Review: iHome iD55 Portable Stereo System with Sliding Cover
It's common these days for new iPad-ready speakers to arrive at high price points, falling to more reasonable levels over six- to twelve-month periods, so iHome's new iD55 ($80) is notable for arriving on the scene aggressively priced from day one. Certainly affordable enough for anyone to consider, this portable speaker isn't the fanciest you'll find for an Apple device, but in an increasingly crowded marketplace, it packs more than enough sonic and design quality to justify its price tag.
iD55 surely owes more than a small debt of conceptual gratitude to JBL’s 2005 model On Tour, which pioneered the concept of an arcing portable speaker with a slide-open protective cover. JBL’s design was beautiful for its time, marrying iPod-matching glossy white plastic with silver and gray accents, as well as twin speaker drivers that pointed upwards and forward, but it notably lacked any sort of device charging capabilities and ran off of AAA batteries—decisions that helped JBL hit a then-reasonable $100 MSRP and $65 street price.
Plenty has changed since then in both Apple accessory design and consumer expectations, but iHome has still managed to deliver more actual value in iD55 than On Tour, while hitting a lower MSRP. In the center of this substantially matte black plastic unit is a flexible Dock Connector with universal iOS device support, including enough room to dock any of Apple’s 9.7” iPads. An illuminated power button sits between non-illuminated + and - buttons that mirror the volume controls on the connected device’s screen. A wall charger in the box connects to iD55 to provide 2.1-Amp full-speed charging support for iPads, as well as 1-Amp iPhone charging and 0.5-Amp iPod charging. As one of two nice cosmetic touches, iD55’s sliding cover uses a faux black leather that looks and feels enough like the real thing that no one will complain, while the unified speaker grille is gray perforated metal. Where On Tour felt sleek and modern; iD55 looks mature and professional, a hint cheap only on its plain, flat black sides. When open, it measures roughly 7” deep and 3” tall, compacting to around 4.1” deep and 1.75” tall when closed. It’s 10.5” wide at all times.
Not surprisingly, there are some functional compromises, though it’s hard to fault them given the price. Most portable units we cover these days include rechargeable batteries, but iD55 follows On Tour in requiring you to self-supply disposable cells, here four AAs, which slide into a compartment on the unit’s bottom. Unlike recent rivals, iD55 has no wireless functionality, relying solely on its top dock and a rear 3.5mm port for audio input. Given that Apple is on the verge of discontinuing the classic Dock Connector, there are no guarantees of full compatibility for devices past the current iPod, iPhone, and iPad lineup, though 3.5mm audio cables and Dock Connector adapters will likely bridge most of the gap. We would classify all of these issues as being minor and par for the course.
If iD55 has any one clear design flaw, it’s a small one in the top-mounted dock, which does indeed accommodate all of the aforementioned devices—easily with even encased iPods and iPhones—but struggles to handle encased iPads. iHome uses a pop-up roll bar alongside the flexible Dock Connector to provide universal device support, but the two spring-loaded parts don’t flex enough to let typical iPad cases slide on easily. This is a common but not universal problem with iPad audio systems, and part of the reason that wireless speakers have proved increasingly popular and wise over the past two years; the best we can say for iD55 is that it works just fine with iPads so long as they’re bare.
Even users familiar with iHome’s past speaker systems may be impressed by iD55’s sonic characteristics. The unit has two speakers inside—normal for a budget audio system—without any disclosure of their size or amplification. Yet iD55 uses a combination of SRS TruBass and the housing’s reasonable depth to lead with cleaner and deeper bass than we’d expected from a relatively small system, with enough mid-treble and midrange detail to keep tracks from sounding flat or lifeless. There’s actual stereo separation, albeit not much beyond the unit’s frame, and though the peak volume level falls short of “small room filling,” it’s well-suited to tabletop or even nearby outdoor listening. Apart from a little amplifier hiss and bass distortion that’s evident at high volume levels, iD55 is comparable overall to Soundfreaq’s Sound Kick, which sacrifices a little volume and treble performance in the name of slightly cleaner and more controlled sound. We’d characterize iD55’s audio as “very good” by budget speaker standards, arguably better than that if you strongly prefer bass resonance to treble detail.
Putting aside its handful of generally tiny issues, iD55 is an excellent little accessory for the $80 asking price—a bag- or briefcase-ready portable speaker that offers a rare combination of good sound quality and full iPad/iPhone/iPod charging capabilities at a launch price anyone can afford. While there are compromises to consider, such as the need to self-supply batteries for occasions when you’re not near wall power, and the potential need to strip your iPad case off, the reality is that iD55 otherwise delivers a useful set of features at a great price. It’s worthy of our high recommendation, with only modest caveats.