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Creative Labs really knows how to make a fantastic MP3 player, but the company hasn't shown nearly as much skill in the portable speaker arena. This issue has compelled many a Creative MP3 user (including myself) to force their players to couple with "Made for iPod" sound systems. Luckily for Zen V users, this is no longer a concern. Enter the Creative TravelSound Zen V, a $129 portable speaker that works with all Zen Vs (including the Plus versions).
As its name implies, the TravelSound Zen V is quite travel friendly: it measures 9x5x2.2 inches, weighs 1.5 pounds, and comes with a drawstring pouch for transport. Unlike most travel speakers, this unit also comes with an infrared remote. Unfortunately, the remote can't power the TravelSound on or off--as is usually the case with devices that use a switch rather than a button for this feature--but I got around this by just using play/pause when I wanted to stop playback. The remote does include track shuttle keys, mute and mode buttons, volume toggles, and a stereo separation button, which gives the music a wider soundstage. This feature actually worked quite well in testing.
The TravelSound itself has an understated and functional design. It's all black with a brushed silver band wrapping around the edge. The coloring doesn't match the white Zen V very well, but this is a small gripe. The player dock is front and center on the unit; a small piece on the top flips out and plugs into the Zen V's headphone jack and USB port. Unfortunately, the dock isn't spring-loaded, so the player doesn't always sit flush with the speaker. There is a notch cut out of the bottom to help you get the player out, though.
If you choose to forgo the remote, you also can find all of the TravelSound's main controls along the top edge of the unit. There's a power switch, the aforementioned stereo separation button, a volume rocker, and a mode key for switching between MP3 playback and FM radio. For the latter function, Creative thoughtfully included a retractable antenna. This is a necessary--though often overlooked--feature for players that usually depend on their headphone cables for FM reception. The back of the TravelSound also features a flip-out kickstand, a battery compartment for four AA batteries (not included), and various ports: mini-USB (for pass-through syncing), power in, auxiliary line-in for use with other MP3 players (cable included), and subwoofer out--a nice touch we don't often see.
You'll probably want to use that subwoofer out port if you plan on using the TravelSound as your day-to-day listening device: the unit is quite weak on bass, as we've come to expect from speakers of this size. Other than the lack of depth, though, the speaker is a decent little performer. Tunes sounded clear and detailed, if a bit on the bright side. The TravelSound doesn't get exceptionally loud, but you'll get sufficient levels for a modest hotel room dance party. The FM reception is also good.