Review: iHome iDL46 Dual Charging Stereo FM Clock Radio with Lightning Dock
The rapid demise of docking speaker systems for iPhones and iPads can be attributed to a number of factors, but no matter the reason, they've lost an incredible amount of ground to Bluetooth competitors. But docks aren't totally dead, and iHome, a company that made its name with docking alarm clocks, has just introduced two new Lightning-equipped speakers. iPL22 ($70) and iDL46 ($100) are both good-looking FM clock radios that should fit most budgets. The latter of the two is more expensive thanks to more advanced audio hardware and the ability to charge a second device using a USB port on its back. Both come with batteries for backup clock power.
iPL22 is a very straightforward speaker dock. The majority of its body is gray plastic, which curves nicely around the back in a very natural-feeling shape. Standing over 5” high, it’s tall, but it’ll only take up a small amount of space on your nightstand at 4.8” wide and 5” deep. The front is outfitted with a fabric speaker grille and the glowing blue display, which displays the time, as well as alarm clock and audio input information. There are separate buttons for volume, tracking/station control, power, mode, play/pause, sleep, the single alarm, and snooze.
The Lightning plug is recessed within the top of the speaker. As per Apple’s rules, there’s a plastic collar around the plug that prevents the use of almost any protective case, including Apple’s own. Open-bottomed shells will work, but those generally aren’t good cases, and we generally don’t recommend using them. The plastic housing rocks back and forth for easy installation, while properly charging the iPhone and allowing it to communicate with the speaker.
iDL46, on the other hand, is capable of charging two devices at once, like its predecessor iDL45. With a footprint of 9.26” by 6.3”, it definitely takes up more space than iPL22. The design aesthetics make it easy to tell that they’re both from the same company, but they’re different enough to seem like cousins rather than siblings. This speaker’s front is covered in mesh, with the digital display in the middle. It displays not only the time, but also the day of the week and calendar date, which iPL22 cannot do. While iPL22 is a single-alarm clock, iDL46 has dual alarms.
Across the top is a plastic panel made to look like brushed aluminum. There are concentric circular control buttons at either end, with six in-between them, plus a snooze bar. It uses the same Lightning plug and plastic collar, but adds rubber nubs on either side to stabilize tablets, plus a clear back support to help steady whichever device you’re using. The rear USB port is rated to charge iPods and iPhones at full speed.
Sonically, these two speakers generally perform on par with what we’d expect for their prices and functionality. Both fall squarely in the “good” category, as solid mid-level performers, with no real stand-out audio characteristics. With more speaker hardware inside, iDL46 should offer a markedly superior sonic experience across the board, but we were surprised to discover that there’s no actual discernible stereo separation — an omission at the $100 price point. However, both units’ speakers can get surprisingly loud, putting out audio that can fill a small room.
Both iPL22 and iDL46 are solid contenders to be placed next to your bed. They’re both well-designed and essentially perform the functions they’re expected to, while selling for affordable prices. Neither is a absolute rockstar, but they’re good enough to earn B ratings. iPL22 is a nice option for a single iPhone that doesn’t use a case. iDL46 loses some points for ditching stereo separation, but makes up for it with a better design than iDL45.
Updated May 9, 2014: After further testing, it’s now evident that iDL46 does indeed feature stereo audio, although it may not always be clear. With iHome’s 3D sound feature turned on—the default setting—the stereo separation may not be discernible. If you turn it off, however, it becomes more clear.