Review: iLuv i188 BLK/WHT Stereo Docking Systems
Pros: An inexpensive iPod docking speaker system with four drivers arrayed for audible stereo separation, including a power adapter for iPod charging and speaker power, inserts that fit all Dock Connector equipped iPods, an audio input port and cable, and a pass-through Dock Connector port for computer synchronization.
Cons: Sound quality is only okay by comparison with options at a similar price point, lacking detail and high-end/low-end response; awkward positioning of side ports.
Could someone produce a $30 docking iPod speaker system? Though the answer is yes, we’re willing to bet that people would be very disappointed by the sound and design - at some point, you’re just paying too little for real quality. So our question is this: what should we expect from docking speakers at or around the $60 price level? Last year, Macally had an answer of sorts with IceTune (iLounge rating: B+), which can be had for as little as $50; now iLuv (a unit of jWIN) has introduced iLuv i188 ($60), a similarly cheap alternative.
Two versions of i188 are available: there’s a glossy white version called iLuv i188 WHT, and a glossy black version called iLuv i188 BLK, each matching today’s iPod body colors. Both place a small iPod dock directly in front of a gentle arc of plastic that contains four speaker drivers; this dock can be resized with or without six inserts to fit various iPod models from 3G to 5G, mini and nano, and has simple controls - volume up and down buttons alongside a central power button. A bright blue light glows on the front when the power’s on, and the dock properly charged all of our test iPods without incident.
iLuv i188’s connector ports are standard, but unusually placed. Most conventional is a pass-through Dock Connector port on the unit’s back for data synchronization, which worked fine in our tests with computers, but the unit’s power port is on the right side of the dock, along with an auxiliary audio input port. These sorts of ports are most often hidden away from view, but are entirely visible here. Thankfully, iLuv’s included power supply matches the i188 BLK’s black body, rendering this necessary connection a little less conspicuous, but its included, though only optionally used white audio cable does not; we’re not sure whether the WHT version’s cables are better or worse. For obvious (price) reasons, there’s no remote control in the package, nor are there other frills - this is a simple, low-end docking speaker.
That’s also what it sounds like. Even by comparison with IceTune, which we noted at the time didn’t sound great by comparison with more expensive speakers, i188 underperforms; Macally offers user-positionable speakers that sound more than a little better, with greater apparent detail, especially in the highs. The surprise is that i188 sounds traditionally clock radio-like (read: not good) even when heard next to an actual clock radio like iHome’s iH5 (iLounge rating: A-), which has comparatively impressive bass and fuller sound. There are other superior options in this price range, but under the circumstances, calling all of them out would seem like piling on.
For less discerning listeners - those only concerned with price - i188 will be acceptable or okay, but we found that its flat, bland audio didn’t sound good at average volumes, and doesn’t get much better at higher ones. We initially thought that part of the problem might be the fact that full-sized iPods sit literally in front of all four of the drivers, but the sound didn’t improve when we tried smaller iPods or the auxiliary audio input. Though it does offer a little (and proper) left-right channel stereo separation, it’s lacking in detail across the entire spectrum, and not a great performer on treble, midrange or bass. Boosting the volume a little above standard listening levels slightly improves the treble, but the louder i188 gets, the more midrange and bass distortion you hear. It’s basically a classic example of “okay” sound - nothing special even for the price.
Given the tremendous number of iPod docking speaker options that we saw at CES and Macworld earlier this year, it’s obvious that there are going to be lots of bland-sounding iPod speakers out there, differentiated mostly on looks and price. Right now, we’re mostly interested in seeing how cheap the good speakers will get, rather than how little we can pay for unimpressive ones, and unfortunately iLuv’s i188 falls into the latter category - it’s not one we’d recommend, even at its low price. Since the company has many other speakers forthcoming, though, we’re looking forward to seeing how its other, more deluxe offerings will sound, and fairly confident that its aesthetic design skills will pay off in one of those models.