Up until last year, you could count the number of high-quality iPod speakers on one hand, with digits to spare. Still today, the majority of speakers are targeted at budget-conscious buyers who care less about sound quality, and more about convenience and cute styling.
The new Kanto iPort 5 won’t win any beauty prizes and at $350 it’s pricier than most iPod speaker systems, but if you’re looking for high-quality sound and performance it’s well worth the extra coin.
Subtle Style with a Twist
The first thing you notice about the iPort 5 is its hefty size and weight: 22 inches wide, 8 inches deep, and 22 pounds. In the iPod speaker realm, it’s definitely a heavyweight and the biggest system I’ve seen to date. With a high-gloss black finish and an iPod dock built into the top panel, the style is subtle and straightforward. Of course, the iPort 5 also comes in aqua blue and a funky light green, but given its size, that would make for a bold interior design statement.
Around back, there are several air ports to let the bass breathe, a selection of inputs (RCA, 3.5mm mini- jack, and USB), and an S-video output. The remote control is sub-par, with a cheap plastic appearance and limited range- it works
OK within 10–15 feet. One of the small twists I really like, however, is the large volume knob on the back of the speaker. It looks and feels kind of old school and comes in very handy, since small remotes have a tendency to wander off or disappear altogether.
Sweating the Details for Big Sound
Over the years, I’ve seen more than my share of big, bulky speakers from obscure companies that are essentially knock-off designs that produce distorted, muddy sounds. And frankly, I feared this might be the case with the iPort 5, given its large size and somewhat boxy, generic-looking design. Let’s say I’m glad to be wrong sometimes.
With 80 watts of power driving the two 5.25-inch woofers and two 3-inch midrange/high-frequency drivers, the iPort 5 has an uncommonly robust sound for an iPod speaker system. The large surface area up front allows the audio to disperse over a wide area and creates a big and impressive soundstage. It’s not often you hear real bass on an iPod speaker system, but the iPort 5 is a bona fide wide-range system, from the tight, clean midrange down to the low, low floorthumping frequencies On Juana Molina’s Tres Cosas [Domino], most tracks feature layered and looped vocals and synth, with an eclectic mix acoustic guitar, xylophones, keys, and strings in the background (her style is very unique, if you’ve never heard it). Balancing the low bass, strings and trebly vocals is a good trick, but the iPort 5 had the backbone and dynamic range to pull it off and create a convincing soundscape.
The iPort 5’s range and balance were also on full display when I listened to Josh Ritter’s latest album, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter [Sony Music]. The track “Right Moves” has a symphony of horns, strings, piano, and guitar with big, soulful vocals rounding out the mix. Even with all these intertwined players, you can still hear the detail of each instrument, with convincing imaging and depth. The soundstage is so wide that you can stand 5–10 feet to the side of the speaker and still feel right in the mix. When I cranked it up, I was surprised at how loudly it could play before I heard any signs of the audio breaking up. This system has enough juice to fill a large living room, and could even hold its own at a backyard party.
Kanto AV Systems is a newcomer to the iPod scene and the iPort 5 is its first offering. The company founders used to design speakers for large consumer electronics companies, and now they aim to create high-quality speakers that offer plenty of bang for the buck. The iPort 5 does just that, although I wish they could have built it in a slightly smaller box. As is, you’ll need a goodsized table, shelf, or cabinet to accommodate this big boy. In the next issue of Playback I’ll be taking Kanto’s newest iPod-oriented, self-powered stereo speaker system for a spin, a 2-channel rig called the iPair 5. Stay tuned.