Review: dreamGear i.Sound TimeTravel Speaker System and Alarm Clock
These days, it's not hard for companies to make decent iPod speaker systems; the challenge is to make a standout. For the past year or so, a company called dreamGear has been selling all sorts of iPod accessories, including speakers, under the i.Sound name, and we've recently had the chance to test three of them: the TimeTravel Speaker System and Alarm Clock ($60), the Wall Mountable Desktop & Speaker System ($100), and the Concert to Go High Performance Home and Portable Stereo System ($150).
Since none of the speakers is a standout from other, similar options we’ve tested, our reviews will be comparatively brief: it suffices to say that all three are budget options with merely decent sound and aesthetics. Each boasts an integrated, blue-backlit clock, at least two speakers, an auxiliary audio input cable and port, and dock adapters for use with iPods, iPod nanos, and iPod minis. They’re all capable of running off of an included wall adapter or battery power, with bottom- or back-mounted battery compartments that become more demanding as the systems increase in size.
Of the three systems, TimeTravel strikes us as the most interesting, mostly for cosmetic reasons. Nearly a cube in shape, the 4.25” by 4.25” by 2.75” white plastic box isn’t a clock radio, contrary to what dreamGear’s web site says; it’s merely a clock and iPod speaker dock with an integrated amplifier, lacking any radio functionality at all. Five buttons control almost all of the unit’s features, four on the face letting you set the clock and activate its single alarm, and one on top labeled Snooze and Power handling both of those features. There’s a volume knob on TimeTravel’s back - the only volume setting the system has, for both iPod playback and the alarm - next to the previously noted aux-in port, and a power port. You can run the unit off of four AA batteries or a small wall adapter.
Simply put, TimeTravel is a decent, simple little clock, lacking in gloss and design sophistication relative to iHome’s less expensive, single-speaker iH4 (iLounge rating: B), but also packing the second speaker iH4 lacks. As it turns out, iHome’s compromise was generally smarter - its larger single driver sounds better than TimeTravel, just as its larger clock face is substantially easier to read, especially on angles, and its more clearly marked buttons are easier to use. Even something simple like activating and deactivating the alarm takes a bit of figuring out, but once we properly set the alarm and volume, we had no problems getting it to go off on time.
With TimeTravel, you do get the ability to “Wake To iPod,” as is noted on the unit’s front, or a simple beeping chime, but you get no screen dimmer, no bass or treble adjustments, and no backup battery for the clock. Unless there are AAs inside, the unit will lose your time when it’s unplugged, so travelers will need to keep a set of fresh batteries around.
TimeTravel’s saving graces are two in number. It’s much smaller than the iH4 - and truly portable - so it will fit in many briefcases as a travel speaker, if not quite as ably as the more expensive iHome iH26 (iLounge rating: B+). And it doesn’t sound bad; for the size, and for the price, it does a passable job of playing back iPod audio. While the stereo separation isn’t fantastic - the unit’s sound tends to be flat - it’s there, and in the proper left/right orientation.
Overall, TimeTravel isn’t a great or even good iPod speaker, and neither its clock nor its iPod integration is especially impressive, all reasons it misses our B-level ratings. But it’s small, relatively inexpensive, and portable, an okay option if you’re on a budget and don’t mind compromising on frills and gloss.