Review posted May, 2006 by Jacob Spindel, Chief iPod Correspondent
I'd Like to Buy a Vowel
Lately, it seems like any electronics product whose name starts with an "i" automatically has its coolness factor increased by at least 15% over a comparable product whose name doesn't.
This appears to be a major marketing point for the i.Sound and i.Sound 4X by DreamGear, which is why it seems a bit "iRonic" that they are probably best-suited for non-iPod devices.
DreamGear: It's Not a Game Gear Emulator for DreamCast
The i.Sound is an almost cylindrically shaped compact product, and it is only about six inches long when collapsed. A 32 mm, 3W speaker pulls out of each end to provide stereo sound when in use, and although the speakers are magnetically shielded, they do not appear to have any physical protection or "grille," meaning that you could easily touch the speakers' internals with your fingers, even by accident. Although I did not experience any problems during testing, this seems like it could compromise the device's durability significantly.
At the top of the i.Sound, there is a "control panel"-type area with a power button, a virtual 3-D surround sound effect button, a bass button, and a volume dial. I liked that it came with an AC adaptor and a carrying case. I wasn't as thrilled when I saw that, although a battery attachment is included, it requires four AA batteries and has no built-in power storage or charging ability.
Setting up the i.Sound is quite simple—just plug the included standard 3.5mm cable into any standard audio output, and plug the other end of the cable into the upper "control" area of the i.Sound. The AC adaptor plugs into the other side of the control area.
Meanwhile, the i.Sound 4X features four speakers instead of two. In the center, it features an open space that resembles the iPod bay in higher-end speaker devices, and this space is surrounded by two plastic panels, each containing two speakers that resemble those of the original i.Sound but are slightly larger. The plastic panels can be folded inward for travel, and in its collapsed state, its width is roughly two inches less than that of the original i.Sound, although it is about an inch taller. Like the original i.Sound, all of its speakers are unprotected physically and do not have grilles.
Although the battery case of the i.Sound 4X is built-in, rather than being a detachable add-on like the i.Sound's, the 4X's still requires 6 AA's for portability rather than having any built-in battery system. If you plan to use batteries frequently, these devices could have a higher long-term cost than you may have expected.
The i.Sound 4X also includes an AC adaptor, although it is oddly not interchangeable with the one used by the i.Sound. It has an On/Off slider switch, but it does not have any other controls (like the volume dial and bass control on the original i.Sound).
At only $49.99 and $69.99 each, respectively, the i.Sound and i.Sound 4X are much less expensive than most portable speaker Docks marketed for the iPod. Moreover, their ultra-small size and compatibility with all standard audio devices, rather than just the iPod, make it easy to take them practically anywhere and use them with practically anything. That makes them a great accessory for portable video game systems, or for anyone who can't afford an iPod and would rather not pay for iPod-specific features that will be of no use to them. Since this would seem to skew the device's intended audience toward the youngest of consumers, I think durability is especially important, which is why the lack of speaker grilles seems like a particularly strange decision in this instance.
Similarly, these devices could be a good choice for people who use other audio devices but have no interest in buying an iPod, even for non-financial reasons—but unfortunately, the entire population of people who don't want an iPod was unavailable for comment in this review, because he was out to lunch.
Considering the small size of the devices, both the i.Sound and i.Sound 4X can achieve an impressively high volume level. The i.Sound's audio output quality is so "average" that it's hard to say much more about it than that. Pop music sounds, well, average, and so does virtually all other types of audio. Although there is no aspect of the audio they produce that is so spectacular that it really jumps out as being superior to the devices you've probably heard before, there is also no aspect of it that sounds unusually poor. The i.Sound 4X produces better bass results than the i.Sound does, but even the i.Sound's bass is still good enough to be usable, and even the 4X's bass is inferior to higher-end products like the Ignitek iCruiser 430 (which I reviewed previously).
The clarity of the audio output is good enough to discern all the aspects of a song or voice recording that you're probably used to hearing on other devices, but it doesn't approach the "high resolution" crispness that some audio devices provide—it might be best described as ... (scrambles through thesaurus looking for other words for "average.")
Somewhat like a tragic Shakespearean hero, the i.Sound and i.Sound 4X's greatest strengths also become their greatest weakness, at least for those of us who do use an iPod as our audio player of choice. Since the devices are designed to connect to any audio device, there is no integration with iPod-specific features. For example, unlike most iPod speaker products, you can't hit play/pause or change the current track directly from these speakers. Similarly, the 4X's "device bay" seems a bit strange without a Dock connector (or any connector) inside, which may mean you have to place your device upside-down in the bay if the headphone jack is on the bottom of the device (like the iPod nano's is), although a true iPod Dock is sold separately. Syncing or charging your iPod through either device is also out of the question, although you could still connect a Dock cable while your iPod is connected to an i.Sound or i.Sound 4X. Considering these limitations, it's no surprise that Apple's official "Made for iPod" logo is nowhere to be found.
Although marketing the i.Sound and i.Sound 4X as iPod accessories was probably intended to increase their desirability, in my opinion, it was not a good move, especially considering the lack of iPod-specific features. If you don't own an iPod with a Dock Connector and are certain you won't buy one, but you want to use portable speakers with some other product, the i.Sound is a great choice, and the i.Sound 4X is also worth considering for its slightly better audio quality, even though it has a higher price and a Docking bay area that is not very useful. However, if you are looking for a device designed specifically to complement your iPod, it would probably be a good idea to look at some of the other options before buying an i.Sound.
i.Sound Pros: Very compact and portable (even more so than the 4X); impressive volume; Inexpensive.
Cons: No iPod-specific features; average audio quality; speakers have no grilles for protection.
i.Sound 4X Pros: Very inexpensive; good form factor and portability; volume and bass are even better than the original i.Sound.
Cons: Psuedo-"Dock bay" is not very useful; same issues as i.Sound with unprotected speakers and lack of iPod integration.