Kanto AV Systems is new to the desktop/iPod speaker business, and if the company’s first two offerings are any indication, they should be around for a good long time. The iPair 5 is a selfpowered 2-channel speaker system with a full-bodied, refined sound that will quickly make you forget you’re listening to a mere desktop system. At $400 per pair the iPair 5 is pricier than most iPod systems (yet less expensive than many self-powered desktop monitors), but it’s worth every penny for those looking for superior sound.
The iPair 5 speaker system makes a great impression right out of the box. The glossy black finish, rounded edges, and exposed drivers give it an elegant, stylish appearance, and the build quality looks and feels sturdy all around. One of the speakers has an iPod dock on top, and sports a 20-foot cord that connects it to the other speaker, so that you have some flexibility in setting them up. Each speaker has a 5-inch midbass driver and a 1-inch tweeter, and there is no grill to cover them, so there is the potential hazard of kids or pets poking holes in the speaker diaphragms.
I knocked Kanto’s iPort 5 (see review in Playback issue 6) for its chintzy remote, and the iPair 5 uses the same one. It’s not the worst that I’ve seen, but it’s far from the best and has spotty performance from outside of 10–15 feet. Around back you’ll find RCA and 3.5mm (mini-jack) inputs for other audio sources and a USB port for charging and syncing your iPod with a PC. There’s also an old-school touch that I really like: a big volume knob, so you aren’t at the mercy of the remote control when you want to dial the music up or down.
The iPair 5 delivers very impressive sound quality and is the best I’ve heard since B&W’s Zeppelin landed last year. Similar to the Zeppelin, the iPair 5 has excellent sound dispersion and imaging, so you can sit almost anywhere in the room and enjoy a full and compelling sound. The separation of instruments and depth of sound creates a convincing soundstage, and the generally even balance of low-, mid-, and high-frequency ranges makes it an excellent speaker for those who have diverse musical tastes.
The iPair 5 does, however, emphasize the mid and treble ranges to some degree, although the bass is still very tight and never gets lost in the mix. The iPair 5’s signature sound is not quite as earthy, bass-oriented, or ground-shaking as Kanto’s iPort 5, but instead takes a more refined tack. Actually, the company’s two speakers complement each other nicely, with different design styles and a slighty different emphasis in terms of tonal balance and overall sound quality.
I don’t usually subject my favorite albums to desktop or iPod speakers because most of them make serious demands on a speaker, and I don’t like hearing them get distorted. But I didn’t hesitate to play favorites or any other albums on the iPair 5 system.
Sufjan Stevens’s Illinois [Asthmatic Kitty] is a chamber-folk album that features the artist’s quirky vocals, backed by lush acoustic arrangements, filled with all manner of strings and horns. On “Casimir Pulaski Day,” an acoustic guitar and banjo create a delicate, bouncy melody that gradually works in a trumpet and vocal harmonies. The iPair 5 does a great job of distinguishing the diverse range of instruments heard here and of letting Stevens’s voice sail above the subtle, melodic mix.
On Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain [Westbound Records], you hear what the iPair 5 can do with a more high-throttle, plugged-in set. George Clinton and crew pull out all the stops on “Hit It and Quit It,” with Bernie Worrell’s wizardly keyboard skills leading a relentless rhythm section, and Eddie Hazel’s guitar solo screaming its way through the fray. Each of the instruments featured here has its own distinct, powerful presence, yet through the iPair 5s the music also manages to gel together in a convincing fashion. That’s a good trick for any speaker system to pull off, much less one at this price.
After listening to dozens of iPod speakers and more than a few desktop speaker systems over the last few years, I consider the iPair 5 to be a real eye-and-ear opener. Its excellent sound quality is the biggest selling point, but its size, design, and price are also appealing. In short, I think I’ve found a new reference speaker for use with my iPod— and my PC.