Most of the speakers we review these days are in the $100-200 price range, and as a general rule, speakers that sell for $50 or less are designed for portability or pocketability. Tradeoffs we’re accustomed to seeing in small-sized, low-priced speakers include everything from the power — you typically supply either the wall adapter or the non-rechargeable batteries — to the potential lack of two or more speaker drivers, and of course, mediocre sound quality. Generally, you’re paying for convenience, and not getting a lot of performance for the dollar.
iHome’s new Capsule Sound iHM77 ($50) is a novel take on the pocket speaker genre. When Altec Lansing released Orbit-MP3, a $40 puck-like speaker with one large driver and space for you to insert your own three AAA batteries, we found the approach practical. iHM77 instead includes two smaller, dome-shaped speaker drivers with their own rechargeable batteries, a fabric carrying pouch, and a cord-managed combination USB power recharger and auxiliary audio cable.
There are a few interesting little tricks up iHM77’s sleeves. You can uncoil the cord to separate the speakers, keep them near one another, or even just carry only one around. Each 2” diameter speaker has a 1” driver inside with its own power switch and roughly six-hour rechargeable battery—a very unique trait—and there are magnets inside that hold them together in a 2.5”-wide clump. The design is smart, attractive, and available in three colors: black, red, and silver, each with soft touch rubber coating on the outside.
Each speaker stands 1.25” tall when it sits on a flat surface, but can be unscrewed to reveal a spring-loaded central tube that adds breathing room for what iHome describes as greater bass performance. When unscrewed, the speakers sit 1.75” tall, and there definitely is a little more body in the audio, though not enough to make a huge difference. In certain songs, we heard a bit more distortion with the speakers expanded; it’ll be your call as to whether to use them open or closed.
The only issue with iHM77’s value is its sonic performance. Rather than going with one large, relatively clear driver like the Altec design, iHome’s 1” drivers are roughly on par with the larger ones in Pacific Rim’s Cube Travel Speakers, which now go for $10—no kidding—including an AC adapter. iHM77’s somewhat smaller size and included batteries are its only advantages for iPod users over Cube, while iPhone users will notice that iHM77 is shielded against interference—neither EDGE nor 3G signals bothered the iHome product, but EDGE interference was extremely noticeable in Cube.
Ultimately, your choice of a tiny speaker will come down to whether you’re looking for something that optimizes size, pricing, power convenience, or sonic performance, and iHM77 definitely has its advantages: it’s small and relatively convenient for on-the-go use due to its integrated batteries, but a bit pricey for the sound quality you get, and the advantage of stereo separated sound is once again minimal for such small drivers. We’d call iHM77 a good option if you’re willing to pay a premium for a good, compact design, and accept less than fantastic audio.
Company and Price
Company: SDI Technologies/iHome
Compatible: All iPods, iPhones