Pros: A substantial competitor to semi-portable speaker systems such as Bose’s SoundDock, featuring roughly equivalent overall power, bass, and sound balance, an infrared remote control, and an iPod dock that both charges and synchronizes. More affordable than SoundDock and competing options such as Altec’s iM7s, as well.
Cons: Some treble and high-frequency noise issues may limit discerning listeners to certain volume ranges; amplifier has pretty audible noise when speakers advance upwards from average listening levels. Small interface and remote oddities; FireWire and USB cables aren’t supplied.
It’s hard to overestimate the impact that Bose’s SoundDock had on the iPod speaker making business. With a $299 price point and more substantial footprint than any speakers previously developed for the iPod, SoundDock – and Bose – essentially declared that serious audio professionals should start competing for iPod customers. But they also gave less well-established companies plenty of room to compete on price, features, and sound quality.
More because of its price point than its industrial design, we really wanted to love Ignitek’s iCruiser Speaker System ($129.99). If you’ve seen Ignitek’s huge iCarrier (iLounge rating: B), you’ll largely recognize the front of iCruiser, which from a distance appears to have six drivers spread across left and right channels, a central resizeable iPod charging and audio dock, and an array of six buttons, a multicolored LED indicator, and an infrared receiver. As it turns out, there are actually only four front drivers; two are dummies for cosmetic purposes only, a somewhat odd touch that admittedly does makes iCruiser look better than it might have.
Like iCarrier, iCruiser’s dock uses a very simple system for resizing. Rather than making iPod-specific bottom molds, Ignitek has created rubber pegs and a rubberized back plate that can be inserted or removed based on the iPod(s) you own. It’s a simple solution, but it works. There’s also a hard plastic cover for the integrated Dock Connector so that you can drop an iPod shuffle or Dock Connector-less early iPod between the speakers. In that case, audio is brought through the iPod’s headphone jack into iCarrier’s back using an included audio cable. You can also use this minijack-to-minijack cable to connect iCarrier to any other audio device.
You’ll also notice that iCruiser’s back has a few surprises, starting with a large integrated subwoofer. Large is, of course, a relative term given that Ignitek’s iCarrier included a huge floor-standing subwoofer, but this one is pretty big by semi-portable iPod speaker standards, and is given significant internal and external breathing room thanks to an extension of iCruiser’s rear enclosure. There are also mini-USB and standard FireWire ports on the unit’s back, allowing you to place iCruiser on your computer desk and use it as a charging and synchronizing dock and audio system for your iPod. We were able to make both FireWire and USB connections to a docked iPod regardless of whether iCruiser’s power supply was plugged in, though we had to supply our own cables; the unit doesn’t come with them.
Ignitek also includes an infrared remote control with the unit that’s identical to the iCarrier unit but for its paint job – almost entirely glossy white, with a silver top and gray rubber buttons for all the standard features: track forward and back, volume up and down, play/pause, mute, and system power off. Two AAA batteries, which are also included, power the remote and help it control the iPod reliably from a distance of thirty feet – a major positive in our book. The only problem is that the remote requires line of sight access to the iPod, which isn’t an issue with the newer and better RF-based remotes we’ve reviewed.
The white and gray design of all of the components gives iCruiser a more polished look than the top of iCarrier, which was on the fine edge of looking cheap, and contrasted with that unit’s nicer metal and polished plastic bottom portion. While not the match of SoundDock or its more value-packed Altec Lansing rival inMotion iM7 (iLounge rating: A-) in class, it holds its own, and is better than okay in this regard.
Whether you’ll think as much of its sound is a question mark. Ignitek has done two things right and a few things wrong. They’ve delivered full-bodied sound that while unadjustable by the user in treble or bass, is similar to that of the SoundDock in general balance at “normal” listening levels. In other words, there’s ample bass to satisfy 95% of listeners, and enough detail that no one but an audiophile would complain. And they’ve accomplished this – insert lack of audiophile surprise here – at under half the SoundDock’s price. All very good – typical customers will generally be happy.
But three high-frequency issues caught our attention. First, at low volumes, the unit’s treble and mid-treble response isn’t too impressive. Unlike companies that force you to turn up the speakers to hear the low notes, Ignitek makes you do this to hear the high ones. By the time you’re at a “louder than quiet room” listening level, it sounds like the SoundDock, but below that, it’s a bit imbalanced. Truthfully, this didn’t bug us that much – we were more fixated on amplifier noise the speakers put out when they were supposed to be dead silent. It’s high-pitched static, quite noticeable, and completely absent from the SoundDock. The louder the volume gets, the louder the sound gets – again, completely absent from the SoundDock. And, as is the case with most of the inexpensive speakers we’ve tested, distortion begins to become noticeable, largely in the treble, as the speakers move upwards from “average” volumes.
There are also a few comparatively minor but slightly annoying interface issues with iCruiser, as well. The remote’s power button is more unpredictable than the rest for some reason, and doesn’t turn off the iPod when it turns off the speakers. Adding to that, the system’s apparently been programmed to ignore iPod controls once the power is off, so you’ll need to turn the iPod off, then the speakers.
Whenever we review speakers in a comparative – and admittedly somewhat theoretical – way, we always have to interject practicality into the equation by asking one major question: will the average person care, or not? With iCruiser, the answer is maybe. The average person does not put five sets of speakers next to one another as we do during testing. He or she probably doesn’t care about the specifics of sound signature so long as something doesn’t sound terrible for specific personal applications.
From that perspective, iCruiser is better for some applications than others. It’s not our top pick for high-volume or high-quality reproduction in its price range, but if you like bass and are buying it to listen at normal volume levels, its noise and distortion issues mightn’t bother you at all. You’ll also find it quite capable of generating adequate quality sound at higher volumes – not the match of the iM7 or SoundDock, but then, not at those prices, either. It does outperform Altec Lansing’s vaguely comparable inMotion iM3 system (iLounge rating: B+), but then, the iM3’s key selling point is a smaller size with true portability, which iCruiser lacks. Because of this difference, they’re not directly comparable, but they’re otherwise similar in features.
That leads us to the following qualified conclusion, and our limited recommentation: if you’re looking for an affordable semi-portable speaker system with a good remote control, don’t plan to take it out of the house, and aren’t treble or noise-conscious, you should consider iCruiser as a viable option. As with both of Ignitek’s earlier speaker systems, iCruiser has all of the marketing bullet points it needs to be a success – all it needs is some fine-tuning in the technical execution and industrial design to be a major-league contender.
Company and Price
Compatible: iPod 1G*, 2G*, 3G, 4G/photo/color, iPod mini, iPod shuffle*