Review: Ignitek iCarrier Speaker System
Pros: An attractive and very unique metal and plastic iPod speaker system, featuring left and right channel speakers at the top and a large subwoofer at the bottom of a 3-foot tall base. Surprisingly good sound includes substantial but not earth-shaking bass, and reasonably low-distortion detail that’s good for the price. Includes remote control and parts to accommodate any iPod.
Cons: Size and shape are unusual, and lack of ability to create legitimate stereo separation at distances renders the design not right for everyone. Face buttons, LED light system, and pad between base and dock could all use additional polishing; some parts are on edge of feeling cheap. Once attached, base and dock should not be repeatedly disconnected unless necessary.
Once in a long while, an iPod add-on unlike any other emerges from nowhere, taking the world entirely by surprise. Ignitek’s iCarrier ($249.99) is one such accessory: standing a bit over three feet tall, occupying about a square foot of floor space, and weighing around 20 pounds, iCarrier is billed as a “true hi-fidelity home sound system compatible with all Apple iPods.” While the hi-fi claim might be stretching things a bit, it’s unquestionably an impressive enough display piece that homes and businesses might consider it worthwhile on aesthetics alone.
Each iCarrier includes three main components: a plastic iPod dock and speaker enclosure that looks like a larger silver version of Altec Lansing’s original inMotion speakers, a glass, metal and plastic subwoofer and mounting enclosure, and a matching silver plastic remote control. Viewed as one integrated system, iCarrier creates an impressive first visual impression, particularly from a distance, though it’s best suited for a room without any other large speakers.
We say that because iCarrier is not a complete substitute for most of the semi-portable or non-portable speaker systems we’ve reviewed - it’s an audio system for people who prize looks over traditional stereo separation and total build quality. That isn’t as backhanded a complement as it may sound, but there are definitely a bunch of things any prospective owner will want to know before making a purchase.
The iPod Dock
iCarrier’s top plastic iPod docking enclosure includes a total of six speaker drivers, three each on its left and right front sides. They are are arrayed behind a black metal mesh grille, all pointing forwards, separated from each other by only inches.
The use of these drivers is apparently intended to provide left and right channel audio approximating separate left and right channel speakers, and if you stand right in front of them, you’ll hear the separation. But at a distance of, say, three feet, you won’t - the limitation of any one-piece design, but a more serious one for a $250, non-portable speaker system. It has the narrowest stereo separation of any iPod-specific speaker in its price range - narrower than the Altec Lansing IM7, Bose’s SoundDock, and detachable speaker systems such as JBL’s Creatures or Encounter.
Speaker limitations aside, the top enclosure feels a bit inexpensive, using an array of semi-responsive gray and white buttons on its front for controls: power, volume down, up, track back, forward, and play/pause. Underneath the buttons is a red and yellow LED, which indicates that the speakers are on (yellow) or off (red), then a small black infrared sensor for the remote control. The LED flashes yellow to indicate that it’s receiving remote control commands, but annoyingly flashes red at all times when the speakers are off and a power swtich on the unit’s rear are turned on.
An adjustable iPod dock at the top uses small rubber pegs or a plastic tray to resize for different iPods and iPod minis, each of which can be charged while on the dock’s plastic Dock Connector plug. (We tested the unit with several iPods and iPod minis, and had no problems with charging.) An optional dock cover shields that plug so that you can put an older 1G/2G iPod or an iPod shuffle in the cradle, while a rear set of two RCA-style stereo input jacks and an included black cable connect to the iPod’s headphone jack for output.
The Remote Control
Ignitek’s infrared remote control is similar to the speaker dock in build quality and looks, and can be mounted on the iCarrier’s top back with a thin included plastic holder and included adhesive. To its credit, the remote uses nice elevated rubber buttons for volume and track playback, arrayed in the same circular orientation as the iPod shuffle’s controls, with a mute button and power button at its top.
Two AAA batteries are included, and as infrared remotes go, it’s fine. You’ll need to be in a line of sight from the speaker system to use it, but it did a considerably better job from distances that the Altec iM7 remote couldn’t handle - 20 feet or more, unobstructed, like most infrareds. The further away you get after 20 feet, the performance falls off and becomes unpredictable, a common enough infrared issue, and the reason we continue to prefer RF-based remotes, instead.
iCarrier’s Mounting Base, Subwoofer, and Total Audio Quality
The single most interesting part of the entire iCarrier product is its base and subwoofer, the component that consumes the most physical space and arguably adds the most value to Ignitek’s design. Unlike the speaker dock, the base uses silver metal sides, dark glass-like polished plastic, a wood and fabric subwoofer enclosure, and an attractive plastic circular vent for the subwoofer. A power switch and bass knob are found on the back of the subwoofer, along with a port for a detachable wall power plug.
With one exception, the base feels better than the speaker dock - sturdy and strong, and looks a hint better too. The exception is at the very top of the base - a rubber and plastic mounting harness that joins the system’s two pieces. We tested three separate units, and in each case, Ignitek’s soft rubber spacer was attached poorly with glue to the base’s top. A metal multi-pin connector between the two parts came loose on one of our early units when we connected and disconnected the dock and base several times, and the result was that the subwoofer stopped working.
There are two reasons we’re not deducting from our rating significantly for this: first, Ignitek claimed after the fact that the affected unit (bearing the word Avox on front) was not a final production sample, and a later unit we tested was in fact physically different in some ways from the one that had problems, and missing the Avox name. Second, repeated disconnection of the dock from the base isn’t a typical use of the system - you’ll mount the dock on the base, and most likely never disconnect them, even if you’re moving the iCarrier around. But we note our experience and express a little concern, just in case some of our readers are planning to manhandle their speakers. Our hope is that Ignitek will further improve the interface between the two parts - the connector and the loosely glued rubber mat - so that people who plan to detach the parts with some frequency have nothing to fear.
We had no audio or connection problems with the final unit we received - in fact, given its price point, it was strikingly powerful in bass response because of that subwoofer. The knob on the back lets you crank iCarrier up to strong, rich levels - not as mind-blowing and “feel it from a distance” as the bass on Klipsch’s $400 iFi system, but definitely right up there. And the sound, while not stereo separated to the extent we would have hoped, was pretty good as well. There’s enough detail - and little enough distortion - to satisfy most listeners at this price point, quite comparable overall to the iM7 system and the SoundDock, albeit with less sound customization than the iM7, and a bit more than the SoundDock.
Because of its extraordinarily large design and odd stereo separation concept, Ignitek’s iCarrier is going to appeal to a specific market niche - typically the mark of a B- rated, “limited recommendation” product by our standards. But aside from a few small issues, which we attribute mainly to early efforts by a company that’s just getting its bearings in the United States, we actually liked iCarrier’s sound and overall concept more than we thought we would.
Once you get past the fact that it’s not a conventional set of speakers with satellites to manipulate, it’s easy to enjoy the rich sound - and at a good distance away, thanks to the remote control. The combination of silver and black colors looked nice in all of the rooms where we tested iCarrier, and we wouldn’t hesitate to suggest people consider it as a viable option to some of the other $200-300 speakers we’ve tested.
That said. we can’t totally ignore the small issues - the unit’s buttons, LED lights, and plastic surfaces could really have benefitted from a bit of extra attention and class, and the mount between the two components could use some tweaks, too. Of course, those seeking greater stereo separation and sound customization should hunt for other stationary options such as the JBL options we’ve tested. But if you want a cool way to show off and listen to your iPod at home - or in an office as an undeniable conversation-starter - iCarrier is worth your attention.