Review post September, 2006 by Jacob Spindel, Chief iPod Correspondent
With Apple's web site alone listing nearly 50 different current competitors in the iPod speaker Dock market, it's pretty easy for some models to go almost completely unnoticed by iPod owners - and frankly, some models are better off not being noticed. Although you might think from reading the box that Radian Technologies' iBlast is just another carbon copy of features you've seen a million times before, the box somehow doesn't even mention the feature that I found most impressive - in fact, it is one that I have practically begged for on other models. After using the iBlast, I'm starting to think that someone is listening to what consumers want after all.
The iBlast features an iPod dock connector with a 6 Watt speaker on each side, and also includes a standard 3.5 mm input for iPod shuffles and non-iPod devices. It is available in both black and white versions, and it also includes custom-fit adaptors to make various models of iPods fit securely into the docking bay. Measuring just 9.1 x 4.7 x 3.5 inches and under 2 pounds, the iBlast is compact, light, and easy to carry. Okay, so I can hear you snoring already... none of these features is tremendously unique or original. But now it's time for a wake-up call.
So what is the single feature that has heightened my opinion of the iBlast and made me consider it an almost revolutionary device? An extended Dock connector. That's right, the Dock connector is slightly taller than the Dock connectors on all other iPod docking products I've ever seen - and I'm thrilled about it. This is because the extended Dock connector finally makes it possible to keep your iPod in its case while it is docked in the unit. Whereas previously, the only case I was ever able to keep on my iPod nano while docking it was the JAVOEdge, the iBlast's design enables you to use it with a wide variety of popular iPod cases (including my beloved Contour Case). Although it doesn't really sound like a big deal, the fact is that many users (probably including me) don't really care if a speaker dock has better bass than ever or a fancier design than ever, if the dock is too inconvenient to be worth using. Having to constantly put on and remove an iPod case is certainly inconvenient, and many users have a case they like enough that they would not be willing to give it up in favor of a different case just so they can use a speaker dock.
Thankfully, Radian has included the ability to both sync and charge an iPod docked in the iBlast, rather than sinking a good idea by cutting too many corners. The unit's controls are sparse, consisting of a power button and two volume buttons that look like screws for holding the device together - so much so, in fact, that it took me a moment to realize what they were. The iBlast connects to your computer via a standard USB cable (which is included) rather than an iPod dock cable. The device does not support Firewire, but this is really only a problem if you have a third-generation iPod (which can sync over USB but can only charge via Firewire) or an older iMac that has Firewire but only USB 1.1. Somewhat more unfortunate is the iBlast's inability to be powered by batteries: It doesn't have a built-in rechargeable battery, nor does it have a place to insert any other type of battery. The AC adaptor is included, but if you don't have a place to plug it in, you may be out of luck. I also wish that the speakers had grilles instead of being unprotected.
Even though the smallest nuances of a device's design can end up making a huge difference, the sound output quality is obviously still very important. Overall, I found that the iBlast had a strong clarity level that resulted in an overall sound that was pleasant to listen to, albeit a little weak in the bass department.
Pop/Rock: The singers' voices were powerful and impressive, although the background music was slightly lacking in bass.
Hip-Hop/Rap: Since the iBlast's bass isn't quite as strong as some larger devices, I expected rap to be its weakest category; however, since the bass in this genre of music tends to be a bit exaggerated anyway, I actually found that rap songs achieved a strong enough bass level to create a satisfying sound anyway.
Country: This category fared quite similarly to the pop/rock section, with a great emphasis on the singer's voices but a little less bass than I might have preferred.
A cappella/vocal: A cappella music tends to benefit more from strong clarity than strong bass, so this category was right up the iBlast's alley. I found that a cappella music worked well in my testing.
Podcast / Spoken Word / TV: Podcasts are rarely intended to give a truly symphonic experience in the first place, but the iBlast maintained a level of clarity that definitely got the job done here.
Classical: Although the iBlast doesn't have the highest level of detail I've ever heard, even most of the more subtle aspects of classical music were noticeable when played on the device.
Ultimately, a few extra millimeters on the iBlast's dock connector truly made the difference between "Yet Another iPod Dock" and "Wow!" for me. The sound quality was also above average, although not by a very wide margin. I would've liked a little stronger bass and some form of portable power option, but let's face it - the ability to use an iPod case and speaker dock simultaneously is just plain cool.
Pros: Compact, lightweight, attractive design; good sound quality; includes syncing and charging capability; competitively priced; extended connector so you can dock an iPod in the iBlast without removing most iPod cases (!!).
Cons: Can't be battery-powered; slightly weak bass; speakers lack grilles.