After seeing and hearing hundreds, perhaps even a thousand different iPod speakers, it takes something special to truly interest us. Most of the systems we test are some combination of me-too, overly expensive, or functionally problematic, so we rejoice when a company comes up with an interesting new idea, sells it at a reasonable price, and doesn’t screw up anything in the implementation. iHome’s iH15 ColorTunes LED Color Changing Speaker for iPod ($60) is a prime example.
Understand going in that iH15 is designed for a very specific purpose: though it works with all of the Dock Connector-equipped iPods and is affordable enough to pair with any of them, it’s unquestionably best suited to the iPod nano and its owners. The primary feature of what starts out looking like a white plastic cube is a color-shifting light system that’s found inside, emitting a soft glow that shifts from orange to yellow to green, purple, blue, pink, and red, visible faintly under normal light, and charmingly noticeable in a darker room. Separate buttons control the system’s audio power, lighting power, and volume, so you can have the speakers off but the lighting on, and vice-versa.
Using the “color” button, you can either set iH15 to shift colors slowly, quickly and abruptly, or not at all, staying fixed on a color that matches your iPod nano, or turning off all colors in favor of standard white. Given the “nanochromatic” marketing campaign of the fourth-generation nano, and the similar colors of its second-generation predecessor, even leaving the little unit constantly fading between tones is pretty cool—something close to magic for younger users. Even as somewhat jaded adults, there was no doubt in our minds the first time we saw it in person that it could have been enlarged, used as a living room display piece, and sold for a higher price; iHome’s choice to make it small, affordable, and fun was a brilliant one.
Given that it sells for only $60, our sonic expectations were somewhat tempered by the reality that many companies would sell something with these audio drivers alone for that price. iHome interrupts the white plastic with three silver-accented speaker drivers—left and right active drivers, plus a front-mounted passive subwoofer—plus a silver base and a silver and white iPod dock on top. Thanks to the three-driver array, iH15 performs music in a midrange-heavy fashion with enough bass warmth to satisfy young listeners, but relatively little treble and an only price-acceptable overall level of distortion. The system can be turned up loud, but suffers as it goes higher; we’d describe the audio as typical clock radio quality, perhaps a little better thanks to the passive bass driver, but not spectacular.
For $60, the good but not great sonic performance isn’t surprising, though it is one of two factors that modestly detracted from our overall rating. The other is the absence of any intensity control for the lighting system, which we’d frankly want only to increase its power over the current levels rather than to dim it further. Right now, the iH15 feels like a soft mood light that can sit on a nightstand or desk, but with the option to kick up the brightness a bit, it would be even better. Ditto on the speakers, and ditto again on the potential inclusion of other features—a classic iHome clock radio, a remote, and so on, all things that would add to the price and transform this simple little cube into something much bigger.
iHome needn’t do any of these things; thanks to its great design, pricing, and overall execution, iH15 just happens to inspire visions of all the other cool speakers that could be made with similarly clean designs and color-shifting technology. It is without question the single most interesting iPod speaker we’ve seen in the past year, an iconic little sound cube that’s worthy of our high recommendation.
Company and Price
Company: SDI Technologies/iHome
Compatible: iPod 4G, 5G, classic, mini, nano, touch