Griffin – AirCurve Passive iPhone Speaker review

sexy, innovative amplifier for iPhone music playback
Photo of Griffin – AirCurve Passive iPhone Speaker

With its near-ubiquitous stranglehold on the high end mobile market, the iPhone now enjoys a dizzying array of docks and accessories. Most of these are pretty expensive, especially if you buy them from your Apple store, but at just £12 including VAT the Griffin AirCurve certainly bucks this trend.

The unique selling point of this device is that it requires no external power in order to amplify your iPhone’s audio credentials. It doesn’t sap any power from the phone’s battery either, making it an entirely passive device. If you regularly use your iPhone to play music while you go about your daily chores this could therefore be a great way of beefing up your volume without having to compromise too much on portability or battery life.

It manages this impressive feat by channelling the iPhone’s own built-in speaker through a plastic horn-shaped chamber. Horn designs have been used to amplify music since the first wind-up gramophones, and are still used today by several high end speaker manufacturers including Ferguson Hill and Bowers & Wilkins to produce rich, loud results from comparatively diminutive amplifiers. The horn effect works by forcing sonic waves through an ever-expanding aperture, thereby increasing their amplitude. In order to keep the dimensions of the dock small, the AirCurve sends the audio waves around a spiral-shaped path, culminating in a wide aperture at its front.

Structurally, the AirCurve is a simple gadget comprising two transparent plastic halves secured with four chrome bolts. It’s a very handsome device, though the large “GRIFFIN” logo would have been better placed on the device’s underside if we were being picky. Apple’s own stylistic approach has always been one of minimalism, so those manufacturing accessories for the firm’s devices should also keep this in mind.

In order to mount your phone into the AirCurve, one of two white rubberised inserts must be placed at the base of the central canal. These differ depending on your generation of iPhone, with one insert for the original and a second for the 3G/3GS.

In the base of each rubber insert you’ll find two holes; one that aligns the speaker with the horn’s entrance and another for the charger cable. Although the AirCurve is not primarily designed to operate as a charging dock, it can provide this functionality if you feed your charging cable through the hole. Unfortunately this area of the Griffin is not as seamless as we’d have liked, as although phone extraction is fine, you’ll need to pull the cord out and connect it each time you want to place your phone on charge. To be fair, Griffin does sell a cable separately that might work better than Apple’s own in this respect.

In operation the AirCurve is very effective at increasing volume. Although we didn’t take measurements we’d estimate the improvement to be somewhere in the region of 50 percent; well in line with Griffin’s claim of a 10dB increase (it is more directional, of course; there’s no magic behind this gain). This means that if you regularly use your iPhone for casual radio or music playback you can enjoy your usual volume whilst significantly prolonging battery life.

What the AirCurve does not do is substantially improve the audio quality. As the device is essentially amplifying the iPhone’s own rather small speaker, you shouldn’t expect any miracles from the lower frequency range or bass. That said, treble sounded richer and the overall clarity was improved at a given volume level, though you’ll still want to keep the dial well down from 100 percent for optimal acoustic performance.

We found the AirCurve particularly useful as a bed-side accessory. It notably increases the volume of the alarm – great if you aren’t an early riser – and also props the iPhone at an angle suitable for displaying the numerous clock applications that can be grabbed from the Appstore. Our only complaint about it in this respect is that you can’t use the speaker phone, as the required mic is effectively blocked by the rubberised insert essential for the horn’s functionality.

Overall, the AirCurve does exactly what it says on the box. It serves as a satisfactory amplifier for the iPhone that notably increases volume without using any power. What it will not do is magically extract extra fidelity from your iPhone: for that you’ll still need a powered solution.

Company: Griffin

Contact: 00 1 615 399 7000

Although aspects of the AirCurve's design could be improved somewhat - the charging cable in particular - this remains an innovative and impressive device, and for this price it's a bargain.