Review: Cyber Acoustics iRhythms A302/A303 Dockable Speaker Systems
Company: Cyber Acoustics
Compatible: iPod 3G, 4G, 5G, mini, nano, shuffle*
Though we've opted not to do a full review of Cyber Acoustics' iRhythms A302 and A303 Dockable Speaker Systems ($180 each), the key points are easy to sum up quickly: this is a Bose SoundDock-alike design sold at a lower price, and available in two colors - A302 is white, A303 is black. Each comes with a color-matched six-button Infrared remote control, powered by two included AAA batteries, a wall power supply, and a Universal Dock well with four silver inserts. An auxiliary audio cable is included if you want to use the system with an iPod shuffle; just insert the shuffle-sized dock adapter, which holds but doesn't charge that iPod, and connect the cable to the shuffle's top and speaker's rear auxiliary input. All other iPods charge and play audio at the same time.
As we’ve noted in many prior iPod speaker reviews, the SoundDock inspired a generation of “me-too” offerings from companies such as Klipsch, Altec Lansing, and JBL, each offering one or two distinctive twists, but generally focusing on the same general combination of simple interface, all-in-one body design, and surprisingly high pricing. In sum, their goal was to create something that sounded equal to or better than the SoundDock at the same or a slightly lower price. By contrast, smaller companies tended to take a different tact, focusing less on slick looks and more on approximating the SoundDock’s audio quality while bettering its price. Cyber Acoustics’ A302/A303 design follows the latter model: it’s shy of the SoundDock on sound, but $120 cheaper in MSRP - and actually available for even less if you shop around online.
Given the price difference - the $300 SoundDock is rarely discounted - the A302 and A303 can be substantially forgiven for some of their omissions. Bose’s audio is a bit cleaner and more detailed, especially in the highs and mids, while the iRhythms have slightly better low-end response. Cyber Acoustics has kept the distortion at reasonable levels when the volume goes up - where it rivals top speakers of its size in amplitude - and though there’s some amplifier hiss in the audio signal, it’s not the worst we’ve heard. We slightly preferred the overall balance and warmth of Altec Lansing’s competing, similarly MSRP’ed inMotion iM9 system, but found the iRhythms so close - and a little bit less riddled with amplifier noise - that most people wouldn’t hear or care about the differences, particularly given that the A302 and A303 will most certainly be cheaper.
But there are a few design-related negatives to underscore here: like several other SoundDock-alikes, the A302/A303 design is essentially a 2004-caliber iPod speaker in a 2003-caliber package. Like Klipsch’s earlier iGroove, it has physical curves that won’t appeal to those seeking high style, and looks more like a derivative, functional design than an original, inspired one; its only interesting touch is a slot in its back for remote control storage. The use of silver dock inserts is a cheapening touch; the system’s metal grille shapes and chromed dock-mounted volume buttons also aren’t quite as nice as in similar systems we’ve tested. With the exception of its auxiliary input port - a feature missing from the SoundDock, but few other iPod speakers - it is otherwise similarly limited; it can’t be used as a computer- or video-ready iPod dock, or off of battery power, increasingly common elements in today’s iPod speaker docks. Additionally, and unlike the majority of iPod speakers, which use front- or top-mounted power buttons, A302 and A303 require you to flip a power switch on their backs, and then use the remote control to flip the system between on (blue) and idle (red) power-consuming modes. Finally, the system lacks for bass and/or treble controls of the sort found in some systems from companies such as JBL and Altec; the default audio setting is what you get, no matter what your tastes.
Based on its low MSRP and even lower street pricing, it’s hard to knock A302 or A303 too much; these are competent and recommendable speakers, particularly if you’re budget-conscious and not concerned about looks, portability, or frills. While we’d unquestionably spend a little bit more to get a substantially better-sounding, -looking, and -featured system such as Altec Lansing’s tubular inMotion iM7, which can be had online for around $160 these days, these iRhythms deliver enough audio horsepower for the dollar that you won’t be displeased if their otherwise limited features match your needs.