mStation 2.1 Stereo Orb iPod Dock Review

Propane - 2008-01-25 16:15:43 in Music / Video Players
Category: Music / Video Players
Reviewed by: Propane   
Reviewed on: February 11, 2008
Price: $129.95


iPods have exploded in popularity over the past several years and coming with them has been a slew of accessories, ranging from battery packs to speaker systems. Like all products, however, there are ones that perform above and beyond what they are supposed to do and there are others that are just a waste of money. It is really helpful to know which ones are good before you go out and buy them, and this is the goal of this review.

The mStation 2.1 Stereo Orb is an iPod dock sporting 2.1 audio (2 main speakers and 1 main subwoofer). Having 2.1 usually means that sounds should be crisper with bass that hits harder than the similar units that integrate all sounds into one speaker. Unlike many iPod docks, however, this one only plays music from an iPod or other auxiliary source (via a headphone jack), but allows the docked iPod to be connected to your computer (and thus iTunes or whatever other program you use to maintain your iPod). Let's take a look at how these features really work and if they are worth it!


Closer Look:

The mStation 2.1 Stereo Orb comes in a cube box that appears to lightly mimic Apple's boxes (with a black background and white graphics and text). The box also has a handle that is nice for moving the mStation from place to place. The box isn't hard to open as there are only a few pieces of tape that need to be slit to allow the box to open.



The sides of the box show the product and the back lists some of the features of the mStation.



Once the box is opened, the instruction manual is right on top so you can read it before you break your nice shiny Orb. Taking out the protective Styrofoam reveals The Orb along with several accessories. The power cable, USB cable (for connecting the orb to your computer), an Orb remote, and several different plates to put on the Orb, depending on which iPod you intend to use with the Orb), are all included.



The back of the mStation has four places to plug things in. From left to right, there is a line-in port (used to attach non-iPod devices), a USB and Firewire port, which connect your iPod to your computer, and, finally, the power connector. The remote for the mStation provides some basic functions; play/pause, next song, previous song, volume up/down, bass up/down, treble up/down, and power.


Now let's take a look at how the mStation 2.1 Stereo Orb performs!

Closer Look:

As you'd probably expect, the mStation 2.1 Stereo Orb is a sphere. The particular one that I received is white and pretty shiny. When looking at the front of it, you can see three places where speakers are located along with an IR receiver and six buttons that can be used to control playback of the iPod. There really isn't much to the Orb ... it is pretty simple, yet still classy.









A close look at the remote shows that the buttons are large and clearly marked. Other than that, it's just a remote; nothing really special about it


Lastly, there are six included dock plates. In the picture below, from top-left to bottom-right, these plates can be put onto the Orb to connect an iPod Nano, iPod Photo, 60g iPod Video, iPod Mini, 30g iPod Video, and 3g iPods. Pretty much, if you have an iPod with a dock connector, there is a plate for it. These are easily interchangeable, requiring no tools.


The installation of the mStation 2.1 Stereo Orb is very simple and not unlike any other consumer electronics device you might buy. The power cord comes in two pieces. These need to be connected to allow the AC power from your wall to be converted to the DC power that the Orb can use. This is all you really have to plug in for the Orb to work. To be able to connect your iPod, however, you must find the correct plate to attach on top of the Orb. When you have the right one in place, all you have to do is place the iPod onto the Orb and you can begin playing music.







If you want to use the Orb as an iPod dock to your computer, the only additional step would be to connect the USB or Firewire cable between the Orb and your computer. You do, however, want to be careful not to plug in both simultaneously, because this will make your computer unhappy.





Testing of the mStation Orb 2.1 Stereo was pretty straight forward. The device only really has two main functions, to play your music and to connect it to your computer. The second function, connecting your iPod to your computer, either works or it dosen't, so it is pretty simple to test. Playing your music, however, can either work well, work okay, or not work at all, and that is what the focus of this section will be.

Testing Setup:

Let's get the easy stuff out of the way first. When I plugged in the provided USB cable to the Orb and my computer I was able to connect to my iPod from my computer, however all the iPod controls were deactivated (as is the case when you normally plug an iPod into a computer). However, even though the controls go away when you plug it into your computer, you can still listen to music, but you have to use the remote control to navigate your music.

Now on to the hard stuff; how the Orb sounds. There is really only one way to test such a piece of equipment (without spending tons of money), and that is to listen to some tunes on it. I dropped the iPod in and it let me select what song I wanted to play, just like if I was using my iPod with headphones. Playing music on the Orb sounds pretty good; the bass is pretty solid and the highs crisp and clear. Nevertheless, the Orb has small drivers compared to most higher-end systems, so the Orb won't always sounds quite as nice as good systems or a nice set of headphones.

There are several other minor considerations that you want to take into account before buying something like the Orb. One of these considerations is the ease of use. While the Orb was easy to set up and begin using, it really has nothing useful for it besides just playing music and acting as a dock. There is no clock, no alarm, not even a display telling you volume settings. Most similar products on the market today have these feature and are pretty useful. Not everyone needs these features though, so if you like just having the stereo, more power to you.

Now everything I have said so far has been subjective, but a lot of times having some comparative numbers can really help in a decision like this. To get these numbers, I compared the mStation 2.1 Stereo Orb to an Excalibur Electronics iBlaster alarm clock. The two products will be compared to each other on their common points: Quality of sound, ease of use, and styling of the product on a 0-100 scale.




If you are one of those studious types, you will see that the average score for each of these products is the same.


The mStation 2.1 Stereo Orb has some pretty cool features, most notably the ability to use the stereo as both a music player and an iPod dock for your computer. Also, the Orb sounds pretty good and doesn't look half bad (and it's available in seven colors). While the Orb does do what it is supposed to do pretty well, it is also missing a few features that some people might look for in a iPod stereo, like a clock and alarm or a digital display. Then again, I am sure there is also a group of people out there that would rather just have a stand alone iPod stereo without having to pay extra for those additional features they don't desire, and this device perfectly fits their needs.   Although the design isn't the best in the world (it does take up a good amount of space), it does look pretty nice, and isn't an eye sore either. All in all, this is a pretty good product that does exactly what it is advertised to do very well.