Only the best-sounding speakers ever earn our highest praise. Griffin’s Evolve wireless iPod quite speakers don’t reach that height, but their wireless capabilities are almost remarkable enough to overcome their middle-of-the-road sound.
In fact, we hesitated to call the Evolve “iPod speakers” because any analog stereo source can drive them; but Griffin clearly envisions its customers docking their iPods to the device so they can stream their music nearly anywhere in the house—and we do mean anywhere.
We were skeptical of Griffin’s range claim—150 feet? Riiight. So the first thing we did after charging the speakers’ batteries (more on that shortly) was take them into the double-walled media room at Maximum PC Lab North. The room has caused problems for many a 802.11n router, but it didn’t phase the Evolve in the least. In fact, the speakers didn’t as much as hiccup in any room we took them.
When we took them outside the house, we stared slack-jawed as they continued to play until we were 145 feet from the source. The stereo signal passed through an interior firewall and a fiber-cement exterior wall as if they weren’t event there. We didn’t get as much range on the other side of the house, because the signal had to penetrate multiple interior and one exterior wall, but our experience was only slightly less impressive.
The system sends and receives on the 900MHz band, which could cause problems with cordless phones that operate at that same frequency. We didn’t test this configuration because the cordless phones in use at our test location are based on the DECT standard and operate on the 1900MHz band. (But if you’re still relying on an old 900MHz cordless phone, it’s time to upgrade anyway.)
The two speaker cabinets are 5.5-inch sealed plastic cubes with magnetic shielding, a glossy black finish, and protective rubber trim. Wire grills protect the 3.5-inch drivers. A deeply recessed handle in the back of each makes them easy to pick up and tote around, one in each hand. There are power buttons on each, so you can shut them down to conserve the lithium-ion batteries when you’re finished listening. To recharge the batteries, you simply set them on their base—there’s no need for cables unless you want to use a source other than your iPod.
The speakers operate in stereo mode by default, but can be configured to operate monophonically if you want to place each cube in a different location. And although we didn’t have more than two speakers to test, Griffin’s marketing materials claim you can pair multiple sets of speakers to each base station to build a multi-room audio system. This feature would be much more interesting if Griffin also sold the speaker cubes separately, but they weren’t as of our deadline. (Update, 2/4/2008: Griffin has announced that Evolve add-on products will be available in March. Two speakers and a charging base will sell for $200, individual speaker cubes will sell for $100, and the charging base will go for $30).
The docking station (which measures 15.75 inches wide by 5.5 inches deep) has stereo analog RCA inputs for this purpose, as well as stereo analog RCA outputs. The latter, along with S- and composite video outputs, are useful for connecting your iPod to your home-theater system. The remote control that comes with the system uses RF, not infrared, which endows it with considerable range (150 feet unobstructed). It can adjust the 12-watt amplifier’s volume and control a docked iPod (volume up/down, play/pause, shuffle, next track, fast forward, and repeat).
If we were evaluating the Evolve solely on their wireless features, this $300 system would easily garner a Kick Ass award. But this device’s core function is to play music, and only the best speakers earn that honor from us. The Evolve’s don’t sound terrible, but they don’t knock our socks off, either. Our biggest complaint is deficient bass, which is likely a result of the cubes’ sealed enclosure. We don’t doubt the 3.5-inch drivers are big enough to movie the volume of air required to reproduce low frequencies—if there was a port or vent in the cabinets from which it could escape. The speakers get plenty loud, they just don’t have any bottom end.
But the Evolve’s wireless capabilities are so strong that we can accept its sonic deficiencies in many situations—such as while working out in the yard, lounging on the patio, or countless other places where dragging an extension cord and a conventional speaker system would be a pain in the patoot.