mStation may not be a household name when it comes to iPod-based speaker systems (they only have two notable products, after all), but the newly released mStation 2.1 Stereo Tower could certainly change that! The $299 USD “Tower” has a very unusual design and boasts impressive sound quality. We gave the “Tower” a thorough test to find out if it’s as good as mStation claims, or if it’s just a sexy shell with mediocre output. Read our review to get our final opinion.
Features and Design
One of the most obvious characteristics of mStation speakers is the unusual design. The Orb, for example, is a volley-ball shaped speaker system that sounds quite nice. The mStation 2.1 Stereo Tower, aka the Tower, has an even more unique design – a large, matte-black vertical tube suspended 1 foot off the ground by two thinner aluminum tubes. Frankly, the Tower looks like something Jack Bauer would have to disarm in a high-tension episode of 24.
The whole system is made of extruded aluminum, so it’s very tough and has a sexy industrial look to it. In the center tube, there’s a 5.25″ subwoofer for deep, powerful bass. Each tower speaker has a 2″ midrange speaker and a 1″ tweeter. The total output is 100 watts, with 30 watts coming from the sub. The two tower speakers rotate up to 20 degrees to allow varying sound direction.
mStation 2.1 Stereo Tower
Frequency response stats are pretty good: the subwoofer delivers 50Hz to 200Hz ± 5dB, and the left/right tower speakers deliver 200Hz to 20kHz ± 5dB. Even though the 50Hz low doesn’t seem terribly low, the physical output appears much more impressive.
Signal to Noise ratio is a decent >70dB. The Tower has another positive spec that contributes to its awesome performance – total harmonic distortion (THD) of less than 0.5%.
Another nice feature of the Tower is that it doesn’t have a power brick like most iPod speaker systems. The power converter is inside the left aluminum tube, leaving just a simple power cord to be run from an outlet to the back of the Tower. It’s clean and nice, just the way these electronics should be.
And unlike some iPod speaker systems, the Tower feels tough and sturdy. The body is almost all metal (99%), so there’s almost no cheap-o plastic stuff to break or discolor. The Tower weighs about 21 pounds, which makes it a hefty product.
The mStation Tower comes with a ten-button remote control. The remote itself is about the size of an iPod Touch, so it’s larger than it needs to be. However, the controls are easy to figure out and use. The two “bummers” related to the remote are: 1) the remote cannot control the iPod’s menus, and 2) there’s no button or button combination to bring bass/treble levels back to default levels. Otherwise, it’s a decent remote with a 20-25 foot range.
The Tower remote is almost the size of an iPod Touch!
30 Day Money Back Guarantee
mStation is so certain you’ll love the “Tower” that they offer a 30-day money back guarantee. If you buy it and don’t like it, send it back. Chances are that you’ll hang on to it and love it very much.
Included in the box are the main “Tower”, left and right speakers, remote control, 6 iPod dock adapters, docking port dust cover, USB-to-mini-USB cable, 3.5mm audio cable, user’s guide and the power cord (no power brick!).
Setup and Use
The whole setup process takes less than 5 minutes. Open the mStation Tower and set the main Tower assembly on the floor. Its base is already attached, so you’ll only have three or four more parts to deal with. Unwrap both the left and right tube-like speakers and set them upright on the left/right mounts on the Tower. The two speakers connect via RCA jacks built into the body of the Tower. The speakers also rotate 20 degrees left and right in order to provide you with changing sound characteristics.
With the speakers mounted, plug the power cord in to the Tower base and a wall outlet. It’s best to plug into an outlet on a surge protector to avoid damaging power spikes – a decision that could greatly lengthen the life expectancy of the speaker system.
Remove the flat plastic panel that covers the iPod dock. Find the right dock adapter for your iPod (mStation gives you 6 adapters, which is pretty generous) and attach it to the dock. Finally, attach your iPod and turn the Tower on.
If you want to dock your iPod on the Tower while at the same time having the iPod connected to your computer (to sync more songs), keep the iPod on the Tower and connect the Tower to your computer via the USB-to-mini-USB cable provided. The only caveat is that you’ll have to keep the Tower within five feet of your computer. That can be pretty inconvenient, but it’s not at all impossible.
Additionally, you can connect your computer directly to the Tower as the main speaker. mStattion provides a 3.5mm audio cable to help make this easier. Again, this option will anchor your mStation Tower within 5 feet of your computer. Two ways to liberate the Tower and get a little distance: buy a longer 3.5mm audio cable, or use something like Apple’s “AirPort Express” to wirelessly stream your iTunes music to the Tower. Either solution works wonders.
The USB and Line-in Connections
When playing music from your iPod using the mStation Stereo Tower, be sure to start out at low volume levels. The Tower may only have 100 watts of power, but it feels and sounds much more substantial.
Trynna Find A Way by Nelly Furtado: This song has a great mix of deep bass, powerful mids and diamond-clear highs. With EQ settings modified to my liking, I tested this song on the mStation Tower. The result was a white-man dance rivaled by no other. I was immersed in the music, shaken out of an early morning funk, ready to tackle the world.
La Vie est Belle by MC Solaar: Deep bass ebbs and flows, providing a distinctly physical involvement in the music. Mids are gorgeous – guitar, synth and backup singers all find varying strengths, just like the original recording intended. Highs are nothing short of razor sharp. Even at low volume levels, this French rap classic sounds fantastique.
Big Time Sensuality by Bjork: The Tower gives stunning, piercing highs from electronic percussion instruments (an oxymoron, but accurate). Bjork’s ever-changing voice fills the entire mid range. Synth covers the deep lows, which the mStation Tower delivers with zero distortion. This is a very fun song on the right speaker system!
Allegro Marcato by Vienna Mandolin & Guitar Ensemble: The mStation Tower handles classical music quite well. Even though compositions like the Allegro Mercato aren’t strong on bass like Sir Mix-A-Lot is, the occasional low notes that do exist come through clean and clear. Mids and highs – the greatest concentration – are very distinct and can easily be. It could be the recording, but the mandolins didn’t sound quite as life-like as I was expecting. (In contrast, a guitar recording by John Williams – The Harmonious Blacksmith – sounds so good on the Tower, it’s as if Williams is performing in my office.)
The mStation 2.1 Stereo Tower delivers very impressive sound in a 360-degree sphere. The placement and rotation of the Tower speakers allows the user to change the dynamics of the music being played. Mids and highs can be directionally aimed toward or away from acoustically resonant features in a room. The down-firing 5.25″ subwoofer bounces its strong sounds off the metal plate base of the speaker system 1 foot below the woofer, sending waves of rich bass in both straight-downward and in near-45-degree angles outward from center. No matter where you stand in relation to the mStation Tower (whether directly in front, behind, at an obtuse angle or even, in my tests, on a ladder 6 feet above it) the sounds are equally clean.
The mStation 2.1 Stereo Tower is a ridiculously good-sounding iPod audio system. The bass is so strong, you’re almost guaranteed to upset your neighbors – and while they’re freaking out, you’ll be enjoying the sweet sonic waves washing all over you. This is an unusually impressive product. Excellent for parties, rockin’ dorms, spacious lofts and anywhere that has complementary acoustic design.
The mStation 2.1 Stereo Tower would make a great gift. The $249-$299 USD price may make some people hesitant, but it’s worth every penny.
• Amazing sound quality
• Room-shaking bass
• Techie-sexy design
• No power brick
• Easy to set up and use
• Control bass/treble with remote
• 30 Day Money Back Guarantee
• Remote doesn’t navigate iPod menus
• No default/reset button for bass/treble settings
• Heavy; not easily transported