Review: dreamGEAR i.Sound Twist Speaker
Bluetooth speakers have been coming down significantly in price while becoming increasingly mainstream, so dreamGEAR's iSound Twist Speaker ($80) superficially makes a lot of sense as an alternative to the $200 and $100 wireless audio systems we've tested recently from companies such as Brookstone, Logitech, and Soundfreaq. Sporting a highly attractive design that looks as if a block of matte black plastic was twisted in the center, this speaker system packs two speakers on its front right side, with a passive subwoofer behind them, and controls on its top and back left. While dreamGEAR got the industrial design and the features right for the price, the audio quality isn't particularly impressive, suffering considerably from a poorly implemented microphone system.
Measuring 9.75” long, about 2” tall and just a little bit deeper, iSound Twist Speaker is packaged with an auxiliary audio cable—unnecessary if you’re going to use it in Bluetooth mode—and a mini-USB to USB charging cable that’s required to refuel the five-hour rechargeable battery inside. Peek at the front and you’ll see not only the plastic speaker grille, but also two one-inch circular drivers behind it, while the back side has a less flashy dot pattern to ventilate the passive subwoofer, an on/off switch, and ports for the USB and auxiliary audio cables. There are also five function buttons arranged in a circle on the top left side, offering control of volume, secondary power, pairing, playback, and phone calling, plus a tiny hole for the unit’s integrated microphone.
While we really liked the way iSound Twist Speaker looked, it was hard to see the design as making an efficient use of space; contrast the implementation with Brookstone’s Big Blue Live and you gain nothing functionally—similar drivers, battery, microphone, and Bluetooth wireless support—while nearly doubling the unit’s size. This might have made sense if the front-firing speakers were separated across iSound Twist’s face, but they’re actually only millimeters apart from one another; that’s closer than on Big Blue Live. The only reasons to prefer iSound Twist would be if you like the shape, which is admittedly very distinctive, or want to save a little money.
The problem is that iSound Twist’s audio quality isn’t great. Unlike Brookstone, which capped Big Blue Live’s volume to prevent it from distorting at a peak, dreamGEAR lets you turn up iSound Twist to a point where audio starts to sound pretty bad, particularly in clompy, thuddy bass. While the larger speaker has a more treble-focused presentation that sounds clearer—but also flatter—at lower volume levels, Big Blue Live offered warmer sound that was more pleasing to our ears. When we compared their speakerphones to one another, there was no contest: iSound Twist had some serious problems. Callers reported that their voices were echoing back to them even at low volume levels, making it impossible to have a comfortable telephone conversation. Clearly some additional engineering work will be necessary to fix that issue.
Overall, iSound Twist isn’t a bad speaker system, but it’s not quite good enough to recommend, either. While it benefits from a well above-average industrial design, the shape does little more than elongate components that could otherwise have been placed in a much smaller chassis, and even then, doesn’t necessarily place the separated parts in places that would improve the listening or user experience. Despite having a microphone in a separate chamber from the speakers, this audio system still suffers from echo issues that better rivals resolved long ago, and doesn’t offer any real advantages to users besides the interesting shape and a modestly lower price. Cosmetically, it’s a step in the right direction for dreamGEAR, but further work on the engineering side will be needed to make it legitimately good.