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Chill Pill speakers: small size, big sound

Chill Pill speakers: small size, big sound

Gratuitous box shot

The Chill Pill

When it comes to portable media, the sad truth is that speaker quality generally goes out the window as speaker sizes decrease. Today’s small laptops prove this trend, as recent releases like the MacBook Air contain only a single speaker beneath the keyboard. While these solutions are inexpensive and gentle on battery life, they leave something to be desired when used for anything beyond system sounds.

While manufacturers have, in part, circumvented this issue with the prevalence of headphone jacks, what about situations where you don’t want to (or can’t) use headphones? Small Dog Electronics’ Chill Pill speakers were created for that purpose, and today Icrontic will be taking a look at them.

There are many points to evaluate when considering audio equipment: Sound quality, ease of use, size, cable management, and more. Many mobile speaker competitors can get a few of these right, but things like size and sound quality are often at odds with each other, so tradeoffs must be involved. What did Small Dog Electronics give up when producing these speakers?

Separated but left closed, the speakers are about 2 inches tall

Separated and closed the speakers are about 2" tall

Starting with audio quality, the Chill Pill speakers are wonderfully surprising for their size. As somewhat of an audio nut, I was certainly not expecting much out of these little things, but it was vastly better than my laptop speakers.

While the mid-range was a little muddled, the dynamic range is significantly better than my laptop. There was even a hint of bass that arises from the clever design of the Chill Pill: Gently twisting the tops of the speakers reveals an expandable resonance cavity which helps to produce bass. You might have noticed we’ve implied another element that’s key to portability: They shrink for storage.

Expanded, they rise around 2.5" and improve the bass response

The expanded speakers rise to 2.5" and improve bass

Regarding size, the speakers have a diameter of approximately two inches and an individual height of roughly 2.5 inches when expanded. Collapsed, the speakers rise a little under 2 inches. In another excellent design decision, the two speakers are actually magnetized to each other at their bases. When you’re done with the speakers, you can collapse them down and join them at the base for a very portable 2×4″ “pill.” The speakers also retain enough internal space to hold retractable cables, thus negating the need to carry any obvious wires.

When it comes to ease of use, these speakers aren’t terribly hard to use: The speakers are linked via USB Mini-B, power is provided by a battery that lasts up to six hours, and the audio source is provided by a standard 1/8″ stereo jack.

Good quality in a small size. Many thanks to Small Dog!

For those of you with quiet internal speakers, you’ll be pleased to know that the Chill Pill can be much louder. However, in testing we found that particularly high volumes did result in both distortion and greatly reduced battery life.

When the battery did get low, the blue power LED turned red to indicate that the unit required a charge. Charging the Chill Pill makes use of a USB Mini B-to-USB adapter that can be used with a compatible wall plug or the USB ports on a computer.

In sum, Small Dog’s Chill Pill speakers fit the bill: they’re small, self-powered, self-contained, portable speakers with surprisingly good sound. These perfect stocking stuffers for the traveling techie run about $40 and arrive with a one-year warranty. When all things are considered, the Chill Pill speakers are a great package, and as such, we’re awarding the Chill Pill speakers Icrontic’s Stamp of Approval.

Comments

  1. BuddyJ
    BuddyJ I should very much like to have these. The speakers on my MacBook are pathetic.
  2. _k_
    _k_ Its on my Christmas list.
  3. Annes
    Annes Small, portable, non-shitty speakers you say? I'm in.
  4. DrLiam
    DrLiam My classmate showed these to me last year and I got to say I was impressed. Very handy to take to school so you can play sound from a networked computer for an entire study group.
  5. fpink3
    fpink3 Thanks for a great synopsis about a very interesting product.
    I would like to address on point mad in the article, however.

    The article states: ... "in testing we found that particularly high volumes did result in both distortion and greatly reduced battery life..."

    What's the point? Did the reviewer expect the system to reach a certain maximum volume and not distort and not get any louder? Or continue to get ever louder? There is almost no way around this behavior in an amp/speaker system. The real question is how loud did the system play before the onset of distortion. Was it sufficient? From your description, it sounds like it was sufficient.

    Increasing the output volume of any amp/speaker system will eventually lead to distortion. It is inevitable (assuming the gain is linear), because the system can't continue to play louder. Some systems limit the max gain to hide their max output level limit, but this means a low average level audio source will not achieve high enough levels. Some audio source levels will be too low, no matter what the standards are supposed to be. Not playing loud enough with a low audio source can't be fixed, while backing off the gain will eliminate the distortion as described.
    The speaker designers could have put a compressor circuit in (essentially, non-linear gain). This gets you better max output behavior. Its a good solution for speakers like this, but seldom employed. And for most people, using your ear to recognize the max output limit is sufficient.

    As for battery life...sound volume increases aren't linear. You need ten times the power to get double the apparent output volume. Therefore, play it loud and you'll drain the battery really quick. There is no speaker system design that drains the battery only twice as much for twice the increase in volume (sigh).
  6. Thrax
    Thrax I think the point that the author was trying to make is that users can't expect quality reproduction at exceptionally high volumes. Though this is a fairly "duh" thing for small speakers and headphones, it's still worth pointing out to users who love to crank the volume with the assumption that a quality product means distortion-free reproduction.
  7. Mochan
    Mochan I have the X-MIni speakers
    http://www.gadgenista.com/2008/01/31/gadgenista-review-x-mini-capsule-speaker/

    And they have the X-Mini Max speakers which are exactly like these ones. I wonder which company did them first, anyway? I've seen like 4 different brands of this design. The X-Mini sounds better than the other models I've seen, but I haven't heard this particular brand.

    They sound decent for the size but frankly they are just a last-resort emergency speakers when you just need to have sound around you and have no better options.

    In other words, they sound like crap. But that's fine nobody was expecting monster sound from them.
  8. _k_
    _k_ I just took mine on a road trip with me and they did pretty well for just in the car because it had no aux audio input and I used them when I was hiking back out of the Grand Canyon....worked well enough. I charged them in December and used them for about 6 hours over a week and they haven't died yet after sitting charged for almost 4 months.
  9. Mochan
    Mochan For a hike I would recommend headphones over these anyday, more portable and easier to use on the go with far better sound quality.

    I should also warn people not to have false expectations of the bass; while it's true that the expanding bass chamber design does improve the bass reproduction *marginally* the tiny capsule doesn't even come close to reproducing the kind of lowend you'd hear from a typical set of bookshelf speakers, much less that of an actual sub. In other words, don't expect miracles and the marketing hoopla about the bass chamber is just that... Hoopla.
  10. Diego Martinez
    Diego Martinez i checked on ebay and i got mine for 30 . way better that that deal, but great and legit video, mine works awesome

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