Best iPhone / iPod Speaker System


Over the years, I think I've listened to most of the better iPod speaker systems out there.  But I stumbled across one a couple of days ago that sets a new standard for value.  The Kicker ik501 iPod speaker system is so superior in value to anything else out there that if it's even vaguely in your budget range, you've found here what you're looking for. 

I don't think it's easy to design a GREAT speaker system for $100 retail price.  A product with a $100 retail price is probably sold to the retailer for $60-70.  The manufacturer needs to make a profit, so they're probably targeting a manufacturing cost of maybe $40-50.  A lot of this remaining $40-50 budget is taken up by a bunch of little fixed costs that add up -- shipping, packaging materials, instruction manuals -- none of those do anything for the sound.   And then there's the power supply, display and associated logic, etc.  So how much money is left over to allocate to speakers,  the amplifier, and the enclosure -- the components that have the most direct effect on sound?  Not much.

But say we're talking about a $200 speaker system.  Now we're cooking with gas.  Since many of the costs are more or less fixed, we now have tons more to spend on speaker, amplifier, and enclosure.  So in theory, we should have lots of fantastic speaker systems in the $200+ range, right?  Unfortunately, most of the $200+ speaker systems aren't much better than the $100-200 systems, especially when it comes to making music.  Sure, $200 speakers have a bit more bass, and can play a bit louder, but there's really very little in the price range that's musical.  Most of the $200+ space is inhabited by products from the mass market manufacturers -- Sony, JVC, and so forth.  I'd say as a group, they don't care particularly much about really good sound (at least not in this low price range).

Enter the Kicker ik501.  Boy is this thing good.  It caught me by surprise.  I was making my way down the iPod speaker system aisle as I often do, dutifully trying out each and every system.  I got to the Kicker, which I had never seen before.  It was reasonably attractively designed, but still unassuming.  And then I turned it on.  Wow.  Uncompressed dynamic range -- utter effortlessness -- no sense of strain -- almost like "real" speakers.  And the musicality of it -- again, wow.  Neutral frequency response but lively, engaging, and punchy.  And bass that reaches deeper than what it's reasonable to expect for a system of the size. 

If I have any complaint, it's that the bass is slightly underdamped (probably because it's a ported design), and probably relatedly, the speakers do not convey a sense of pitch as well as they might.  This is a form of distortion, but it's inoffensive (unlike distortion in higher frequency ranges).  It just comes off as a lack of ultimate accuracy.  But still, the overall impact of the system is close to mind blowing.

Is there any competition for the Kicker?  Not within miles of its $200-250 price.  The Bose SoundDock 10 is arguably better (and then only arguably), but its MSRP is $599.  I don't know anything about the company, but I can tell you that this high quality of sound doesn't happen accidentally -- they must have some talented engineers over there -- ones that must care about music.