Review: iHome iH82 OutLoud Portable Speaker System for iPod
We've noted in a number of recent speaker reviews that as the number of iPod-compatible speakers continues to climb, and as certain "sound quality for the dollar" metrics have been established, the major differentiators between options have become looks and pricing. Buying an iPod speaker these days is mostly a matter of finding an option that looks good, suits your budget, and sounds acceptable to your ears; breakthroughs are becoming fewer in number with every passing month.
Clockwise, from bottom left: JiSS-330, JiSS-550, i-Station Concert, Vers 2X, and iH82
Today, we briefly review five recent iPod speakers priced from $100 to $180, each with a polarizing body shape that will either immediately appeal to or offend your sense of good design. At the low end of the price spectrum is Jensen’s Banshee JiSS-330 ($100), an ultra-glossy black and chrome system with three speaker drivers, with the company’s bigger and more deluxe JiSS-550 model ($130) instead possessing five speakers. At the same price is iHome’s iH82 ($130), a two-speaker version of the $100 rounded cube iH80 OutLoud Portable Speaker System we’ve previously reviewed. Then there are Sprout Creation’s Vers 2X ($179), a wood veneer and plastic enclosure with two speaker drivers inside, and Logic3’s i-Station Concert ($180), an update of the previously released i-Station 8, which houses 9 speaker drivers—4 each on the left and right sides, and one 2.5” woofer for bass. Like many of the other speakers we’ve reviewed, each of these units has at least one major selling point, and one or two issues that prospective buyers should be aware of before a purchase.
Back in July, we reviewed iHome’s iH80, a large, rounded-off cube-shaped speaker with an iPod dock on the top and a matching Infrared remote control, power supply, auxiliary audio-in cable, and three Dock Adapters in the box. While we weren’t blown away by iH80’s sound, the unit was interesting for two reasons: first, it can run off of eight C-cell batteries, and second, iHome sells a second, matching iSP80 speaker for $40 that transforms the single cube into a stereo audio system. Back when we reviewed iH80, we didn’t know how the system would sound with that second speaker attached, and we wondered how many people would go through the trouble of ordering a second speaker to add on to the first one after purchase.
Shortly after we published our review of iH80, another box arrived with iH82 inside. Still not featured on iHome’s web site, iH82 is nothing more than a bundle of both the iH80 and iSP80 speakers and a connecting speaker wire together at a $10 discount; it otherwise possesses the same pack-ins, features, and limitations as the iH80. You can read more about them in the iH80 review, linked here.
Like iH80, the iH82 package makes a better first impression on looks than on sound. The silver-accented black speakers are reminiscent of those from Griffin’s Evolve, but here, they’re larger, measuring roughly 6.5” by 6.5” by 7.5” to Griffin’s 5.5” cubes, and don’t depend on a charging base: the left speaker contains the dock, power and volume controls, and battery compartment, while the right one is lighter and as previously noted depends on the connecting cord for power and sound. If you want to travel with only one speaker, you can easily leave the right speaker behind, flip the left speaker into one-speaker monaural mode, and mix the iPod’s left- and right-channel audio together. Alternately, you can carry both speakers with you; they each have small finger grips in the back, and the included cable lets you separate them by 10 feet.
The only other interesting thing about iH82’s design is the presence of a microphone input port and mic level knob on the unit’s back. Carried over from iH80, and explained on the company’s web site as a “microphone jack for karaoke jams,” these features suggest that iHome saw the unit as a potential karaoke speaker system, though no hardware or optional accessories are offered by the company to take advantage of this possibility. That aside, adjustable level mic-in ports are a rarity on iPod speaker systems, especially inexpensive ones, so if that’s something you need, iH80 and iH82 are currently your best low-priced options.
As with iH80, our issue with iH82 is in the sound quality. iHome’s default audio balance for iH82 still has almost no treble, and presents sound in a flat, grimy muddle: our first impression upon hearing it was “yuck.” But unlike many systems that leave you without options if you don’t like the sound, iHome’s remote control permits you to turn up the treble and adjust the bass to a superior balance, transforming iH82’s out-of-the-box sound from bad to acceptable—not incredible—at typical listening levels. Unfortunately, rather than automatically equalizing the speaker from song to song, as certain similarly-priced portable speakers now do, iH82 requires you to do that work yourself, and its drivers aren’t especially versatile. Consequently, some songs will exhibit unpleasant distortion with the bass and treble adjustments, while others will sound fine.
As with iH80, iH82’s strength is that the sound quality and balance remain pretty consistent as you turn the volume up to the system’s loudest—and loud—levels, where smaller-driver systems can’t reach or would become comparatively unlistenable. On a related note, the system’s implementation of its dual speaker mode is better than it could have been: rather than halving the first speaker’s output, which could easily happen since the second speaker doesn’t have its own power supply or battery compartment, the added speaker mirrors the first one’s volume level, doubling iH82’s presence. Again, the good news is that it’s loud; the bad news is that you’re basically paying a premium to get twice the so-so sound.
Our overall impression of iH82 follows the conclusions of our iH80 review: while the single-speaker iH80 will appeal to less sound quality-conscious users who are looking for a relatively cheap, loud speaker option with good remote control features, we wouldn’t be inclined to spend the extra cash to transform it into a double-speaker array, either with an add-on speaker ($140 total) or by purchasing the iH82 bundle ($130). At those prices, we’d sooner put our own dollars towards a more compact, better-sounding, and better-equipped system such as Logitech’s Pure-Fi Anywhere, but if high-volume performance is your biggest criterion, iH82 may be worth considering anyway. Similarly, if you’re willing to supply your own microphone and want a loud, relatively inexpensive sound system with an iPod dock built in, you may well find iH82 better suited to your needs than we found it for ours.