The first thing I noticed when using the iCruiser is how well the iPod bay is designed. It includes rubberized inserts for every Dock-based iPod model (including the nano and the iPod video 5G), which are easy to use and fit comfortably, rather than requiring you to apply a lot of force like some other products. Even if you have a device without a Dock Connector, such as the iPod shuffle, you can use the line-in audio port to connect virtually any audio equipment to the iCruiser.
You can sync your Dock-based iPod when it is placed in the iCruiser's bay, but instead of including a pass-through port to an iPod Dock cable, it instead includes standard USB 2.0 and Firewire connectors. This could be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on your setup and which iPod model you have. As always, you won't gain any new syncing abilities by adding a speaker Dock - nanos and 5Gs still won't sync over Firewire, for example.
The unit itself features six buttons, which allow you to go to the next or previous track, increase or decrease the volume, play/pause, and switch the speakers' power on or off. A green/red LED indicates whether the speakers are "on" or not. Your iPod will still charge and sync when the speakers are off, but the speakers will not produce any audio. The remote features these same six buttons, plus a handy mute button.
Personally, I would like to see a speaker system with even tighter iPod integration than the ones I've seen so far, at least in terms of the user interface. I would want to be able to navigate an iPod's menus and access some of its other features from a speaker system or its remote. Admittedly, it would be hard to see the screen in many cases. Nonetheless, the level of integration provided by the iCruiser is on par with the competition and works reliably and conveniently.
Sounds Good To Me
The audio quality of the iCruiser 430 really shines. Compared to the Altec Lansing iM7 (which costs at least $100 more), the iCruiser has comparable bass levels but not quite as good clarity. In fact, the bass produced by the iCruiser is among the most powerful I have heard to date. The volume can be adjusted over a very wide range to suit almost any situation. Overall, the sound quality of the iCruiser is its strongest selling point (which is a good thing for a set of speakers!).
Here's how the output fared in specific situations:
Rock/Pop: Both vocals and instruments come through with an impressive sense of power. Compared to cheaper speakers, there is also less distortion at higher volume levels.
Hip-Hop, Rap, R&B: Yes, I've said it before, and yes, I'm running out of new ways to rephrase it—but the fact is, a strong bass is the key for best results with this type of music. Since the iCruiser has exceptionally strong bass, it performs very well with hip-hop/R&B and rap songs.
Country: Country songs with heavy use of guitars and other instruments seem almost like a new, improved version of the song when played on an iCruiser. Songs with more vocals also sound good, but the improvement is not as noticeable.
Podcast/Voice: This was the weak point in my iCruiser testing. The iCruiser pumps out so much bass that voice recordings, unlike music, almost sounded a bit distorted, to the point that I had a lot of difficulty understanding what they were saying, even with recordings that work well with other speakers. Unfortunately, adjusting the iPod's equalizer to the Treble Booster did not seem to help much.
A cappella/Vocal: Although these speakers don't exactly favor the vocal range of frequencies, a cappella music still sounds good on them. The bass singers are especially well emphasized, which is not surprising, given the other tests.