Review: AFT iCarta Stereo Dock for iPod and Bath Tissue Holder
Pros: An iPod speaker dock specifically designed to be mounted next to your toilet, featuring four audio drivers, docks for standard iPods and iPod shuffles, and the ability to perform line-level input from non-iPod devices. Also holds a roll of toilet paper. Includes mounting accessories and wall power supply.
Cons: Doesn’t auto-detect, charge, or play from iPod unless you manually turn unit’s power on. Audio quality is only OK for the dollar. Not as versatile as most speakers at this price point.
It’s official: there are now too many iPod speaker systems. They arrive at iLounge at a rate of one or two per day, each looking much like the others, and only rarely offering something really distinctive. So today, surrounded by all-too-similar options, we’ve opted to review two appliance-styled speaker systems: AFT’s iCarta ($100) is meant to be used in a home’s bathroom as a toilet paper holder, while iHome’s iH36 (iLounge rating: B) is designed to be installed in a kitchen, laundry room, or bathroom under existing cabinets. Clearly, these two systems won’t appeal to everyone, but they’re the only offerings of their kind currently on the market.
Also known as Atech Flash Technology, AFT has been developing iPod accessories for the past two years, specializing in niche but interesting concepts: keyboards and flash card readers with integrated iPod docks are the company’s forte. So it was with great surprise that we learned about iCarta, which is not only the company’s first iPod speaker system, but also a really weird one - it mounts next to your toilet, holding as many as two iPods at the same time as it holds a roll of toilet paper.
To help you mount the system, Atech Flash includes mounting screws, a foam mounting sticker, and the parts needed to safely hold your roll of toilet paper between the speakers. There’s also a power supply that connects to your wall, so you’ll need to find an outlet within six feet of iCarta’s right side, where it plugs in. That aside, you’ll only have to supply your own toilet paper, a fact which we can’t believe we’re mentioning about an iPod accessory.
Buttons on the top let the speakers perform audio from either of the two iPod docks - one for iPod shuffle, one for Dock Connector-ready iPods - or a line-in port, which allows you to connect any other device for on-the-john listening. Another set of buttons turns the volume up or down, and the system’s power on or off; when “off,” it won’t output audio or charge your docked iPod.
How does it work and sound? The concept is as simple as it sounds: you bring your iPod into the bathroom and dock it on iCarta’s top. Press play, change tracks, or do whatever you want with the iPod - it all works. The speakers make no attempt to control the iPod, and won’t stop playback or turn it off when you press the power button; they’re just there. This is somewhat contrary in design to the more aggressively engineered speakers that are out now, automatically playing and pausing docked iPods, and charging even when they’re turned off or not playing. Though this may go without saying, iCarta probably isn’t the system you want if you’re looking for a sophisticated iPod speaker dock.
Originally, we thought that iCarta sounded pretty good for its price, all features considered, but after some more testing against sub-$100 options, we weren’t as convinced. Four total “moisture resistant” speaker drivers are found in the unit’s left and right sides, and deliver sound that leans far more towards the high- and midrange than the lower end of the spectrum. In other words, don’t expect a lot of bass from this speaker design, and you also shouldn’t expect too much volume: iCarta is in the low-end inMotion speaker league in this regard, and doesn’t rival even Excalibur’s not-so-hot $80 iBlaster Clock Radio in volume or overall sound quality.
In our test bathroom’s acoustic environment, iCarta delivered better than typical FM radio-quality sound, though it occasionally sounded tinny, and distorted a bit at its top, not-so-loud volume. We also found that it was unusually dependent upon the volume levels at which specific tracks were encoded; low-volume tracks suffered quite a bit here, and really should have been more audible. The speakers did appropriately separate left and right stereo channels, though the effect will likely be lost on users given that the system will inevitably sit off to one side of the listener.
While we wouldn’t have expected iCarta to be a powerful, great-sounding iPod speaker system, it’s not quite up to today’s $100 iPod dock standards. You can surely find better iPod speakers that will fit in your bathroom for equal or less money, and some of them will be portable, capable of being used in any other room of your house, or even outdoors. But that assumes that you don’t care too much about this unit’s specific mounting and toilet paper holding features. Given the fact that iCarta depends on those novel - or novelty - characteristics, which some people will find amusing, we consider it worthy of a limited recommendation: if you’re the sort of person who would buy this, you probably won’t be too disappointed by it.