Review: Boston Acoustics iDS2
When Boston Acoustics released the alarm clock radio Horizon Duo-i some months ago, we took notice. The vast majority of iPod alarm clocks we'd tested had come from clock makers, and Horizon Duo-i came from a speaker maker, a difference that was instantly evident in the audio. For $200, we though the system was a great deal, attractively designed, and with interesting customization options; it received our rare high recommendation.
Now Boston Acoustics has released a sequel of sorts called the iDS2 ($180), which could either be understood as a stripped-down version of the Duo-i, or as a different type of product altogether. Though they differ slightly in size—iDS2 measures 5.5” (t) by 12.75” (w) by 5.8” (d), versus Duo-i’s 5.5” by 12.9” by 8”—they have the same shape, a gently curved box that tapers on the sides for twin speaker chambers, each housing a 3.5” full-range driver. iDS2 also preserves the top center-mounted iPod dock, complete with Universal Dock Adapter compatibility, composite video-out, auxiliary audio in, and an Infrared remote control. New is a USB port for iPod-to-computer synchronization functionality, though you’ll have to provide your own cable.
Two colors are available, both glossy: white or black, versus the Duo-i’s charcoal gray and off-white “mist” versions, which used an attractive soft touch matte rubber. As with Duo-i, you will be able to swap off the front metal grille and replace it with one in a different color; nine replacement grille colors are presently listed by the company, each for $15.
What we like about the iDS2 can be summed up in two words: design and sound. Just as with the Duo-i, there’s a certain level of clean class in the iDS2 that suggests that real industrial designers came up with the shape, selected the materials, and thought out the system’s cosmetic expandability—this is a unit we would enjoy having in a home. Though the white glossy cabinet seems dated, in a sense, by the iPod family’s shift away from white plastics over to metals, it is also a clean match for kitchen and bathroom tiles, common white walls, and other decor; the black version is a better match for current models, and either can be color-shifted with those replaceable grilles to match or accent a room. Our only concern is that the covers are held partially in place by a black adhesive that doesn’t look so hot on the white unit once the grille has been taken off; a little cleanup is needed.
Sonically, the iDS2 belongs to the category of speakers that we’d describe as “good right out of the box.” We plugged it in and, without comparing it to anything else, found that we generally liked the bass-slanted, clean sound, which can be turned up to the Duo-i’s ear-splitting maximum volume level with the same general caveats on increased distortion as amplitude increases. At normal listening levels, songs were presented in a full-bodied fashion, warmer than the default settings of the iDS2. While the twin driver design could benefit from additional treble—it doesn’t sound as well-equipped in this regard as the similarly warm Bose SoundDock—Boston Acoustics has tuned the system nicely given the audio hardware it’s working with.
Our major concern with the iDS2, and the one that most impacted its rating, is its price relative to other options. As just one example, no matter where you look online, the Horizon Duo-i can be found for $200 or less—in many cases, as much as $50-70 less—so you might actually pay more for the iDS2 than the significantly better Duo-i. And by significantly better, we’re not just talking about the great screen and clock radio features; the Duo-i also does better in the audio department. Boston’s first model included bass and treble adjustments, letting you tweak the Duo-i’s sound to your preferences, one of many benefits that are just missing from iDS2. This system has been streamlined to the point of utter simplicity, which like the Bose SoundDock could appeal to many users, but we’d have greatly preferred a little more control over the sound for the price. The lack of full iPhone and iPhone 3G compatibility may also be an issue for some users.
Based on the many iPod speakers we’ve tested, our feeling is that the iDS2 is a little expensive for the features and sound quality it offers, but if the price falls over time as much as the Duo-i’s has, your choice between these two models will be a tougher call. As of today, the iDS2 strikes us as a good-sounding audio system that will look great in many homes; it’s light on features and frills, but heavy on minimalist class. If clean looks and simplicity are what you’re after, the iDS2 should be on your short list of options. Otherwise, we’d strongly recommend the Horizon Duo-i instead.