Review: Atlantic EGO iceBar2 Waterproof Speaker System
As much as we have liked and respected H2O Audio's Waterproof iPod nano Cases, their rising prices have more than occasionally given us cause for concern. While competitors such as Otter Products have released more reasonably priced submersible nano cases, H2O's cases have found themselves in the $80-$100 range, offering only one major advantage: a guarantee that they're safe to submerge to 10-foot depths, and will still be fully controllable even when that far underwater.
As Otter and other companies are aware, an $80 price tag can buy a lot of iPod case—a fact that Atlantic has used to serious advantage in its new EGO iceBar2 ($80). Here, those dollars get you not just a waterproof iPod nano case—one that’s incidentally compatible with first-, second-, and third-generation iPod nanos—but also a pair of legitimately nice, battery-powered speakers, an integrated rear stand, a rubber wrist strap, and a matching little buoy. The resulting product, which can be taken into the shower, used in a pool, or safely enjoyed on a beach, is a real stunner: a fun, affordable little iPod speaker that delivers more convenience and better value for the dollar than the company’s earlier iPod-agnostic Music Showcase.
There are a number of really smart little touches in the iceBar2, and only one that’s not. On the pro side are its all-in-one enclosure, which is almost entirely clear and enables you to see the nano’s screen, controls, and even the system’s circuit board inside, along with the two bottom-mounted speakers in the chassis. Made from rubber, the speakers are waterproof, continuing to play (albeit at decreased volume and fidelity) even when drowned, and run off of four included AAA batteries for up to 24 hours.
Atlantic’s drivers are certainly better than they could have been: the system’s sound quality is considerably superior in clarity and volume to the passive speakers found in iFrogz’ recent Audio Wraps speaker cases, and in the same general category of Pacific Rim Technologies’ Cube Travel Speakers—great for the overall price, considering that you’re paying for speakers, a case, and waterproofing at the same time. That said, they’re not stunners by contrast with dedicated $50-80 non-waterproof speakers: while iceBar2’s dual drivers actually and properly separate left- and right-channel sound, the perceptible separation from any distance is very limited, as would naturally be expected from such close drivers, and their midrange-focused frequency response is enjoyable for casual listening, but not stunning.
The system’s waterproof performance was just as it should have been: the iPod nano holding area showed no sign of leakage when we splashed, dunked, or held it under water. Toweling off the case, which uses an O-ring and an integrated white plastic side clasp to keep moisture out, is straightforward, and aided by a clear speaker grille that is easy to remove should you need to take it off for a moment. A pop-out stand on the rear resembles the back half of a fish, propping iceBar 2 up when it’s on land rather than water.
Rubber pieces help provide just the right level of access to the nano’s and system’s features. A frosted Click Wheel circle permits full control access to the iPod nano inside, while a matching rubber-sealed, glowing power button is found on the front to activate or deactivate the speakers. We had no problem using the nano’s controls through the Click Wheel cover, which has an elevated central nub for the nano’s Action button, and turning the system on and off was similarly straightforward. It’s obvious that Atlantic knows what it’s doing at this point in designing these cases.
Surprisingly, if you want to use the nano’s headphone port, that’s also an option thanks to a pass-through port on the unit’s top; a rubber plug stays in there unless you pull it out, and remains attached to the case by a thin but sturdy rubber strip, rather than fully detaching for easy loss and certain damage to the exposed port. If you’re planning to use the case with this port while in the water, you’ll be confronted with the same issue as with Otter’s and H2O’s cases—namely, waterproof headphones will need to be found and purchased separately—but iceBar2 works with standard headphones if you’re willing to keep the case on while using it away from water. This dry case usage scenario is somewhat unlikely, given that the case adds considerable volume to any nano model, but it’s an option nevertheless.
That said, given the fact that iceBar2 adds much more weight and size than a typical waterproof iPod nano case, there’s little doubt in our minds that you’ll more likely prefer the smaller Otter or H2O designs if speakerless use is what you’re after. Additionally, and as part of iceBar2’s only design miss, Atlantic doesn’t make any specific guarantees on the unit’s depth submersibility: the company suggests that the speakers are safe to submerge, but shouldn’t be—a legitimate difference with the 3-foot submersible Otter and 10-foot H2O cases. iceBar2 doesn’t lay flat and float on water’s surface, either, so though you can attach the buoy and feel relatively confident that it’ll stay near you in a pool, it’s not the sort of speaker you can expect to just float around and enjoy without hand-holding and attention.
While a relatively small compromise given how superb this system otherwise is, iceBar2 would be even better if it fully floated, as its Atlantic predecessors did—a design choice that was likely made to improve the case’s looks and reduce its footprint. Otherwise, it’s hard to fault a speaker system that keeps your nano safe in water, can play continuously for a full day, and provides complete screen, control, and even headphone port access at the same time. iceBar2 was fully deserving of our 2008 Best in Show award, and is a highly recommendable portable iPod speaker system.