to recommend it. It is shielded for iPhone use, though it will work with the iPod Touch and Classic as well. It is ultra compact. When folded for storage it practically fits behind the iPhone. Yet when expanded, which takes a simple transformers like twist of the wrist and the cradle that holds

Vertical Mode

Vertical Mode

the iPhone, a pair of fair sized ported speakers emerge. Another half twist and the cradle reclines to horizontal and the speakers magically expand so that you can view movies on the iPhone/Touch in comfort.

in Horizontal Mode

in Horizontal Mode

All of this is supported by a clever little foot, which slides down on the back of the unit and folds out. Stabilizer feet swing down to prop the system at a variety of angles for your listening and viewing pleasure.

The stand (foot): Note the stabilizers which adjust the angle

The stand (foot): Note the stabilizers which adjust the angle

And the speakers are pretty good. For their size they are actually pretty amazing. There is enough bass there to let you know what you are missing (so to speak), or, maybe better, to let your imagination fill in what is missing. Vocals, on first impression, are smooth and natural, and there is enough ring in the treble for cymbals and bells. Not bad at all, especially if you do not compare the sound directly to larger systems. Volume, which is totally controlled by the volume on the iPhone (or other device, no volume controls on the LiveSpeakR itself), is certainly adequate for a hotel room.

Power is provided by a lithium-ion battery, which is charged with an interesting USB charging device with the charge indicator built into the plug unit, instead of the LiveSpeakR itself.

LiveSpeakR carry bag

LiveSpeakR carry bag

Not bad. But now we come to the things that sent me back to the internet looking for alternatives.

Overall the most disappointing thing about the LiveSpeakR is is build quality. It is clever, but it is simply not very well made. The attachment to the iPhone is a simple little cable and phone-jack that plugs into the headphone hole on the Phone or Touch  (see the pic of Vertical positon above). The cable is delicate looking and feeling, and the routing (which can be changed depending on which device you are using) leaves it exposed to what looks to me to be too sharp an edge. Makes me nervous for its longevity. There are maybe good reasons (expense among them) not to use a dock connector and the associated Apple compatibility chip, but other, far less expensive, units do. No dock connector also means the the LiveSpeakR will not charge your iPhone or other Device while you are playing it…even if you have the charger plugged into the speaker.


The bothersome switch, and note the cable routing tunnel.

Then there are little annoyances. The on/off switch is cheesy, and so deeply recessed into the unit that turning it on and off is a chore…a fingernail breaking chore. And the clever little foot? There is no positive lock in the down position so that the foot creeps back up the body of the speaker until the cradle is resting on the table (or whatever you have the whole thing sitting on). The little stabilizer feet (which look very like mouse trap wire) rest in small notches in the main foot and do the work of propping the speaker at your chosen angle. They work, but it is far from an elegant solution and you have a very limited choice of angles.

I have communicated these concerns to the folks at LiveSpeakr, who assure me that the device is still a work in progress and improvements are planned. I would have been happy to beta test it for them, but I am a little bothered to have paid as much as I did to do it. To their credit, they plan a “substantial” upgrade credit for an improved version sometime down the road, when they get the kinks out…but…still…I would a lot rather the device lived up to its promise out of the gate.

So. Googling “portable iPhone speakers” turned up a few other models. Surprising few, considering the popularity of the phone, but among them was the old familiar Logitech mm50, now twice reincarnated, first as the Pure HiFi Anywhere, and now as the Pure HiFi Anywhere 2 for iPhone.

Logitech Pure HiFi Anywhere 2 for iPhone

Logitech Pure HiFi Anywhere 2 for iPhone

If you have followed iPod speaker reviews over the past few years, you will already have seen favorable mention of these speakers. They are bit bigger than most portable systems, but always get high marks for excellent sound at an affordable price. In the PHFA2 incarnation, as mentioned above, they are actually exactly the same price as the LiveSpeakR.

And, as a third generation product, they show a degree of refinement that is unlikely in a first generation of anything. As I said, I own the mm50s, and the PHFA2 are a substantial improvement on those excellent speakers: not in sound, which is very similar, but in all the little creature comforts: starting with high-grade, audio equipment style, touch control buttons; continuing on through the widest set of dock adapters of any competing product; to a genuine full function remote (including menu control and selection); a 10 hour lithium-ion battery pack; and ending with a clever power adapter which spools up the cord and folds in on itself to fit snuggly inside the padded nylon carrying case with the speakers and the remote! Refinement. Ahhhh.

Touch (firm touch) button controls (note the XL button)

Touch (firm touch) button controls (note the XL button)

And, of course, if you have not heard the Logitech speakers in any of their incarnations, let me just say that they are the most listenable and satisfying portable speaker set I have ever heard. Bass is substantial. Voice is natural and unstrained, with none of the nasal quality generally associated with small speakers (and immediately apparent in the LiveSpeakR by comparison). Highs are restrained but still shimmery enough so you don’t feel like you are listening through a pillow. The XL feature, which is designed to provide an expanded soundstage from the small footprint of the PHFA2, actually works, adding dimension to the sound without distortion. And the volume is big enough to have the folks in the hotel room next door pounding on the walls if you are not careful.

padded carry case, holds everything

padded carry case, holds everything

Yes, the PHFA2 is a bit bigger than I really wanted to pack, but at the price it can not be equaled for sound or build quality, and certainly not for features. In fact, I would put it up against units costing well over twice as much, and taking up twice as much room in the luggage.

So, if this were a contest, the Logitech Pure Hi Fi Anywhere 2 for iPhone would win hands down, on all counts but compactness.

But it is not really a contest. I have high hopes for the folks at LiveSpeakr. I would not be at all surprised to see a generation 3 product to equal both the sound and value of the PHFA2. They are nothing if not clever. And I believe in their will to succeed.

As a practical matter though, I will be packing the PHFA2s on my foreseeable trips, and enjoying satisfying tune listening with my iPhone in hotel rooms all across America. Just don’t book a room next to me!

Written by singraham

February 28, 2009 at 9:02 am