When we reviewed iHome’s iHM77 “Capsule Sound” speakers this time last year, we were generally pleased by the overall value proposition: the $50 package offered tiny twin left- and right-channel speakers that used tiny magnets to compact into a small egg shape, providing 6 hours of rechargeable battery power in your choice of three colors. Now iHome is offering a new version called iHM79 ($50) for the same price, with changes that generally rather than universally fall into the positive category.
Let’s get the only potentially controversial change out of the way first: iHM79 is bigger than its predecessor, now using 2.5-inch diameter speakers rather than 2-inch ones, with a compacted width of roughly 4.75 inches versus 2.5 inches—a non-trivial physical change that iHome has used both to improve the speaker drivers and the strength of the housing. The egg-like shape of the prior speakers when compacted has transformed into twin lipstick-like edged towers with metal grilles rather than the old plastic metal X’s. A twist of the base exposes springy plastic compartments that form bass chambers, increasing iHM79’s speakers’ heights from roughly 2.3” tall to 3” each.
On a positive note, the new speakers are a little better than the ones in iHM77: though both systems put out fairly flat-sounding renditions of songs, iHM79 lets music play slightly louder, and at average to above-average volumes, it sounds a little clearer, with enhanced treble. The repeated words “a little” are deliberate, however, and the reason for the potential controversy: if you’re really in need of portable speakers, iHM79 doesn’t improve as much sonically as its size increase might suggest. There’s still distortion when the speakers hit the 80% point of an iPhone’s or iPod’s volume slider, and at best, the sound is more an improvement in amplitude than fidelity over the integrated speaker of an iPhone 3G/3GS. That said, make no mistake: iHM79 offers better sound than iHM77 at no additional charge, but they do occupy more space, so if you’re really pressed for room in your bag, the iHM77 is a more efficient option.
Other changes are almost all good. iHome still includes rechargeable roughly 6-hour batteries in each of the speaker units, and you can turn one or both on as preferred given that each has its own power switch. The new switches are a little easier to activate, and the blue power indicator lights are more subtly and attractively integrated, too. Soft touch rubber has given way to matte plastic, and everything looks nicer than before.
Last year’s rubber bone-style cable management system has been replaced here, too: the new hybrid audio and mini-USB charging cable is thick and rubbery, with a simple clasp near the USB plug that can hold everything else together. The only part of the package that has received a downgrade is the carrying bag, which looks and feels like soft cloth but no longer has a spring-loaded lock to keep the drawstring top closed. Virtually no one will care.
Overall, our impression is that the iHM79 is a good miniature speaker system with only one caveat: whereas the iHM77 deserved its “Capsule Sound” billing, iHM79 makes size compromises that achieve modest sonic benefits while requiring additional space. If sound quality is more important to you than compactness, iHM79 is a better pick than iHM77 for the same price, but if size is your primary consideration, iHM77 delivers most of the same experience as iHM79 in a package that consumes less room. Both systems are worthy of our general-level recommendation.
Company and Price
Company: SDI Technologies/iHome
Compatible: All iPods, iPhones Except iPod shuffle 3G