As there are now dozens of portable iPod speakers out there, it’s becoming difficult for companies to substantially differentiate their products from competitors. iHome, itself the maker of 30-some distinct models of iPod speakers, has focused on offering budget-priced home and portable models, most priced at $150 or less, and many at $100 or less. The company’s latest portable design iH27 ($100) doesn’t stray far from its past formula, which is to deliver competent audio performance and a simple alarm clock for a fair price.
Basically, iH27 uses a similar formula to Logitech’s $150 mm50 and Pure-Fi Anywhere speakers, placing an array of four speaker drivers—two active, and two passive—behind a metal grille and iPod dock. This is noteworthy mostly in that a major differentiator between the best of the $150 and $100 iPod speaker categories has previously been the presence of 4 good drivers in $150 models versus only 2 or 3 in the $100 models, and the cheaper iH27 has walked over that line with generally positive results. iHome also includes a button to engage SRS WOW, a faux spatializer, which resembles the functionality of Logitech’s optional StereoXL feature. Turning this feature on is seriously recommended, as it takes iH27’s default flat presentation of audio and spices it up with a combination of frequency boosts and modest echoing, creating sound that’s livelier and more dynamic.
Four speakers aside, iHome’s feature differentiator versus comparably priced portable systems is a blue-backlit clock face on the base, which serves as a timepiece and single, simple alarm clock.
Like iHome’s earlier alarm clock screens, iH27’s has a bright background and dark numbers rather than the other way around, attenuated with a multi-level adjustable dimmer, and gives you the time, an icon to indicate whether the alarm is active, and another to let you know that you’ve engaged the system’s SRS/WOW audio enhancer. No calendar is included. Simple volume, single alarm and play/pause controls are found next to the dock, which ships without a remote control but can be used with one that’s sold separately, and time adjustments for the alarm and standard clock are accomplished by holding down their respective setting buttons and then using hour and minute buttons to advance forward. These features are all stripped down from iHome’s past and current desktop clocks, but they all work as expected; when an iPod’s connected, music plays softly, then louder until you hit the snooze or alarm button, with a beeper as an alternative when an iPod’s not on the dock.
Power to the flat-folding unit is provided by an included wall cube, and though iH27 can run off of four AA batteries, they aren’t included. As with iHome’s other products, the clock is kept backed up with an included watch battery regardless of whether it’s connected to a wall or left in its simple included carrying case. Three dock adapters and an auxiliary audio-in cable are also packed in to let you use other iPod models, as well as non-docking devices, with the system.
So is iH27 a breakthrough product? That depends on your perspective.
When compared against Memorex’s value-packed iTrek, which comes with a nicer carrying case and an integrated FM radio, the iH27 seems somewhat short on features and frills until you actually turn it on and start playing music through it. There’s clearly a difference in the audio, such that iH27 sounds cleaner and a bit better in the treble than the iTrek even without SRS/WOW engaged, though both systems suffer from a flatness that better portable systems like Logitech’s easily eclipse. But when SRS/WOW turns on, iH27 cements its audio lead over the iTrek in all ways except bass, where Memorex’s design and bass boost feature product more pronounced, though not cleaner low-end sound. It’s obvious that the two systems offer different choices: iH27 sounds better and offers the integrated alarm clock, while iTrek’s radio and superior, more easily toted carrying case offer alternative value. Both systems tap out at the same volume level, which is fine for typical listening, but not capable of filling a large room.
Though it’s surprising how much better iH27 becomes with SRS/WOW turned on, the system doesn’t surpass the performance of Logitech’s Pure-Fi Anywhere, which is a little cleaner, richer, and superior in the creation of a wide soundstage. The difference isn’t huge—a credit to iHome’s use of similar, though not superior speaker drivers—but it’s noticeable.