Review: iLive IBCD3816DT Portable Docking System 2.1 Channel Speaker System
We wanted to like iLive's first iPod speaker system - the unusually-named but familiar-looking IBCD3816D ($130) - but we couldn't. So, rather than spending many paragraphs describing all of the unit's features and reasons it could have been great, we're going to keep this capsule review short and sweet: the IBCD3816D sounds bad. Bad enough that we'd rate it even lower than a C-level grade if audio quality was the only thing our reviews took into consideration.
To briefly sketch the positives, iLive has come up with a battery- or wall-powered, tube-styled boombox that bears more than a passing resemblance to Altec Lansing’s excellent inMotion iM7 speaker system (iLounge rating: A-), but is packed with extra features. Most notably, there’s a CD player, an AM/FM clock radio, and a timer - no alarms - in addition to a 17” by 7.5” by 7.5” body that’s virtually the same as iM7’s, now available in your choice of black or white. A more than decent matching remote is included, providing access to all of the unit’s major featues, including CD, radio, and iPod controls, a sleep feature, the timer, and power on/off. The AM/FM tuner doesn’t yield super-clean radio, but it does tune stations respectably, particularly with the included chrome antenna at full extension. A blue-backlit LCD screen is used for tuning, the integrated clock, and to let you know which of the connected devices is playing through the speakers.
iLive has also done a little to bolster the unit’s portability. A carrying strap is included with IBCD3816DT, and integrates directly into the unit’s left and right top sides. Altec - and some others - would have you buy a separate strap or bag to carry their boomboxes around, so a simple solution like this one works pretty well. As with the iM7, you can toss a boatload of batteries - eight D-cells - into the unit for use outside of your home, though the size and weight here are substantial enough that you’ll most likely be keeping the system in one place, and using it with the included wall power cable.
On the outside, iLive’s done pretty well: though this is clearly a copy of the Altec design, it’s been evolved in ways that Altec itself could have imagined, and - way too many buttons on top aside - looks good enough that you might be convinced to buy one if you saw it sitting next to the iM7 at a store. Unfortunately, the problems with IBCD3816D only start once the power’s turned on. That’s when you begin to notice that there’s a lot of signal noise - enough to ruin the clarity of CD, iPod, and auxiliary audio playback, with ruin not being too strong a word given how strong it sounds, and how a high-pitched squeal begins to filter in at some point. The noise is apparent even at low volume levels, and doesn’t get better as the volume turns up.
The rest of the system’s sound isn’t too impressive, either. iLive may have put two side-firing subwoofers inside this chassis - that’s one more than the iM7 has - but they don’t compare with the sound quality Altec has delivered. Altec’s bass is controlled and clean, but obvious; iLive’s is rough, not as low, and distorted, even on its maximum setting. iPod and CD music becomes radio-quality because of the speaker design, and that’s not a good thing. It’s somewhat unusual that the system has both a three-position bass switch and a separate four-setting equalizer - minus a “flat” setting - and even more so that none of the settings really sounds good. IBCD3816D has low-quality, muddy sound with none of Altec’s sparkle, most likely attributable to the system’s lack of dedicated tweeters for treble. In front are two full-range drivers, which don’t quite approximate the range of separate high- and mid-range drivers.
There are other oddities in the design - an iPod shuffle dock that doesn’t pass through audio, instead requiring you to connect the shuffle’s headphone port to an included audio cable, the system’s inability to go automatically to iPod playback after the power’s turned on, and so on - but they’re not worthy of much additional discussion.
In our view, the only factors excusing this system’s audio performance are its wide swath of so-so features, its price, and its portability, which together make for an iPod audio system you might not mind using outdoors, or might give as a gift to a less discerning listener. But in all honesty, IBCD3816DT does such a mediocre job indoors - the primary place we found ourselves using iPods with speakers - that we can’t see it as being a worthy rival to most of the speaker docks we’ve tested over the last few years, even at this price. Careful shopping will yield an Altec iM7 for only $20 or $30 more, and under the circumstances, we’d strongly advise you to consider that option instead - despite its extra features and good looks, which are the only reason it rates an “okay” for the price, you or your gift recipient will probably will be disappointed by how it sounds.