Reviewed January, 2008 by Jacob Spindel, Chief iPod Correspondent
Unless you have a pet rooster or an extremely flexible schedule, chances are you own and use some sort of an alarm clock. By now, you are almost certainly familiar with the popular marketing strategy of “Anything that has any electric components of any sort may as well have an iPod attachment.” Thus, it is only natural that DreamGear’s line of i.Sound audio accessories has added an iPod-compatible alarm clock, the i.Sound Dream. However, there is substantial difference between “an alarm clock that works with iPods” and just “an iPod toy that looks like an alarm clock.” Although the i.Sound Dream does have some design issues that get in the way, overall it is a quality iPod speaker system that is also realistically usable as a true alarm clock.
Wake, Rattle, and Roll
Available in black and white versions, the i.Sound Dream is square in shape and measures 7 inches by 7 inches by 2.75 inches, and weighs 1.72 pounds. The front of the unit has two speakers along with the clock display, and a subwoofer is also built in to the bottom side. The top of the device includes an iPod dock (inserts are included to fit various iPod models) as well as the controls for the volume, radio, and dual-alarm - and yes, a Snooze button. Finally, the back of the i.Sound Dream has the connectors for the included AC adaptor and wire antenna, the USB connector, an auxiliary input for other types of audio sources, and a sliding switch to choose among the available modes of operation. Dock-based iPods can both charge and sync with your computer while they are connected to the i.Sound Dream.
Unlike some radio accessories (including Apple’s own iPod Radio Remote), the i.Sound Dream supports both AM and FM radio (ten presets are available for saving stations), and it can use any radio station or iPod track as an alarm to wake you up at a specified time. Another handy feature is the included wireless remote. The Dream’s compatibility is also quite impressive—it works well with audio from the latest iPods, like the third-gen iPod nano, supporting even the audio from most iPod games. It works with the iPhone too, although you’ll have to dismiss the standard compatibility warning on the iPhone’s screen, and the design of the iPhone also means you’ll be watching your music videos sideways if you use your phone with the i.Sound Dream.
One flaw some similar accessories have is that their clock screens are not readable in the dark, which tends to give these devices a one-way ticket back to “just a toy” territory. However, the i.Sound Dream’s LED clock is backlit with two brightness settings, and even the dimmer of the two is exceptionally bright. This is simply a great idea that other speaker designers should definitely take notice of. Unfortunately, the i.Sound Dream’s clock is still hard to read in the dark, or even in the light, because the numbers are just too small. The height of each digit is only about 0.38 inches, meaning you’ll probably have to keep the unit right next to your bed if you want to be able to see what time it is in addition to having an alarm. It’s really a shame that the numbers are so tiny, because with larger digits, the backlight could’ve given the Dream unparalleled readability, eliminating any possibility for doubt that this is a “real” alarm clock.
One minor issue with the i.Sound Dream is that the button layout for setting the clock or setting presets or alarms is quite different from most other radios and speaker systems. For example, when setting the clock, the forward and backward buttons don’t move the time forward and backward, as you might expect; instead, the backward button changes the hour, and the forward button changes the minutes. Although it’s certainly possible to get used to the Dream’s interface, I would not recommend throwing out any of the device’s documentation unless you’re certain you know what you’re doing.
Putting the "Dream" in DreamGear
The i.Sound Dream’s audio quality is possibly the best you’ll ever hear from an alarm clock, thanks to the high quality of the speakers and the inclusion of a sub-woofer. In terms of audio tests, the Dream performed quite well:
Bass: Bass tones on the i.Sound Dream demonstrate amazing strength. Let’s face it: Where else are you ever going to find an alarm clock with a sub-woofer? 5.0/5.0
Treble: Some speaker systems with great bass shoot themselves in the foot by drowning out their own treble - but not the i.Sound Dream. The primary speakers are almost as crisp and powerful as the sub-woofer. 4.5/5.0
Clarity: It’s not quite the “high resolution” sound you might get from high-end earphones, but the Dream has excellent clarity for everything from podcasts and TV shows to pop and R&B. 4.5/5.0
Volume: The Dream’s volume can be adjusted over a wide range, providing appropriate audio levels for someone who is right next to the unit as well as someone who is quite far away—which is ironic, since you won’t be able to read the clock from far away. 5.0/5.0
Rock Around The Clock
Much like the i.Sound Plasma, the i.Sound Dream’s unique “signature” feature (in this case, the alarm clock) ends up being one of the weaker aspects of the device, simply because a clock you can’t read has pretty limited utility. However, the Dream’s audio quality is way above what you would normally expect from an alarm clock, and extras like the remote and AM radio support show that DreamGear put serious thought into the device’s design. In short, if the tiny clock doesn’t bother you, then the i.Sound Dream is a great iPod accessory and a great alarm clock—and it’s definitely easier than trying to teach your favorite songs to a rooster.
Pros: Backlit display; great sound quality featuring a sub-woofer; syncing and charging capability; support for both AM and FM.
Cons: Clock is too small; user interface is somewhat confusing.