All iPods that utilize a dock connector should be able to work with the Evolve --we tested it with a second-generation Nano and an iPod Touch, and the basic functions (music playback and recharging) worked fine. If you don't have a compatible iPod, the Evolve's still got you covered: its stereo line-in jacks accept any external audio source--anything from a satellite radio to a CD player to a cable box, for instance. The base station also features stereo outputs as well as composite and S-Video outs for iPod-based photos and video playbacks--but the video connections will only work with fifth-generation iPods. (Yes, these do add some wires to the system beyond the single power cable, but the speakers themselves still remain completely unfettered.) Unlike a lot of other iPod speakers, the Evolve is devoid of a built-in radio, clock, or alarm as well.
The wireless feature is what sets the Evolve apart from the competition, but it's still an iPod speaker system at heart--meaning that our expectations for sound quality weren't exactly lofty. Still, things started off well: the classic jazz stylings of Miles Davis' "Straight, No Chaser" sounded pretty good. Likewise, the folksy vocals of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence" exhibited reasonable definition and clarity, as did the Doors' moody "Riders on the Storm." But things began to fall apart when we stepped up to more hard-driving classic rock tunes: various selections from Boston, U2, and Kansas lacked any sort of visceral punch. And cranking up the volume only exacerbated the Evolve's weaknesses, with the already weak bass becoming notably muddy as we cranked it up. Dialing the volume back down and turning to a more mellow Portishead selection helped enormously. In other words, the Evolve sounds best on instrumentals and vocals, but lacks the muscle and definition for bass-intensive heavy metal, hard rock, and hip hop, especially at higher volumes. But if you keep the volume at a more modest level, it's fine for casual listening.
Wireless performance wasn't flawless: at longer (greater than 80 feet) distances, we got occasional stuttering and break-ups, and the speakers' reception seemed to be affected by movement in the room. But cutting the distance to the base station alleviated those problems. Yes, a slight hiss is audible whenever the speakers are in use--that's par for the course for most wireless speakers and headphones--but if you're listening to anything above a whisper, you're not likely to hear it.
Still, though, the Evolve doesn't sound appreciably worse than the bulk of competing iPod speakers on the market--and the Griffin's fully transportable speakers open up a variety of options that traditional iPod speaker docks just can't match. Whether you place them on coffee tables at each end of a sofa or bookcases on opposite ends of the room, the Evolve delivers the sort of true stereo separation that the single-housing design of most iPod speakers just can't match. And the ability to just walk the speakers from the living room to the kitchen to the outside patio--all without having to worry about electrical outlets or wires--is a dream come true for those of us more concerned with the music than with technical logistics.
And that's pretty much the bottom line. Yes, we'd love to see a more advanced remote on the Evolve, a handful of usability tweaks, and maybe larger, two-way speakers that offer a more detailed sound with better dynamic range. But those are more quibbles than criticisms: the Griffin Evolve is the first wireless speaker system that really lives up to the name.
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