The line between “budget” and “cheap” speakers can generally be drawn at the $100 price point — at a $100 retail price, good speaker designers can typically include enough quality components and features that most users won’t so much need as want something better. iHome is the master of $100 speakers, having debuted its first Apple-specific product at that price, and many of its best subsequent releases right there, as well. Today, we’re looking at two new iHome options at that price point: iBT4 is a wireless, battery-powered boombox with an integrated FM radio, and iBT25 is a wall-tethered but otherwise wireless system with fewer features and better sound quality. They look so completely different that they’re not likely to appeal to the same people, but we’re covering them together because of their functional and pricing overlap.
As their “iBT” names suggest, iBT4 and iBT25 are both part of iHome’s growing lineup of Bluetooth speakers, featuring dead-simple wireless pairing for iOS devices and the latest iPod nano. iBT25 is a Bluetooth version of iW5, a neutrally-designed AirPlay speaker iHome showed off in 2012 and then cancelled before release. With a target price point of $150, iW5 was slated to be iHome’s least expensive AirPlay speaker, but the company’s decision to eliminate Apple’s pricey and not particularly thrilling wireless chipset in favor of Bluetooth enabled iBT25’s price to drop as well. This was a smart move.
The black plastic unit’s shape may seem familiar to users of certain past Boston Acoustics speakers, but it’s uncommon for iHome: a 9.8” by 4.9” rounded rectangular front that tapers down to a 7.75” by 2.8” size in the back, across 4.4” of angled depth. Power and volume buttons form an elongated gunmetal-colored pill on the top, while power, aux-in, and USB charging ports are on the back alongside a Bluetooth pairing button and blue indicator light. A larger blue light is found behind the fabric front facade, which can impressively be swapped between included black or silver panels. Like iBT4, iBT25 includes a 3.5mm audio cable should you need to use it with a Bluetooth-less device, but wireless pairing is both painless and reliable.
Whereas iBT4 was designed to get loud and go anywhere while compromising on stereo separation, iBT25 is supposed to sound good indoors. Twin 2.5” drivers are visible once you pull off the speaker grille, and while that’s nowhere near as much audio hardware as we’ve seen in top $100 Bluetooth speakers, iBT25 is a solid performer. Its peak volume level is a little lower than the iBT4 boombox—still enough sound to roughly fill a small room—though at that level, you’ll begin to notice some distortion.
Thankfully, there aren’t serious issues below that point. Like most two-driver speakers, iBT25 has to compromise on how much of the audio spectrum it can replicate, and as is iHome’s norm, it focuses largely on mids and bass, with just enough treble to let you hear high-pitched details. However, this system puts out clearer sound than we’re accustomed to hearing from $100 iHome clock radios, suggesting that the company put a little extra cash into the audio hardware here.
At their $100 price points, iBT4 and iBT25 are appealingly cut-down versions of earlier iHome products that are good enough to stand on their own. While neither is amazing when considered in absolute terms, iBT25 effectively brings some of iHome’s iW-series industrial design finesse down to a lower than ever price point—with good stereo sound—and iBT4 achieves a similar feat with the more polarizing yet separately popular iP4 design. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either one of these speakers to users who like their aesthetics; they each have enough quality and versatility to merit B+ ratings and our strong general recommendation.
Company and Price
Company: SDI Technologies/iHome
Compatible: All Bluetooth-Capable iPads, iPhones + iPods