Review: iHome iH30 iHome2Go Portable System for iPod
Pros: A sleek iPod boombox with a customizably protective dock, integrated FM radio, and chargers for both car and home use. Supports all Dock Connecting iPods and also the iPod shuffle. Runs off of eight C batteries, delivers good sound quality, with enough midrange and bass emphasis to satisfy typical users. Available in silver or white.
Cons: Audio performance isn’t as impressive in several regards as top competing speakers we’ve tested, though none has as many small extras as this system includes - you trade off sterling sound for dual docks, FM radio, and design. FM radio performance is good, but not great. Remote control is sold separately.
Thanks to what we’ve heard is fear over patents, boom box-style speaker systems for the iPod are regrettably uncommon, and the market has been dominated by DLO’s iBoom (iLounge rating: D), a portable box that looked nice but had some serious issues in our testing. Another option, Tivoli Audio’s iSongBook (iLounge rating: B+), is substantially superior in a number of ways, but considerably more expensive. So we were elated to see two aggressively priced boom boxes finally emerge as competition: iHome is offering the iH30 iHome2Go Portable System for iPod ($150), while MTX Audio is selling the larger $200 iThunder. Both systems have plenty to offer, though they’re substantially different animals.
As between iBoom, iThunder and iH30, iHome has the best-looking design of the bunch. It’s rounded, sleek, and up to snuff with modern boombox designs - not cutting-edge, but the equal of other $100-$150 systems currently on store shelves. At approximately 15” by 5.5” by 5.5”, it’s too large to put in a briefcase, but smaller in all dimensions save depth than the massive iThunder, and easier to lift and carry around. iHome is selling it in silver and white versions, using mostly plastic for each one’s body, with a chrome antenna on the back and two prominent metal speaker grilles on the front. There’s an integrated carrying handle on the top back, and a rear with two vents for the speakers, a power charging outlet, a holder for an iPod shuffle’s USB cap, a switch to toggle between remote controlled and non-remote controlled modes, and a switch to toggle between FM radio mono and stereo playback modes. (The latter switch made little difference in our testing.) iH30’s bottom front face includes ports for headphone output and line-level input - a black minijack-to-minijack cable is included - plus an Infrared sensor for the remote control, which is sold separately (iH30RC, $20).
Most distinctive its iH30’s top surface, which is literally loaded with buttons: an integrated digital FM radio can be seen on its top left side, in-between power and input select (iPod/FM radio/auxiliary-in) buttons. The radio is controlled with six left-side preset buttons or right-side tuning and volume buttons; the latter buttons and a play/pause button double as iPod controls, as well.
The top also features not just one, but two iPod docks - one for the iPod shuffle, amazingly, and another for full-sized iPods, nanos, and minis. Though the shuffle dock is little more than a covered USB port, iHome obviously spent quite a bit of time engineering the full-sized iPod dock, allowing you to customize its interior and exterior to your preference. A splash-proof shield is included to protect the iPod’s front, or removed if you prefer; mini and nano sizers are included, too, along with rubber spacers for various full-sized iPods. You open the dock’s protective top with an eject button; it’s otherwise locked for safety, a really nice touch.
It’s also clear that iHome took numerous power considerations into account when assembling the iH30 package - more than any other company we’ve seen. iH30 is the first iPod boom box to our knowledge that includes a car charger in addition to the standard wall charger and battery-powered options. While it’s not impossible to run other portable speakers off of similar car chargers, other companies haven’t thought to include them, and this bonus makes iH30 just that much more of a practical roadtrip and travel speaker. As with most large portable speakers we’ve seen, it’s also capable of running for around 12 hours off of eight C batteries (not included) that are inserted into its bottom.
So on the aesthetic design front, iH30 is pretty impressive - the other major consideration, of course, is sound. In our view, whether iH30 will suit your audio expectations will depend a lot on what you’re expecting for the dollar. As an FM radio, it’s competent, not stellar. In a challenging indoor environment, reception carries a bit more static than portable radios like Tivoli’s iPAL (iLounge rating: B+) and aforementioned iSongBook, but outdoors, it does just fine. (There’s no AM radio, a comparative omission from iHome’s iH5 Clock Radio (iLounge rating: A-), though no other iPod boombox save the $330 iSongBook includes AM, either.) Similarly, as a way to play back iPod music indoors or outdoors, it does a good job; the two full-range speakers are tuned much like those in the iH5, and try their best to cover the whole audio spectrum, focusing on mid-range and bass.
However, we weren’t blown away by the sound for the price: multi-driver solutions such as Logitech’s mm50 (iLounge rating: A-) do a better job overall, particularly on treble, but also on apparent detail across the spectrum. When compared against top entries at its price point (and below), iH30 is flatter and less dynamic, though not objectionably so given its boom box applications. From an audio standpoint, the only thing that outdoor users might mind is the fact that it isn’t an incredibly loud speaker system, either: its top volume (40) is only a hair louder than the iH5’s level 40, enough to fill a medium-sized room, but not enough to drown out the sounds of passing airplanes.
We also need to mention a couple of comparative omissions. Most iPod stereo systems at or near iH30’s price level include remote controls, rather than requiring a separate purchase. Despite numerous requests, we have yet to see an iHome remote (iH5 or iH30) for review, and therefore can’t comment on their performance, but it would have been great to see one in the box. Additionally, iH30 lacks a pass-through port for connection to a computer for iPod synchronization; most of its non-boombox competitors include either a Dock Connector port or USB cable for that purpose, though other boomboxes typically do not.
Overall, the iH30 strikes us as a pretty good iPod boombox option, certainly better in all respects than DLO’s iBoom, and both fully featured and attractive enough to be a good, though not complete alternative to other $150 speakers we’ve tested. Its combination of FM radio and iPod docking features set it apart from most iPod speakers in its price class - it’s more powerful, though not as fun as Rain Design’s iWoofer (iLounge rating: B) - and its included car charger surely makes it better for use anywhere you’re going. However, we would have found a remote control more useful than the included car charger, and we generally prefer speakers with greater clarity and less low-end bias. It’s undeniably true that we haven’t yet heard a better iPod/FM radio boombox at the $150 price level, but you’ll have to decide whether iH30’s design and various perks are better-suited to your needs than a radio-less pair of better sounding, remote-controlled Logitech mm50s.