Review: Coby CS-MP165 Digital Boombox for iPod
Ah, 2006 and 2007, we remember you well. You were the years when six percent of China's population was assembling cheap and often senseless iPod speakers, all of which seemed to wind up in our offices. We did not shed a tear when you left us, and since then, we've never looked back wistfully on those days. And yet, when the Coby CS-MP165 Digital Boombox for iPod ($100) appeared, we remembered you, your confusingly huge multi-button remote controls, your random USB ports for connecting flash players, and your juxtapositions of oh so many features -- say, a boombox with dual alarm clocks and a motorized iPod dock -- in one enclosure, even when they didn't make sense together. That's when we rejoiced, as we realized that the holiday season was upon us, and that our old love affair might well be rekindled again.
In all seriousness, though the CS-MP165 might be the exact hodgepodge product mentioned above, most of those individual features—and others—aren’t controversial. It comes with an Infrared remote control, a wall power adapter, an auxiliary audio cable and four somewhat odd Dock Adapters, enabling you to use the system like a boombox, control it from afar indoors, and even tune in FM and AM radio stations. There are, as suggested above, two alarms for the clock, each with a wake from buzzer, radio, or iPod selection, and the system offers six equalization modes, ranging from “flat” to “arena,” “club” to mega bass.
Sonically, the CS-MP165 is fine. While the speakers aren’t great, they’re not bad, especially when it’s either flat or when the bass booster is turned on to produce warmer audio. They’re offset by a droning sound that continues whenever the system’s in iPod mode and charging a connected iPod. You can’t hear it during music, but it’s obvious during quiet pauses. Similarly, the radio is alright; it pulls in local stations with relative ease, though it does so with a fair amount of static that’s eliminated by filters in better competitors.
Other parts of the design could have benefitted from more attention. The front clock and radio interface, while large, are kludgy; the clock displays times as “02:15 PM” and the radio tunes in .1 frequencies, making tuning slower than it need be, offset only by the massive number of preset buttons (10 plus a +10) on the remote control. On a related note, the sheer size of the CS-MP165—roughly 14.5” wide by 8” tall by 5.5” deep—poorly suits it to serve as a typical nightstand clock radio; it was clearly designed as a boombox first and foremost, with the clock functionality tossed in later as an extra.
If viewed or intended to be used primarily as a clock radio, the system’s motorized dock seems like an odd choice. Press an eject button and the dock slowly slides upwards; press it again and the iPod on the dock slowly slides downwards. You’re supposed to use the remote’s integrated menu buttons to interact with the iPod once it recesses inside, behind a hard clear plastic shield. While a protective interior dock isn’t a bad idea, the motorized mechanism makes using the iPod’s controls more of a hassle than they need be for frequent indoor use, especially touchscreen iPods that are saddled with that “Slide to Unlock” prompt. Remotes haven’t yet been able to work around this, so at best, you get play/pause and track changes off of an iPod touch’s current playlist; Click Wheel iPods permit full menu access, though.
However, if the system is judged by boombox standards, the dock and its other features begin to make more sense. Having the iPod inside of the unit, away from dirt and grime, is fine so long as you’re willing to use the remote or the silver top-mounted buttons to control all of your playback. Similarly, though it doesn’t fit the size or usability model of a typical clock radio, it’s reasonably sized by reference to boomboxes we’ve seen, and it’s similarly capable of being turned up to volume levels that are room-filling—a rarity in $100 iPod audio systems. A compartment on the bottom lets the CS-MP165 run off of eight C-cell batteries when it’s not near a wall outlet.
If you’re interested in an oversized alarm clock, or just want an inexpensive, fine-sounding boombox with some extras that you mightn’t use, the CS-MP165 isn’t a bad option for the relatively low $100 asking price. While we’re not thrilled enough by the overall integration of its parts or its sonic quality to suggest that it’s worthy of our general recommendation—the overall design strikes us as outdated and underthought by comparison with most of the speakers out there these days—budget-conscious users might be willing to overlook its kludginess and enjoy it anyway. More streamlined functionality would have made it a better pick.