Clearly, there's no shortage of iPod speaker docks saturating the market at the moment, which means it's all the more important to stand out from the crowd in this area. Digital audio connoisseurs at mSation do this by focusing on one thing--iPod speakers--and making sure their design is nothing short of eye-catching, as is the case with the $130 2.1 Stereo Orb.
The style of the mStation Stereo Orb is definitely a matter of preference--it truly is an orb. We happen to dig the soccer-ball-size speaker and the fact that it comes in seven colors (white, black, silver, blue, green, red, and pink) to match pretty much any iPod you can throw at it. The exception is the third-generation Nano, for which the shades don't quite match up because of the fact that the Orb came out around the time of the second-generation version. Still, when you have an accessory with such a fun design, it's nice the see that it comes in a good array of color options.
Curving around the front of the Stereo Orb are three speakers concealed by a cloth grille colored to match the plastic casing of the device. The mStation features two, 2-inch midrange drivers and a 3-inch subwoofer that fires through the front and back of the unit. The back of the Orb also features an array of ports lined along the bottom for power input, pass-through syncing, and auxiliary line-input for connecting non-iPod MP3 players and other audio sources. It's a nice touch that mStation includes all the necessary cables (AC power, USB, and stereo patch) for using these features.
The top dome of the Orb houses the remainder of the physical features. Top dead center is the built-in iPod dock for connecting and charging the player. It's not a universal dock because of the curve of the speaker, so mStation includes six adapters for the various iPods that were available in 2006 or earlier, but since the width and depth dimensions for the latest generation of players aren't far off from the corresponding previous generations', owners of new models shouldn't have a problem. That being said, even with the adapters, the iPod doesn't feel completely secure and wiggles easily.
Lining the front of the iPod cradle, you'll find the Stereo Orb's controls. Six buttons controll power, volume, track shuttle, and play/pause. Just down from this key strip is the IR port for the included remote, which offers the same controls as are found on the unit with two important additions: bass and treble adjustment. Unfortunately, there are no visual levels on the Orb or the iPod, so finding your preferred sound balance can take some trial and error.
One thing is for certain: You're going to want to turn the treble up immediately. If you leave it on the default setting, your music will sound like it's coming from underwater. The muffling can be easily remedied by adjusting the treble up several notches, but it's odd that the middle setting offers poor results. The bass can be up quite high and still sound good--the Orb definitely has a lot to offer in this department. Still, if the bass is set super high on certain tracks that are heavy on the low-end, the muffling will rear its ugly head again. The key is tinkering and finding a good balance. Once you do, the Orb offers solid sound quality--music sounds rich and enveloping, and the lows thump. High-end detail is pretty good for the most part, though clarity suffers sometimes.