Review: dreamGear i.Sound Wall Mountable Desktop & Speaker System
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.
Like TimeTravel, i.Sound Wall’s biggest selling point is a somewhat unusual form factor: available in white or black, it’s the first picture frame-styled iPod speaker system we’ve actually tested, if not the first we’ve seen. Measuring 9.5” wide by 8” tall and 2.25” deep, Wall appears to house four speaker drivers off to the left and right of a central, pop-out iPod dock and a clock only slightly evolved over the one in TimeTravel. Thanks to a hinge on the back and a mounting kit in the box, you can either set Wall on your desk like a stand or hang it from a wall, in either case running it off of outlet or battery power. Six AA cells in one chamber are needed for portable speaker use, while two AAA cells in a second battery compartment will provide back-up power for the clock. You provide all the batteries yourself.
As it turns out, this clock is similar to the nothing special one in TimeTravel, but a little better: it’s still blue-backlit, relatively small and capable of being seen only on a shallow viewing angle, yet now includes the month and day, plus the day of the week. There’s no dimmer, and the clock doesn’t otherwise compare favorably with what we’ve seen in iHome’s or other $100 clock and speaker docks, but it’s fine, with a single alarm that’s thankfully easier to activate than on TimeTravel.
It also turns out that there really aren’t four speaker drivers in Wall - there are only two, and they don’t sound too hot - the primary reason for our low rating. We could get into detail as to just how mediocre the audio is here, but in short, we found it to be lifeless and flat at all volume levels, lacking across the board in detail, and especially in the high-end. We wouldn’t put Wall up against most of the $100 desktop speakers we’ve tested; it’s not even definitively better-sounding than the $35 i-Station Traveller we looked at last month.
The only other details worth mentioning are small ones. dreamGear includes a six-button, top-stowed Infrared remote control, with iPod play/pause, track, and volume controls alongside a snooze button marked “SNZ.” We couldn’t get the Infrared remote to work from more than 8 feet away, and found that it was missing an important button: “power.” Wall only turns on or off with a power switch above the iPod dock, so the remote doesn’t do anything unless you walk over to the system and switch it on. It’s not one of the best such options we’ve seen. We also had one of the unit’s rear rubber pads fall off on us within a couple of weeks of use; the system doesn’t appear to be exceptionally well made.
As a final note on features, dreamGear packs in sufficient metal bracket and wall screw mounting hardware if you want to hang Wall, but has chosen an odd place - the unit’s bottom - for the power adapter. Enabling the adapter to plug into a recess in the unit’s back (like most clocks and wall phones) would have been a smarter choice for those who want to wall-mount the unit; for those with concerns over the cosmetics or security of the bottom mount, AA batteries will likely be the best option. Even then, expect to replace them with some frequency; the compartment is better used by people who hope to pack Wall for travel purposes.
Overall, i.Sound Wall is saved from our “bad” rating only by the novelty of its shape and mounting options; it’s neither a good enough speaker nor clock to merit a place in our homes or offices, but some people - particularly budget-conscious users - may find its mountability and price to be intriguing enough to give it a shot regardless. In our view, the same general concept with better aesthetics, clock and speaker quality could be a major success.