Review: Kanto's iPair 5 welcomes your iPod to the Party

After reviewing several dozen iPod speaker systems over the last two years, I’ve discovered that, despite the incredible variety available, very few of them are worth your hard-earned cheese. Once in a long while, though, I hear a system that raises the stakes. The B&W Zeppelin was the first of these, but I’ve recently discovered another favorite called the iPair 5, from an obscure new company called Kanto AV Systems. I’ve spent the last few weeks testing out the iPair 5 and its predecessor, the iPort 5, and I can tell you that both these systems mean business.

The iPair 5 is a stereo system (two separate speakers), with glossy black speaker cases and exposed drivers that give it a slick, somewhat elegant appearance. One of the speakers has an iPod dock on top, and with a 20-foot-long cord that connects it to the other speaker, you have flexibility in setting them up. There’s also an old-school touch that I really like: a big volume knob in back, so you aren’t at the mercy of the (lost/broken/battery-starved) remote control when you want to dial the music up or down. Around back, each system has ports to let the bass breathe, a selection of inputs (RCA, 3.5mm minijack, and USB), and an S-video output. But forget the extras, these speakers are all about the sound. More on that after the jump.

The iPair 5 has a 5-inch woofer and a 1-inch tweeter, and the exposed cones contribute to its lively sound. The system has great imaging and sound dispersion, so you can sit anywhere in the room and hear all the instrument detail while enjoying full, well-balanced sound. The iPair 5 really excels in the mid and high ranges, and even with complex, wall-of-sound mixes like Radiohead’s OK Computer, its performance is impressive.

But if it’s big bass you crave, Kanto’s iPort 5 system might be the answer. This hefty (22-pound), single-case iPod speaker has two 5.25-inch drivers and two 3-inch high range drivers, and with 80 watts, can bring some serious noise. When I turned up Mobb Deep’s The Infamous, the floorboards in my living room floor started rattling, and my cats dove for the door. Its sound quality isn’t quite as refined as the iPair 5, but it’s still very respectable and can handle ridiculously-low frequency ranges without breaking up or getting muddy.

It’s rare that a company comes out of left field with products this solid in sound and build quality, so Kanto is a welcome surprise. And at $350 (iPort 5) and $400 (iPair 5), the company has found a nice performance/value ratio. You won’t find these systems on Amazon or in your local Apple store, but there are a few Web shops that are selling them.