Apple’s ill-received iPod Hi-Fi has been discontinued just in time for the folks at Blue Raven to copy it. The Maestro 1070 iPod speaker/dock is less expensive than the Hi-Fi was, and it’s not as well crafted, but it still sounds pretty good for a $199 iPod speaker. And at least they had the good taste to give you the option of a glossy black finish instead of the played out white look.
For starters, this hefty beast measures 17.75×7.25×7.5 inches and weighs 18 pounds, plus it has handles on the sides, just like the iPod Hi-Fi. And with 70 watts of power going to a pair of 3-inch full-range drivers and a 5-inch bass driver, you’d think this would be a great thump-box for a house party. But there are good reasons why the Hi-Fi cost $150 more: sound, volume, and design.
The speaker grilles are set into a removable plastic faceplate, which I heartily recommend taking off, since all it really does is muffle the high end of the sound. Underneath the drivers, you can see the pair of bass ports, which don’t pump out as much air as you’d expect for something this size. Under the glossy faceplate, the speaker doesn’t look nearly as clean as the iPod Hi-Fi did without its grille.
On the top of the glossy shell, there’s a universal iPod dock that holds and charges your iPod; no special holding mechanism here, just the usual array of plastic inserts. There are also three buttons ringed in blue LED lights, one for play/pause and two for volume. The main power switch is on the back, which is kind of inconvenient. The only other connectors are for composite video output and auxiliary analog line-input — no digital inputs or S-Video. The power cable isn’t detachable, but that’s not a big deal given that you can’t run the speaker off of battery power.
The included infrared remote has blister-style buttons and controls iPod browsing (no TV interface, though), playback, treble and bass tone controls, and standby mode. To turn the speaker off fully, you have to use the switch on the back, and you don’t get any visual feedback when you press buttons on the remote. I got about 15 feet of range from the remote, which is fine for most living rooms.
The Maestro lacks automated features like turning on when you seat your iPod or off when you remove it, and there’s no way to figure out what the tone control levels are set to, unlike with the iPod Hi-Fi and Altec Lansing M602. It would also have been nice if you could run the Maestro off batteries instead of just AC power.
Overall, the best I can say about the sound is that it’s fairly loud, though nowhere near the earsplitting levels the iPod Hi-Fi was capable of.
On modern electronic/rock songs like the Gorillaz’ “Slow Country,” the bass lacks depth, and the track sounds more like noise than it was meant to. Complex tunes like the Polyphonic Spree’s “Running Away” turn to mud, and the vocals tend to be too up front.
I dug Gogol Bordello’s “Ultimate” but the cymbal crashes lack crispness and the whole thing sounds a bit flat. The vocals on the Breeders’ “Cannonball” are mostly lost, but with the treble tone controls turned most of the way up, the drumstick-on-hardware intro sounds pretty convincing.
Hip-hop is a mixed bag. For example, on D12’s “Ain’t Nuttin but Music” Eminem’s lyrics come through loud and clear, but the bass and drums in the backing track have about as much impact as a bug on a car windshield.
Acoustic jazz fares reasonably well if you can manage to adjust the tone controls just right. Bill Evans’ piano-trio version of “Israel” benefits from turning up the treble, but bass is still less present than it should be, and the cymbals don’t feel like they’re in the same room with you. Detail on piano is okay, though it lacks clarity at higher volumes.
On Miles Davis’s “So What” from Kind of Blue the bass loses most of its power and definition during the intro. Miles’s trumpet comes through, but the tone is just plain wrong, despite my fiddling extensively with the tone controls. Coltrane’s tenor sax sounds too shrill if you turn up the treble enough to make the cymbals sparkle a bit.
The Maestro is cheap for its size and power output, but its lack of portability and its muddy sound keep it from being a better buy than models like Altec Lansing’s M602 (or even the venerable IM7). If you need something extremely loud, you will actually have to shell out at least an extra $100.