Gear: The sweetest-looking iPod speakers

For travelers who never leave home without their iPods, it’s an extra convenience when hotels provide in-room docking stations that sound better than anything your ear buds or your laptop speakers can pump out. In fact, for a certain class of boutique hotel properties, an iPod dock is almost expected on the list of amenities (along with the flatscreen TV.)

In the past month, two of the five hotels I’ve stayed at (the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the Kimpton-owned Hotel Palomar in Philadelphia) have all carried iHome docking stations. When I later searched for the model numbers online to compare prices and specs, I was surprised at how quickly those numbers are phased out and replaced with newer, sleeker models like the iP90 ($99.99).

If you stay in a hotel that doesn’t have an iPod dock, iHome makes a sweet set of portable speakers: the iHM78B ($49.99). The set, which debuted in January, sports a funky bubble design and is available in fun colors like red and blue. The accordion-like speakers pop up for fuller bass and swivel down into a compact capsule. Magnets at the ends keep the pair together in your bag, so you don’t have to root around for the other half.

But does anyone actually travel with portable speakers? I feel like I always get bogged down by all my cords and chargers. But after testing out this set, I have to admit that it’ll be hard to return to the puny sound. Whether the speakers were plugged into my iPod or laptop, I actually had to turn down the volume because it was way too loud. Note: There’s no master volume control on the speakers; you have to adjust the volume level from your laptop or iPod itself, but that’s a small annoyance compared to the huge sound you’ll get.

Luckily, the mini speakers are good enough to use in everyday life so it’s not some travel gadget you’d only use once a year. The bottom line? Sure, if you always stay in hotels with iPod docks, portable speakers won’t be as useful. For everyone else, the iHome speakers are a solid pair to make space in your bag for.