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iPod Accessory Reviews: Speakers

Ignitek iCruiser 430

Editor's rating (1-5):
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Reviewed March, 2006 by Jacob Spindel, Chief iPod Correspondent

Advisory: The Ignitek iCruiser 430 speaker system may not be suitable for Jennifer Lopez.
It's true: the iPod pictured on the iCruiser's box displays Ms. Lopez's name—misspelled. But once you get the box open, you'll discover a powerhouse whose sound quality rivals that of significantly more expensive competitors. At $149 list and an average street price of $99, the iCruiser is a bargain.

Cruise Control

At 9.45" x 8.3" x 4.6" and 2.65 pounds, the iCruiser feels neither especially large nor especially small. It is certainly no larger than it needs to be in order to produce the sound level it achieves. The unit sports a simple, rectangular appearance that complements most iPods well, with speakers along the left and right edges and an iPod bay in the center. The included remote control is thicker, larger, and more reminiscent of a TV or home stereo remote than the ultra-tiny remotes I'm used to seeing with many iPod accessories. Although it is to some extent a matter of taste whether you prefer smaller or larger remotes, I appreciated that the iCruiser's was comfortable and ergonomic, has a well-designed button layout, and takes standard AAA batteries rather than those "button cells" found in smaller remotes.

iCruiser iPod speaker system

Packed into the deceptively small speaker areas are two midrange speakers at two inches each, two one-inch tweeters, and a three-inch subwoofer. The unit's powerful, 26 Watt amplifier makes good use of this setup.

The iCruiser must be plugged in and does not have a built-in battery. However, I don't consider this a flaw, but rather an indication that this is simply a different type of device than most other iPod speaker add-ons. The iCruiser 430 is better suited toward larger events that require louder sound and higher quality output; if you want a system you can take to the park for a picnic, you'll need a different type of product (and perhaps a time machine?).

The iCruiser does not have any video-output functionality. However, at this point, this is really not much of a concern for most iPod users.

 

 

 

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Cruiser User

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.

bakc of iCruiser
side view

 

 

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.

Luxury Cruise

The iCruiser 430 is a great value, since it provides quality comparable to a high-end iPod speaker add-on, even though its price is closer to a mid-range add-on. I would not recommend it for podcasts or for anyone who needs the maximum portability, but for virtually all other tasks, the iCruiser is a good choice for almost anyone (even if you have to take a break from writing another song about Ben Affleck).

Pros: Excellent sound quality, especially in terms of bass output; nicely designed iPod bay with numerous inserts for different iPod models; comfortable, intuitive remote control.

Cons: Less than ideal for podcast/voice playback.

 

List p rice: $149

Web site: Ignitek

Comparison Shopping: Where to Buy

Specs:

Compatibility: All iPods with a dock connector and audio devices with a standard 3.5mm stereo out jack.

Shielded? Yes.

Sound Specs: Frequency response: mid-range driver: 100Hz - 7kHz. Tweeter: 3kHz- 20kHz. Subwoofer: 80 - 500Hz. Rear bass port . 26 watt amplifier.

Woofers and Tweeters : a pair of 1" shielded tweeters, a pair of 2.5 midrange drivers and a 3" vented subwoofer.

In the Box: iCruiser 430 , AC adapter, IR remote control, dock adapters to fit various iPods, audio cable.

Size: 9.45" x 8.3" x 4.6". Weight: 2.65 pounds.

Ports: 3.5mm stereo, USB and FireWire

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