July 28, 2006
The Klipsch family has been making loudspeakers for 60 years, but they're just getting the hang of all this iPod business.
The basic get-rich-quick iPod plan goes like this:
Design a docking station/speaker system; call it i-Whateveryouwant (the prefix, however, must be lowercase, just like the iPod); color it basic iPod white or black; and elevate the price to iPod territory, $250 to $350.
Late last year, Klipsch waded into the iPod market with the iGroove speaker system and got two parts of the formula right. It aced the lowercase-i part and hit the sweet spot in pricing, $280. But the silver iGroove, though a match for popular "lifestyle" home-theater speaker systems, clearly violated the iPod code.
Now Klipsch returns with the new iGroove HG in shiny Darth Vader black - it's HG, as in high gloss - with a new price ($250) that puts it distinctly below Apple's own iPod Hi-Fi ($349) and the Bose SoundDock ($299).
However it's dressed, named or priced, the iGroove gets the business that matters most - sound - dead right. That should have been expected from the company that popularized horn-loaded speakers. The horn (an alternative to the conventional tweeter, which reproduces high-frequency signals in a loudspeaker) works much like a megaphone. You know how wide, and how loud, a voice sounds through a megaphone? That's the Klipsch horn principle.
For the iGroove, Klipsch (www.klipsch.com) uses a hybrid design it calls MicroTractrix, horn-loaded tweeters that position a traditional 1-inch dome tweeter at the short end of a megaphone-shaped horn. Klipsch mounted one of these tweeters above a 2.5-inch midbass driver on each side of the iGroove. In the middle, the iPod dock sits like a throne for your favorite digital music player.
The iGroove, only 16 inches wide, is gently arced and tilted back slightly, which angles sound up, and outward, into a room. Combined with the horns, which broadens the soundstage, the iGroove plays much bigger than its size. It also plays surprisingly loud. A small port on the back side releases energy produced by the midbass drivers, allowing the iGroove to play lower notes louder and slightly deeper with less distortion.
Klipsch includes adapters for the iPod Nano and iPod Mini. A separate contraption called a J-Cup snaps into the iGroove dock, then becomes a dock itself for non-iPod music players or, with an extension cable, other devices like a DVD player, TV or computer. It worked perfectly, for example, as a home for the Pioneer Inno, which combines an XM Satellite Radio with an iPod-style music player.
The iGroove has two volume controls and an on/off button. Those functions and additional controls for play and forward/back are also accessible with a too-tiny remote control that didn't always obey my commands.
The iGroove and my black Nano made a very handsome couple, but I almost gagged at the thought that here sat almost $500 in electronic equipment. Shouldn't that buy something more substantial - like surround-sound for a home theater?
But it sounded extremely good, tapered obviously at both extremes of the sonic spectrum so that it might player louder, with less listener fatigue. It handled the driving jazz of guitarist John Scofield's "Works for Me," the unlikely Afro-Celtic fusion of Baka Beyond's "East to West," the authentically Celtic duo Pipeline's self-titled debut and anything else stocked on the Nano.
The iGroove is a serious, if diminutive, sound system that deserves some iPod action.
What's so wrong about silver, anyway?
If you're paying 99 cents a pop tune, the digital music library sitting on your computer's hard drive soon becomes more valuable than the iPod it's feeding.
Your library needs a safe house like an external hard drive. Western Digital's My Book external hard drives not only store all of your music - they're available from 160 to 500 gigabytes - but do it with dignity. My Book, in fact, looks like one. If the Xbox 360 were a reader, this might be the type of volume on its shelf. Sure, it's a little mechanical- looking, but the 500-gigabyte Premium Edition ($349) holds 125,000 songs stored as MP3 files or 12,000 songs as uncompressed, CD-quality files.
It also could be used to store high-definition video (up to 60 hours), digital photos (up to 142,000) or anything else digital worth saving. Information: www.westerndigital.com.
Kevin Hunt, The Courant's consumer electronics columnist, wrote this for the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.