Speck Products has been in the business of making accessories for the iPod (and other portable electronics) since 2001, though the product line has consisted almost entirely of cases--my favorites include the "grass" FunSkin and the iKitty. (The company's Mystery Case of the Day is also a fun marketing scheme.) Now, the company is making its first real foray into the electronics category with its Specktone Retro ($149.95) tabletop radio speaker system.
While I'm not typically a fan of retro styling, Speck Product's Specktone Retro speakers for the iPod immediately struck me as stylish and visually appealing. Perhaps it's the brown fabric speaker grille contrasted against the lacquered pistachio finish (it also comes in rather less interesting white or black finishes). Or maybe it's the green-backlit speaker knob or the stubby angled legs. In any case, the design of the Specktone Retro is a study in simplicity--other than the single volume knob on the front and the on/off switch on the back, there are no controls to speak of. Nor is there a remote, which is quite a bummer as I'd prefer not to have to traverse the room just to skip an unwanted track. I can only hope this issue is addressed in the next generation. Speck does, however, include two matching Skins (one for the 5G iPod and one for the iPod Nano) as well as a giant power adapter brick with an amply long cable, which connects to the back of the Specktone. There's also a 1/8-inch auxiliary line input for connecting alternate audio sources, but you'll have to supply your own cable. As for the iPod, it easily docks into the top of the speakers.
Inside the Specktone, you get a 4-inch subwoofer and some retro technology. Speck Products says the circuitry is all analog, which is supposed to offer a rich, deep tone. Unfortunately, this didn't always prove true in practice in our tests. Interestingly, older styles of music, such as jazz, classical, and folk, sounded rich and clear, while hip hop, pop, and electronica were generally flat, cold, and lacking in range. Essentially, the Specktone sounds like a really good clock radio--not stellar but certainly tolerable. However, one thing remained constant throughout our testing: this speaker set gets loud.