Pros: A relatively inexpensive single-alarm clock radio for the iPod, with good sound quality for the price, an included remote control, and a light text on dark background display – visually better than some competing options for light-sensitive sleepers. Can switch between US, EU and Japan tuning modes, strong radio performance without external antennae.
Cons: On-screen text, other than clock, is on the small side. Lack of button lighting and button pressing automation make this somewhat more inconvenient to use in the dark and in other situations than comparably priced alternatives. Known but potentially limited issues with remote and unit performance and reliability. Square shape and size take up a lot of nightstand space.
Sold in two versions – the JiMS-200 with a first-generation iPod shuffle dock, and the JiMS-190 without – the Docking Digital Music System for iPod is a low-priced clock radio with a central, Universal-like iPod dock, AM/FM radio tuning and presets, and included Infrared remote control. Both systems feature twin aluminum cone speakers, an LCD screen that uses light blue numbers instead of a light blue background, a single alarm, a retractable headphone port cable for use with other devices, and an included detachable FM wire antenna. They also both feature an unusual dock that allows you to move the Dock Connector off to the left for nano connection – the first such dock we’ve seen. Besides the added iPod shuffle dock, the 200 version includes 15 AM and 15 FM preset stations, while 190 has 10 of each.
Because New Jersey’s iHome created and continues to dominate the iPod-ready clock radio speaker market, its iH-series products have become the benchmarks by which other options are judged. The iHome iH5 (iLounge rating: A-) was first to create a true nightstand-ready alarm clock with both an iPod dock and AM/FM tuning, and its sequels iH6 and iH7 (iLounge rating: A-) added dual alarm clocks, a more user-adjustable face dimmer, and station preset buttons to the mix. Whether or not you like these offerings, virtually all of the alternatives we’ve seen aren’t as well-made for their respective prices, and many are surprisingly poor when you get beyond their similar-looking shells and actually listen to the sound they put out.
Over the last month, we’ve spent some time with two low-priced iHome alternatives – Excalibur’s iBlaster Clock Radio/Alarm Clock ($80) and Jensen’s JiMS-190 Docking Digital Music System for iPod ($70) – each undercutting the price of iHome’s $100 iH6 and $150 iH7 by at least $20-30. Because of recent iHome price shifts, however, they’re both priced on par with the earlier iH5, which now can be had for $80 at many major retailers, as it’s a few steps behind the iH7 and Apple Store-exclusive iH6 in features. For that reason, our short reviews of the Excalibur and Jensen radios offer direct comparisons to the iH5 rather than its newer, more expensive brethren; just bear in mind that spending a little more will get you more features.
Whereas most of the clock radios out there use rounded rectangular shapes, the JiMS-190 is one of few in the shape of a rounded square, measuring nearly 8.25” on each side – a fairly large footprint for an iPod clock radio. Inside the all-black cabinet are an AM/FM clock radio with 10 presets per band, twin aluminum cone speakers, an LCD screen that uses light blue numbers instead of a light blue background – arguably the unit’s biggest selling point for light-sensitive sleepers. The screen’s numbers – time on the left, month and day on the right – are smaller than iHome’s, but still readable from a distance.
There’s also a single alarm, a retractable headphone port cable (with a dial for retraction) that lets the system play audio from other devices, and a rear-mounted screw for use with an included, detachable FM wire antenna. Interestingly, we didn’t find the wire antenna necessary – the unit’s AM and FM tuning performance was fully up to snuff with iHome’s best when using only its internal hardware.
It’s also worth a brief note that the JiMS-190 comes in a modestly enhanced, slightly more expensive ($80) version called the JiMS-200, which adds to the prior feature list a first-generation iPod shuffle dock and 5 extra presets for both AM and FM tuning. As that shuffle’s been discontinued, we opted not to review the more expensive version, but it’s out there. Both JiMS versions also feature an unusual iPod dock that allows you to move the Dock Connector off to the left for a properly centered nano connection – the first such dock we’ve seen.
By comparison with the middling iBlaster, the JiMS-190 is generally a better budget clock radio system, though it’s not without its own issues. Its speakers are still a step or two under the better-balanced ones in iHome’s iH5 and iH6, lacking the apparent dynamic range and richness of bass, but they’re clearer and more energetic than the ones in iBlaster, providing superior apparent stereo separation and detail throughout the mids and highs. In the big picture, we felt that iHome’s speakers sounded the most like a step above typical clock radios, while Jensen’s were roughly on par, and Excalibur’s below, but unless you’re doing direct A-to-B-to-C comparisons, you’ll find the JiMS-190’s sound to be more than acceptable for the price.
Aside from its LCD screen, which as noted before uses light text on a dark background to avoid night-time illumination of your room, Jensen also sidesteps one of Excalibur’s other light-related issues by using plain, unilluminated buttons. If you’re light-sensitive and don’t like bright, glowing buttons, this will be fine, but if you need to change settings in the dark, you’ll be entirely out of luck. There are 13 total buttons on the unit’s top, providing control over the unit’s single alarm, a system-wide power button, a snooze and light button which can fully turn on or off the otherwise unadjustable front screen, and somewhat confusingly labeled “CH,” “TUN,” “Function,” and “Mode” buttons.
As it turns out, Mode lets you toggle through USA, European, and Japanese tuning modes, waking to iPod, radio, or the buzzer, and other clock settings, while Function steps between the system’s AM, FM, iPod, and auxiliary inputs, each indicated in very small lettering on the screen. CH lets you select presets, and TUN provides incremental FM or AM tuning, regrettably in .1 FM increments, but thankfully in 10 kHz AM increments, unlike iBlaster. While all of these features – and the single alarm – work as expected, better labels and more automation would have helped the JiMS-190 feel a bit more user-friendly. Unlike iHome’s systems, which automatically activate their speakers when an iPod’s connected and playing audio, or do the same whenever you hit the radio button, the JiMS-190 requires you to turn the system on, and then Function button your way over to the radio or iPod, even if the system’s not doing anything else. It’s a small inconvenience, but one you’ll notice all the time.
The JiMS-190’s remote provides access to all of the unit’s top button features, and is supposed to offer three extra controls: track backwards, forwards, and play/pause for the iPod. Unfortunately, the latter three buttons didn’t work properly on our remote – an issue we’re aware that some of our readers are also having, and the major reason for our limited recommendation here. Thankfully, we did not have any problem charging our iPods – any of them, from 4G to 5G, mini to nano – with the unit, another issue suggested by a reader, and our unit has continued to work without problem for a full month, unlike another reader’s failed one-day-old unit. There may be differing quality control concerns from unit to unit or batch to batch, a reason you should purchase this unit only from a retailer with a good return policy.
Overall, we thought that JiMS-190 was a pretty good iPod docking clock radio for the price – on sound and radio quality, it’s actually a superb one if you can find it for the sub-$30 price some users have seen it discounted to – and it surely would have rated higher if we didn’t have concerns over its short-term remote performance and long-term reliability. As-is, our limited recommendation suggests that it’s a fine option if you’re looking for a low-priced iPod clock radio, particularly one without a bright front display, and willing to take a risk on this one’s out-of-box performance and longevity. Bear in mind that its unusual shape and size will require a bit of extra room on your nightstand, as well.
Company and Price
Company: Jensen/Spectra Merchandising International
Prices: $60-70 (JiMS-190), $80 (JiMS-200)
Compatible: iPod 4G, 5G, mini, nano, shuffle*