Review: Sonic Impact i-Fusion Portable Speaker System
Pros: A smart hybrid of iPod speaker system and carrying case at an affordable price. Good sound quality for a portable system, with included rechargeable battery, power supply, iPod cradles and detachable hand strap. Includes synchronizing and charging dock for iPod.
Cons: Limited sound controls; no remote control; audio quality isn’t spectacular by comparison to comparable and lower-priced stationary systems.
Initially, we weren’t sure what to make of Sonic Impact’s new i-Fusion portable speaker system ($149.99), which is one of the most novel docking audio systems we’ve yet seen for the iPod. What looks like an Incase Travel Kit opens up with a zipper to reveal a set of four main speaker drivers and an iPod dock, all adorned with iPod-matching white plastic, chrome and metal mesh grilles, and a small handful of controls.
Sonic Impact has clearly thought i-Fusion through from a traveler’s perspective. Its enclosure doesn’t require you to carry around a separate case - it is its own case, and an iPod holder, besides. Two detachable straps on the hard reinforced ballistic nylon enclosure’s sides let you open the system to a completely flat position, but the default orientation is a 90-degree angle. A nice matching hand strap is included, and detachable if you don’t want to use it.
A compartment hidden between the speakers is large enough for any iPod to fit inside, so you won’t need to carry it separately. Then a second compartment on the bottom is large enough to hold your earbuds, as well as house a rechargeable battery. That’s right - a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery, which runs for around fifteen hours.
The case and charging convenience is as key to its appeal as any other factor in its design. If you’re going to be out for fewer than 15 hours worth of i-Fusion listening, you don’t bother with a power supply, spare batteries, or anything. You attach your iPod to one of four included plastic cradles, drop it into the first compartment (where it’s held in place), and pop it out of the compartment when you’re ready to listen to it, either with the speakers or earbuds. In this regard, it’s easier to carry and use than Altec Lansing’s more expensive inMotion iM3 speakers (iLounge rating: B+), and if you need more battery power, you just bring the included power adapter.
Recharging the battery is easy: the adapter plugs into a rubber-capped port on the unit’s left side. You’ll also notice an audio-in port for non-docking devices such as the iPod shuffle, earlier iPods, and other audio devices, as well as a pass-through Dock Connector port so that i-Fusion can interface with your computer. The port works regardless of whether the system’s turned on, which is great.
The controls are simple - arguably a little too much so. There are two volume buttons on either side of a switch that goes between “off” and “auto on.” A light in the center of the switch tells you if the speakers are off (red) or on (green), while a panel of five lights below it shows you battery status. If the battery’s full, one light appears on the right, moving left as the battery discharges. There aren’t any bass or treble controls, or a way to mute the speakers by pressing the volume buttons together - they’re either on or off.
In terms of sound quality, i-Fusion is pretty good, a third of the way between Altec Lansing’s iM3s and JBL’s substantially less expensive On Tour speakers (iLounge rating: A-) on the sound balance scale. It’s closer to the iM3s, which lean heavily towards bass, and not a surprise as Sonic Impact touts the unit’s inMotion-like MaxxBass sound technology. By comparison with On Tour, its sound is less crisp and tight, but it’s tighter and a bit more detailed than the iM3s. However, it doesn’t suffer from as much sound flattening or apparent distortion as the inMotions. Because we continue to prefer the sound of stationary audio systems that are priced comparably or lower than this one, we always note that we wouldn’t pick any portable system as our sole iPod speaker system, but i-Fusion represents a good compromise option if you’re on a budget.
Given its price tag and feature set, there was bound to be one thing missing from i-Fusion, and that’s a remote control. It’s a regrettable omission given that so many small speaker systems are now moving in that direction, and despite our own desire for bigger soundsystems, i-Fusion could otherwise wind up becoming someone’s sole iPod stereo system and dock. We wouldn’t be surprised if it does. It’s a well-designed combination of case and speakers that delivers a generally good value for the dollar, and thanks to its docking functionality, it’s equally well suited to home, commuting, and travel use.