Want to know how to create an "iPod speaker" without paying a licensing fee to Apple? You can start by asking Hammacher Schlemmer about the Banshee, which forgoes the use of an iPod connector in favor of a more modular, generic cradle. As such, the speaker eschews the "Made for iPod" label and offers a design more accepting of a variety of different MP3 players. However, considering the Banshee's $129 price tag, I expected better. While the multimedia speaker may be a decent option for some users, iPod owners can find better speakers in this price range (see: Logitech mm50).
The Banshee isn't unattractive, per se, but the futuristic design may not appeal to all users. The unit is encased in glossy black plastic, with silver buttons and trim. It's slightly more than a foot long and stands four inches high and about three deep at the base. The oblong unit isn't overly bulky and won't take up too much space on your desk or counter. Five bulbous, eyeball-like speakers--protected by a metal grate--protrude from the front of the Banshee, and three circular buttons sit along the top edge: a power key and volume toggles. Unfortunately, playback must be controlled on whatever MP3 player you're using, and no remote is included.
It's a simple and fairly functional design--no complaints there. However, the detached cradle unit that comes with the Banshee leaves much to be desired. It's a plastic, cuplike piece with a slot made for your iPod (it can also fit a variety of other players, though notably not the Zune). You then use the included 1/8-inch-to-1/8-inch audio cable to connect the player to the speaker. A hole going all the way through the bottom ensures that you can plug in a Nano, and a slot running along the back edge purports to offer some cable management. Unfortunately, the slot doesn't hold the cord in place, and the cradle itself is prone to being knocked over when there's a player "docked."
You'll find a variety of ports along the back edge of the speaker unit. There is an auxiliary line input for connecting an audio source with the included cable and a power input. It may matter to some users that the power brick is huge and heavy--it easily covers four outlets on my surge protector. The Banshee also has a port labeled LF Out, which you can use to attach a subwoofer.
Subwoofer aside, the Banshee performs just OK as a stand-alone speaker. Audio range, bass response, and mid- and high-end representation were all good in testing. Stereo separation was also great with this unit, providing nice, encompassing sound. However, although I tested the speaker with three different MP3 players, our music always suffered from some interference, usually in the form of a high-frequency background hiss; on a few occasions, I got some crackling in there, as well. To me, this is a deal breaker, though other users may find that the positives outweigh the negatives for their purposes.