Here's something you don't see every day - a fully portable iPod speaker with all the trimmings and, tucked under the iPod dock, a radio too!
We've seen radios on iPod speakers before, but only on desktop models and not this kind of battery-operated portable. That's the first unique feature. The second is the inclusion of a separate dock for an iPod shuffle, next to the one for video iPods, or nanos. We can't remember ever seeing a separate shuffle dock on any iPod speaker before.
All the usual features are present: the buttons on the i552 command the iPod, there's nothing to install, and you get a tray adaptor for iPod nanos. In the box you also get a remote, a huge power adaptor and AV cables for running a video signal out of the i552 if you have a video-capable iPod.
You can easily play the video on a TV and use the speakers to pump out the audio. Next to the video-out jack is a standard earphone jack and an auxiliary line-in that could take signal from a Mac or CD player, or anything with a 3.5mm audio-out jack. There's no sync port for connecting to a Mac, like you often see on other brands.
Tuning the radio can be done precisely, as the digital dial moves in increments of 0.05MHz, but you'll need to be patient as there's no automatic station search feature, so everything is done by hand. You can set up to 20 preset stations. While we got a decent reception, we found the radio audio quality pretty average.
Everything works, but we did experience some quality issues. Interference can be heard coming through the speakers when you change iPod tracks during playback.
It's a kind of low-volume, high-pitched squeal that lasts a few seconds. We tried to pinpoint the exact problem and settled on blaming the quality of the dock connector. We didn't notice the same noise when running a signal from an external audio source or the radio.
When the interference dies away the sound quality is pretty good, but by then you feel like you have a dodgy speaker on your hands. If something as basic as this is wrong, what other problems are you in store for?
The i552 is cheap compared to similar-sized speakers, and has a generous amount of features for the money. But there's no excuse for the squeal between iPod tracks. Perhaps one too many corners were cut to achieve this price? Or maybe we just happened to be testing a bad apple.