To date, "wireless speakers" has been one of the great misnomers in consumer electronics. That's because many so-called wireless speaker systems actually introduce more wires into the equation--usually because those "wireless" systems require extra transmitters and receivers, both of which require their own power cables. And that's exactly why the Griffin Evolve is something of a revolutionary product: the $300 iPod speaker system includes two speakers that are completely free of cables. Despite a handful of drawbacks, most listeners looking for a semi-transportable audio system may well find the Evolve to be an ideal solution.
Even without the wireless speakers, the Evolve would be one of the more striking-looking iPod speaker systems. The base pedestal offers a brushed metal face that surrounds and supports the 16-inch-wide black plastic slab. The center third of the base has a standard iPod dock and the basic volume and power controls, while the two speakers sit on either end. Unlike nearly all other iPod audio systems to date, however, each of those stereo speakers can be popped off and moved several rooms away--while still playing.
The speakers are identical--each one is a 5.5-inch cube with a rubberized back and indented handle. The speakers simply sit on the base station while charging--there's a grooved cradle that takes a bit of jiggling to fit, but no elaborate lockdown mechanism that would be destined to snap or break. They'll need about four hours for the internal lithium ion battery to get fully juiced up, but they'll work just fine while recharging. One thing that's very cool is that either speaker will automatically "become" the right or left channel depending on which side of the charger it's placed--and an LED indicator behind the speaker grille indicates left/right channel and charging status as well. Also, the speakers are magnetically shielded, so they shouldn't wreak havoc with old-fashioned CRT TVs or monitors.
Once the batteries are topped off, you can take the speakers anywhere you'd like in the vicinity, and they'll continue to play away. Griffin says they should work within 150 feet of the base station; we got closer to 75 before we started getting some breakup, but in an office environment that's chock-full of walls and potential interference, that's pretty good. The speakers will continue to work until you manually power them off (each one's got a power button), or they'll simply go to sleep after an hour of no activity. Likewise, to reactivate them, you just need to press the power button on each speaker--they'll automatically reconnect to the base station after a couple of seconds.
If you're looking for more of a "party mode," you can opt to switch the Evolve from stereo to mono mode (via a slider switch on the base station). That pumps identical monaural streams to both speakers, so you can cover two rooms with one speaker each.
The Evolve's base station controls are limited to power, volume, and the stereo/mono switch mentioned previously. You'll want to use the included remote instead--the clicker uses the same sort of RF communication (not infrared) as the speakers, so it works at the same distances from the base station. Unfortunately, it offers only basic controls: power, volume, track up/down, shuffle, and repeat. (There's also an EQ option, though that didn't seem to work with any of the iPods we tried.) If you want to navigate to another album, playlist, or artist, you've got to return to the base station and dial up your selection on the iPod itself. That's an annoyance that's shared by nearly all other iPod speakers, but the fact that the base station may be several rooms away makes it all the more acute. In a perfect world, we'd love to see Griffin adopt a screened remote similar to that of the Chestnut Hill George or the Keyspan TuneView, that allows nearly complete control of the iPod.