Review: i.Dream America i-Classic Digital Audio System
With literally hundreds of different iPod speakers out there - many of them regrettably unimpressive - we've opted not to do extensive reviews of every single new release that comes our way. Short reviews suffice for speakers that are a little interesting for one reason or another, but ultimately not products we'd strongly recommend to our readers, and today, we're covering a couple such options, starting with i.DREAM's $110 i-Classic. Originally introduced at $140, its price was dropped prior to our review.
The reason we’re spotlighting i-Classic is simple: though last year’s International CES was a cesspool of iPod-ready speaker systems that were little more than combo CD players and speakers with iPod docks grafted onto their tops, i.DREAM’s booth stood out as one of very few that had designed unique-looking, if slightly weird little audio systems. i-Classic was one of several such speakers at the company’s booth - a white and orange plastic deck containing an amplifier, LCD clock radio base, and four integrated faux vacuum tubes, mounted in pairs in front of white and gray cube speakers. It’s kitschy and a bit cheap-looking but eye-catching, and “classic” only in the sense that the orange-lit bulbs in front are supposed to evoke old-fashioned vacuum tubes, though they in no way emulate the real things’ signature “warm” sound.
Though the clock on front is woefully small and difficult to read from any distance, it’s bolstered by a single alarm and an AM/FM radio with 20 preset stations. The radio’s digital tuner is fast, but not the cleanest we’ve heard - a fact partially attributable to the speakers, partially to static - and the alarm uses the docked iPod to wake you, gradually rising in volume to very elevated levels - too elevated, really - over the course of 30 seconds. A snooze/dimmer light turns the orange LCD backlighting and four tubes off if you don’t want them to disturb you while the system’s powered up.
i.DREAM also includes a ten-button remote control, which provides access to the unit’s volume, presets, a sleep feature (set in 0 to 90 minutes in 15-minute increments), and various radio controls, as well as iPod track and play/pause features. We found the remote to be a little flaky at first with iPod 5G and nano controls, sometimes not changing tracks or play/pause status, but at some point, it began to work properly, and otherwise properly controlled the rest of the i-Classic without an issue when used within the limits of the unit’s line-of-sight Infrared system.
On a somewhat positive note, the system’s speakers can be detached from the base and positioned in your choice of locations. But less impressively, this - and standard connection of the speakers, for that matter - is accomplished with included but very conspicuous black wires that don’t match the rest of the unit. Whereas i-Classic looks mostly clean when the speaker wires aren’t attached, and even has plastic locks and metal contact points between its cube speakers and the base, the wires detract from its appearance, part of the reason you don’t really see them in promotional shots of the unit. Similarly, the included power supply is perhaps the largest we’ve seen for a speaker of this sort - big enough to cover an entire two-port wall plate but for the fact that it dangles downwards from an outlet’s halfway point.
Audio quality is i-Classic’s other stumbling point. We’re not believers in the value of real vacuum tubes, and this unit’s fake ones say as much about the design as need be said: this isn’t a system made for audiophiles. Though $110 can buy one of many nice 2.1-channel systems these days, i-Classic’s twin 5-watt speaker design is at best nothing special and at worst underpowered, using two total full-range drivers that sound flat and stageless even when they’ve been separated, and neither reach the highs nor lows of comparably priced options. Put another way, there’s very little treble detail here, and almost no bass, which is unfortunate.
i-Classic is a typical novelty speaker - meant to appeal more to the eyes than the ears - and even then, this unit’s looks and performance are nichey, the hallmarks of our limited recommendation and B- rating. While we commend i.DREAM for bothering to actually come up with a speaker dock that looks different from the pack, we’d hold off for a system with better audio performance and implementation of its various ideas.