Review: IntelliTouch EOS Wireless Speaker Core System
Pros: A unique iPod speaker system that includes two pairs of speakers, one permanently tethered to an iPod dock, the other wireless and capable of near-simultaneously performing music sent out by the wired speakers and dock. Includes remote control. Wireless speakers work from roughly 100 feet away from the main speaker dock, additional speakers can be purchased to create a low-end whole-home audio system.
Cons: Visually bland, and not as sonically impressive as might be expected from a $300 speaker set, due to the use of simple speaker drivers with reversed left and right channels, somewhat flat sound, and limited frequency response/dynamic range. Infrared remote only controls main dock, and offers no control over wireless units, which are simple receivers with analog volume and power controls. Wireless speakers are limited in portability by lack of battery power option and short power cables; wired dock and remote don’t have power buttons.
Wireless speaker makers always face the same question: how much of a premium will consumers be willing to pay for wireless functionality over the inherent value of the speakers inside? IntelliTouch’s new EOS Wireless Speaker Core System ($300) adds a new twist to that question: unlike Mondo’s recently released wireless audio system Mint (iLounge rating: B), EOS actually gives you two separate speaker systems for its asking price, and the ability to add additional speakers to create a whole-home audio system. The only issue: the EOS speakers are fine, not great, in looks and sound.
Both Mondo and IntelliTouch begin from the same premise: you’ll sometimes want to listen to music in one room when your iPod’s in another room. But whereas Mondo gives you two iPod docks and one set of speakers, IntelliTouch gives you one iPod dock and two sets of all-in-one-enclosure speakers, one wired to the dock, one wireless. The wired EOS dock is of the Universal variety, and surrounded by three total speakers: there’s one full-range left-channel speaker, an identical right-channel speaker, and a dedicated bass “subwoofer.” Both the wired and wireless speakers come in either white or black, with metallic grilles covering all of the drivers. Four peg-style legs prop the system up off a flat surface, and allow the down-firing subwoofer to radiate sound without touching the table.
The dock features five simple face buttons. Plus, minus, and Mute buttons adjust the volume, while Source and antenna buttons toggle between the inputs and outputs. You can press the antenna button to broadcast music from the dock to your choice of four wireless speakers situated up to 150 feet away, and the Source button to toggle between the docked iPod and any device connected through EOS’s rear auxiliary input port. A range extender switch on the unit’s rear can be toggled on or off, and a link button pairs the system with additional wireless speakers if you have them. The Core System comes with one wireless unit, and additional ones are sold for $150 each.
IntelliTouch also includes an Infrared remote control in the box. As with Mondo’s Mint, this remote only offers limited iPod control, and then only when you’re pointing it at the main dock, not the wireless components. Here, there are six buttons—volume, track backward and forward, play/pause and mute—and oddly, like the EOS dock itself, no power button. The remote works fine for what it does, but doesn’t let you toggle between different wireless speakers, control them, or work outside of the base’s direct line of sight. As with Mint, a unified RF remote for full-system control would have made more sense here, and the absence of a full-system power-off feature is disappointing.
Then there’s the EOS all-in-one-enclosure wireless speaker unit, which looks and feels somewhat inexpensive. At the top, there’s a combination volume knob and power switch that feels a step behind the digital controls of peer offerings. Couple that with the silver and blue top-mounted antenna, which detracts from the unit’s class, as well as the speaker design, and you get the impression that IntelliTouch has repackaged some older wireless audio technology in a slightly more iPod-friendly casing.
Unlike the main dock, the left- and right-channel drivers are placed almost immediately next to each other in the wireless unit, and the subwoofer points backwards rather than down. Both speakers use huge three-prong wall power adapters—notably, not batteries—but the wireless version’s power supply is sort of interesting in that it can stay docked inside the speaker chassis for wall-mounting, or removed to reveal a short cable so that the speaker can rest on most flat surfaces. The wall-mount option isn’t particularly fantastic unless you’re just looking for low-grade ambient audio, as the drivers will all be at ankle level, and one will be pointed at the wall. We also think that there should have been more power cabling from the supply to the speaker, or a battery option—the wireless speakers are hobbled somewhat by their need to be so close to outlets.
EOS’s wireless audio technology is branded as “GigaWave,” a technology that promises “interference-free CD quality digital audio” using digital packets, spread spectrum technology, and the ability to avoid interfering with 2.4GHz or 5.8GHz wireless networks or telephones. The aforementioned rear-of-dock range extender switch actually turns the unit’s error correction technology up, creating a perceptible delay between what you hear from the wired speakers and what’s coming out of the wireless ones, but also doing a better job of guaranteeing that the wireless speakers are getting all the audio data the dock is sending. Thankfully, the switch isn’t needed when the speakers are close enough to each other to be heard simultaneously, as the desynchronized results are off-putting.
How does the EOS system sound? From our perspective, whether you’re using the wired dock or wireless speakers, the sound quality is a little better than “okay,” but not great. With wireless speakers, it’s sometimes hard to know whether the speakers aren’t superb, or whether the wireless technology can’t do the iPod’s music justice. Here, both factors are probably to blame: IntelliTouch’s wireless output doesn’t quite sound CD-quality, but we suspect that the major culprit in this case is EOS’s speakers.
It’s all but certain that a “2.1-channel” audio system won’t sound like it’s worth more than $100 if its channels each use a total of one driver, which is the case here. More impressive $100 systems like JBL’s Creature II use nicely tuned satellites and a comparatively jumbo subwoofer to produce nice highs and deep lows, but most three-driver systems aren’t tuned as well as Creature, and compromise both the highs and lows in the process. That’s the deal with EOS. The dedicated bass driver has little warmth, and the full-range left and right drivers don’t have much sparkle. We found the audio to sound flatter and more radio-like than the best sub-$150 speakers we’ve tested, rather than dynamic and believable. The nicest thing we can say is that we generally found vocals to be prominent and easy to hear in our music, rather than muddled.
In the wired dock, the drivers are spaced about as far apart as in most portable iPod audio systems we’ve heard, which would generally yield acceptable but not great stereo separation by non-portable standards. IntelliTouch made a couple of mistakes, however: it reverses the left and right audio channels in both the wired and wireless speaker units, and the wireless unit’s drivers are almost immediately next to each other, all but removing any stereo effects. Beyond the error of flipping the left and right channels, it’s obvious that the wireless unit was a conceptual challenge for the company, and that it chose compactness over performance, assuming that its buyers would be more interested in convenience than in creating truly stereo multi-room systems.
Though disappointing, this is somewhat understandable. As previously noted, IntelliTouch’s standalone wireless speakers sell for $150 each, which is in the right price ballpark for a simple, semi-portable 2.1 enclosure with a wireless receiver built in. That you get two sets of speakers, an iPod dock, and a remote control for $300 makes the EOS Wireless Speaker Core System a better than average value, but you’ll have to accept enough sound quality and aesthetic compromises that serious listeners and iPod fans should consider holding out for superior followups. Overall, we consider this package worthy of our limited recommendation; if IntelliTouch fixes the reversed stereo channels, otherwise improves the audio, or drops its prices, we’d think it’s a smarter buy than it is today.