If you haven’t seen Sneak Peeks in The Free iPod Book, you’re missing out on some great advance looks at new iPod accessories. Until today, this was one of them: Oregon Scientific’s long-awaited iBall ($299.00) has finally arrived for review, and this special First Looks takes a look at its unique design and features.
Based on the same technology as the company’s device-agnostic Music Sphere, iBall consists of two primary parts: a large globe with three speakers inside, and a completely separate iPod docking station. Relative to other iPod speaker systems, the unique concept behind iBall is that the two components use wireless 2.4GHz technology to communicate with each other from a promised distance of up to 100 feet away, giving you the ability to dock your iPod next to your computer and control it from the completely portable speaker globe elsewhere in your home or office.
Each iBall box comes with a huge – and we mean huge – assortment of different items. In addition to the speaker globe and dock, you have two power supplies (one for each major component) and a set of included rechargeable batteries for the globe. When you want to place the speaker globe near an outlet, you can recharge it, but it’s designed to run off of battery power most of the time. There’s even a cleaning cloth (not shown) so that you can keep the iBall parts sparkling wherever you use them.
A mounting bracket and white box of mounting tools lets you place iBall on a wall of your choice. A small wrench lets you tighten screws into iBall’s bottom, while wall screws and the white plastic mount go into the wall.
The included dock is substantially more fully-featured than had originally been expected. It begins with seven different dock inserts to let you customize its top to your desired iPod. (The company will send an iPod nano-compatible insert to the first customers, and include it in boxes thereafter. An iPod shuffle adapter will be sold separately.) It also includes its own power adapter so that it can communicate wirelessly with the speakers, as well as ports for synchronization with your computer, video and audio out, and audio in. Audio in permits the iBall speaker to choose from two different audio sources rather than just working with one iPod, making the system very similar to the three-input Music Sphere.
The 8-inch diameter single speaker enclosure will remind many people of the original Apple iMac computer – it deftly uses clear and opaque components to create a cool, modern look. You will be able to buy multiple iBall units and synchronize them with the same dock, but you can’t separate the left and right balls to get true stereo effects – each unit is individually performing in stereo.
That’s because each iBall enclosure consists of left and right channel speakers, as well as a larger ported subwoofer in the top center. Bass response can be made robust, and controlled – along with treble – by using buttons on the speaker’s top.
An integrated, backlit LCD screen displays a clock and battery meter at all times, lighting up with information about frequency and volume levels when the dock and speaker are both powered on.
The play/pause, track forward and backward buttons all appear iconically on the screen. Volume is indicated via bars that run from the left top of the screen to the right. To adjust bass and treble, you press a sound adjustment button, then ratchet up the bars found at the top of the screen. Oregon Scientific’s iconography here is a bit brainy, but music lovers may appreciate it.
We’ll have more to say on iBall in the days to come, including sound quality comparisons and wireless distance tests (initial opinions are positive). It’s expected to be available for pre-order early next week, with initial shipments in September and full availability in October.