Sierra Sound iN Studio 5.0 iPod Speakers

The Sierra Sound iN Studio 5.0 speakers are one of many iPod speakers available on the market today.  I recently spent some time with them and I have to say I like them a lot, but there are some oddities.  Read on to see what they are…

The iN Studio 5.0 speakers are among the most attractive ones I’ve ever seen, with high-gloss casing. The set I worked with were red, but they are also available in white and black.  They definitely stand out in a room or on your desk, but beware – that high-gloss appearance also means they are fingerprint magnets!

How do they sound, you ask?  Awesome!  They are some of the nicest sounding small speakers I have ever used, but be aware – the audio is a little bass-heavy.  This leads me to wish there were equalizations controls on the speakers or on the remote.  As they are today, you can’t adjust the bass or treble or anything like that.  Unless you put an EQ inline before the speakers (using the auxiliary input rather than the built-in iPod dock), you really can’t adjust the equalization from your iPod/iPhone at all.

In addition to using them for playback from your iPod / iPhone, you can also use the available auxiliary audio in jacks, meaning that you can use it with your DVD player, or non-iPod MP3 player, or nearly any audio source.  You can even use them as studio reference monitors!  To use the auxiliary inputs, however, you really should control the input source from the remote control, as the tiny button on the back of the speakers doesn’t give any easy way to tell which input source is currently selected.

The speakers feature an “auto” power mode (in addition to normal “on” and “off” modes).  They will automatically turn on when you play an iPod/iPhone that is placed into the built-in dock.  They are also set to turn off automatically after a period of inactivity.  Unfortunately, when I first worked with the system I found that they had a habit of always turning off after a few minutes.  Later on, however, this feature worked for me without any problems (I’ll discuss the problem in more detail a little later).  The normal “on” and “off” work as expected, even though the switch being on the back of the speakers is a little inconvenient.

The system also comes with a nice remote control, but many of the remote control features don’t operate with the iPhone/iPod Touch – something that probably should have been called out in the operating manual.  The basic controls – play/pause, forward/back, volume up/down work correctly and provide sufficient, albeit not advanced, functionality.  As mentioned, you can also use this remote to switch the input source if you plug audio in through one of the auxiliary audio ports.

Although I am very pleased with this system, there were were a couple of concerns.  First, although you can use an iPhone with the unit, it has, as I mentioned, only limited functional control from the remote.  You can’t move up and down the menus with the remote as you can with an iPod.  I would imagine this quirk also exists with iPod Touch models as well.  Also – there is no adapter for the iPhone / iPod Touch so you insert it without the same support as other model iPods receive.  I’m not crazy about that kind of pressure being put on my iPhone connector.  Additionally, if your iPhone contacts the GSM tower (because you didn’t put the iPhone in “Airplane Mode”) the sounds of the phone come through the speakers – very annoying, but probably not much to be done about it, but it should have been mentioned int he manual.  Better iPhone/iPod Touch support, including better documentation about the limitations would have been a greatly welcome addition to the package.

The second item involves the “Auto” power feature.  As I mentioned earlier, I had problems with this at first.  This is because the auto on/off works by sensing sound coming through the speakers to trigger the on/off rather than sensing the presence of the device in the cradle.  On one hand, this is good in that a paused device won’t leave the speakers on indefinitely.  The bad side, however, is that you have to wait for a few seconds of audio to occur before it even turns the speakers on, and then it sometimes shuts down unexpectedly when the volume is low.  This becomes painfully obvious when playing classical pieces where there are often lengthy quiet passages.  Additionally, when I simply removed my iPhone from the dock, the speakers stayed on for a while (until the auto-power timeout kicked in).  The work around to all this is, of course, to leave the mode set to “on” and then use the main power switch to manually turn the speakers on and off.  It’s a little inconvenient since that power switch is on the back of the speakers, but it is workable.

Conclusions: I like this speaker system, even with it’s quirks.  It was originally priced at $399, but these days they are available for $299 – kind of the middle range for this kind of system, which can also act as a monitor system for all kinds of audio sources.  The Ferrari Red was my favorite color, but for those with more conservative tastes you may also want to take a look at the white or black colors they have available.

What I liked: The audio quality of the speakers is wonderful as is the quality and workmanship of the speaker casing.

What Needs Improvement: The delay of the auto-on and over-sensitive nature of the auto-off mechanism and support for the iPhone/iPod Touch both need some improvement.  The addition of a dock sensor would have been welcome.

Where to Buy: This speaker system is available directly from Sierra Sound.

Price: The Sierra Sound iN Studio 5.0 iPod speaker system is available for $299 USD and has a 30 day trial and a 3 year warranty.

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