Reviewed March, 2006 by Jacob Spindel, Chief iPod Correspondent
I know, I know. Sometimes iPod and Mac people instinctively obey Steve Jobs almost to the point of being like a bizarre game of "Simon Says." So if you started wanting the iPod Hi-Fi as soon as Jobs touted it as being a cheaper replacement for fancier devices, I don't blame you. Unfortunately, even "cheaper" still means about $350, for the Hi-Fi. Considering this is more than the cost of some iPods, users may find themselves scrambling for a cheaper alternative. Today, I take a look at DLO's iBoom dock for iPods with Dock connectors, which lists at a very impressive $99.99, considering the level of features it offers.
The appearance of the iBoom is fairly normal by iPod speaker dock standards: left speaker area, right speaker area, and a Dock connector bay in the center. However, the iBoom is more rounded and "stylized" than some of its competitors. It measures 12.5 inches by 8 inches by 6 inches, making it compact enough to use the built-in handle without making it too small to produce good sound. Each of the speaker areas contains a woofer (80 Hz frequency response) and a tweeter (20 KHz frequency response), with the combination of all four speakers resulting in a total output of 20 watts. The volume is controlled by an analog dial rather than plus and minus buttons, which will likely be appreciated by users who are not very accustomed to high-tech gadgets.
The most unique feature of the iBoom lies directly below the Docking bay: an FM radio. The radio features digital tuning with a brightly backlit display for the current station, as well as two memory buttons for stored stations. I found it slightly strange that the radio features a separate power switch, even though the unit already has a button to switch between iPod mode and radio mode, and the radio won't function when the main power is off. However, the radio is still very simple to use and is similar in interface to most car stereos' radios, which makes the iBoom's radio a valuable addition that most speaker Docks don't have—even the iPod HiFi requires the separate purchase of the iPod FM remote for it to have radio functionality.
The unit can be powered by the included AC adaptor or by 6 "D" batteries, and when it is receiving power and has an iPod in its Docking bay, it will, of course, charge the iPod. The AC adaptor is built into the battery compartment, which makes it easy to store, but also makes it virtually impossible to keep the battery door attached while using the AC adaptor.
As for what's missing, there is no iPod syncing capability, even though it uses an iPod Dock connector, probably because it is intended as a "Boom Box"-type product rather than a home Docking solution. It also does not support AM radio, and it does not include a remote. Considering the price range, though, I think this list of potential "shortcomings" is impressively tiny.
Overall, I am impressed with the sound quality of the iBoom, especially the volume, which can reach a very loud level without sounding distorted. This makes it a good choice for social gatherings in addition to personal use. Here's how it fares with specific types of music:
Rock/pop: With traditional rock and pop music, I found that the iBoom tended to slightly emphasize the high-range tones of the singers as well as the bass tones, while de-emphasizing the mid-range just a little, compared to what I'm used to. This produced a different type of sound output than you usually hear for this type of music, but it is a high-quality output that some users will prefer over "the usual."
A cappella/vocal: Similarly to my experiences with rock and pop, I sensed the iBoom gravitating to the lower and higher pitch ranges rather than the mid-range. This worked well for most a cappella music, where the bass singer is often underappreciated.
Podcasts: In contrast to most audio types, podcasts can actually be harmed by a strong bass, since speech can become difficult to understand. Although this has been an issue with some speaker systems that have even stronger bass than the iBoom, the iBoom's bass provided a good compromise of enhancing music while keeping podcasts easy to understand.
Rap/R&B: The speakers provided good-quality bass output, though not the strongest ever heard, which is always helpful to R&B and rap music. However, what stood out even more in the case of the iBoom was the very clear, crisp percussion, which added a level of excitement to the audio, especially with faster music.
Country: When trying country music, I noticed an especially high degree of "separation" compared to most speakers—that is, I heard the guitar, background players, and singer each very clearly and fully, instead of feeling like it was just one combined sound in which the individual components would be difficult to spot. This made it easier to notice subtle nuances of the music.
Room For Boom?
In the crowded market of iPod accessories, I am frankly running out of space on my desk for them all. So does the iBoom justify a place in your household (and budget)? I think users looking for a "Boom Box" device will lament the lack of AM radio, whereas those looking for an iPod Dock will be a bit frustrated by the lack of syncing options—but other than that, the iBoom has impressive sound quality, a form-factor that is well designed and easily portable, and a virtually unbeatable price. If FM radio is more important to you than syncing ability, then these are the speakers for you.
Pros: Attractive and portable form factor; features FM radio; inexpensive; sound quality is well-rounded overall with good volume.
Cons: Would've been nice to have either AM radio or syncing capability (or both).