Apparently, the designers at Fluance think different.
Instead of plastic they made their FiSDK500 iPod speaker out of wood, and they made it sound good enough to please audiophiles. It's usually $200, but it's on sale through November 7 for just $100. (Just be sure to add the coupon code "FISDK500" when checking out.)
I usually judge iPod speakers on a different scale than regular speakers. I have to, they're handicapped in a number of ways, even the $600 models never really delver hi-fi sound quality, and the one-piece models have almost no stereo separation. Bass is lumpy or non-existent, most iPod speakers are just glorified table radios.
The FiSDK500 has a medium-density fiberboard cabinet and a high-gloss black paint job, so it feels more upscale than its pricier competition. It's also bigger than average and measures 20.4 x 5.8 x 7.1 inches, and weighs 13.4 pounds. Sleek, it's not, but remember when it comes to speaker sound quality, size still matters.
The FiSDK500 has .6-inch soft dome tweeters mounted in the center of its 5-inch woven fiberglass woofers. A stereo 10 watt per channel amp provides the get up and go for the speakers. Connectivity options beyond the multipin iPod dock include stereo RCA inputs, plus composite and S-Video outputs. Few iPod speakers let you directly adjust the sound balance in any way, but the FiSDK500's remote sports bass and treble controls that operate in ten, 2 dB steps, from -10 to +10. I experimented a bit with the settings and pushed the bass to +4 and the treble to -2. Another feature of note: the FiSDK500 comes hardwired with an A.C. power cord! That's cool, I love that the speaker doesn't have a wall-wart power supply. Fluance recommends putting 10 hours of "break-in" time on the speaker before judging sound quality, so that's what I did.
The FiSDK500 is sold direct by Fluance for $200, but it's now on sale for $100 through midnight (Eastern time) on November 7. The speaker comes with a two-year parts and labor warranty, double what you get with most iPod speakers, even the $600 ones.
Like most iPod speakers the FiSDK500 sounds best from three to six feet away. Listen from much further than that and you'll start to become aware of its small size and you won't get much stereo effect (the speakers are just a little over 12 inches apart from center to center). Listening close up the stereo imaging is surprisingly good. There's a nice sense of spatial depth and image focus is pretty good.
Harry Connick's New Orleans jazz CDs sounded great, and his high-energy rhythm section's dynamics had plenty of "slam," beyond what I get from most iPod speakers. Bass is very good, but it's not powerful enough to fool you into thinking there's a subwoofer in the room. That's OK with me, the FiSDK500's bass avoids the bloated rumble you get from a lot of iPod speakers.
The clarity I heard from Steve Earle's "Townes" album was excellent, not just for an iPod speaker, the FiSDK500's sound is on par with a decent set of $200 speakers. Rocking out with Keith Richards brilliant "Talk is Cheap" did reveal the speaker's limitations. The FiSDK500 can play pretty loud without overtly distorting, but with this music turned up the FiSDK500 sounded like an iPod speaker trying too hard. I can't be too hard on it, most iPod speakers lack the muscle to sound when played loud. If volume capability is what you're after check out the Beats by Dr. Dre BeatBox ($449). That thing can crank to stupid loud levels, but the FiSDK500 sounds better than the BeatBox when played at a more moderate volume.
With the FiSDK500 Fluance has produced what other upscale iPod speaker manufacturers always promise, but rarely deliver: audiophile sound quality. The fact that they did and still managed to hold the line on price only makes their victory sweeter.