iPad Speaker Review: iHome iW2 AirPlay Speaker System Review
Editor's Rating (1-5): 4.5
What's Hot: Full and rich sound, easy to use, supports most iDevices.
What's Not: Audio quality degrades via WiFi streaming.
Reviewed by Tong Zhang
iHome makes a large portfolio of speaker systems for Apple devices, and the new iW2 is the latest entry to the collection. The iHome iW2 is a very connected speaker system that works with iPhone, iPad and iPod models, as well as desktop machines and other MP3 players. You can stream audio from your iDevices to the speaker via Wi-Fi or USB, and connect the speaker via either Wi-Fi or Ethernet to your streaming network. The speaker has excellent sound with full range of audio and clear, strong base, at least when you are using wired connections. It's also the latest iHome's AirPlay system that works with iHome's iOS app that provides more features than just playing back audio.
The iHome iW2 AirPlay speaker system has a pleasing curvy design. It measures at 10.5 x 5.8 x 3.0 inches and weighs 4.6 lbs. The speaker is big enough to provide nice stereo separation from the front two speakers, but small enough to fit on a small nightstand. A thin layer of black soft fabric mesh covers the speaker system. The top of the iHome iW2 has a shiny piano black surface with a row of hardware buttons for turning on the speaker, switching between WiFi streaming and USB streaming, changing tracks and volume. The chromed buttons are thin but long, and they easy to press. There are LEDs above each button to indicate the functions of the buttons.
The iHome iW2 AirPlay speaker system has a chromed circle encasing the bottom of the speaker to provide better stability and there are rubber feet on the bottom to prevent the speaker system from slipping on smooth surfaces. The speaker has a row of connectors and buttons on the back near the bottom, and these include power input, USB and Ethernet ports, 3.5mm aux-in, WiFi set-up button as well as Wi-Fi status LED and firmware status LED. The design of the iHome iW2 is clean and modern, all controls and ports are convenience to use. The system also comes with a reasonably large remote control for multimedia playback and more.
One of the main features of the iHome iW2 AirPlay speaker system is its ability to connect with your home or office Wi-Fi network. Whence the speaker is powered on, press the WiFi network setup button on the back to search for WiFi networks nearby. Use your iPhone, iPad or iPod to download iHome Connect app to set up the WiFi for the speaker. The iHome iW2 AirPlay speaker system supports 802.11b/g but not 802.11n, and supports WPA/WPA2 security but not WEP or WPA/WPA2 Enterprise. The first time when you set up the WiFi network on the speaker, it takes a while for it to connect. But once it's connected to a network, it reconnects fairly quickly after power cycling.
If you are using the iHome iW2 AirPlay speaker system with a Mac or PC, you can also use Ethernet connection as well. There is an Ethernet port on the back of the speaker, and connect that to your router and use your Internet browser to configure and connect the speaker. If you are using Ethernet as connection, make sure you enable DHCP function on your router. You will need to run iTunes 10.1 or later on your Mac or PC to use the speaker's full functions. Once the connect is made via either method, the LED light on the back will turn green, and WiFi symbol LED on top of the speaker will turn solid from blinking.
If over the air streaming isn't your thing, the speaker offers both 3.5mm aux-in port and a USB port. The speaker also comes with a short USB cable, but you can use the cable that comes with your iPhone or iPad which is longer than the included one. The USB port on the speaker also has power pass-through, and it charges the device while playing music or video.
The iHome iW2 AirPlay speaker system works with most Apple devices including all iPod touch models, most iPod nano models (except the first gen), and all iPhone and iPad models via USB connection. AirPlay works with iTunes on desktop, some most iPod touch models (except the first gen), iPhone and iPad models with iOS 4.2 or later. The speaker doesn't have a built-in battery, so you need to plug it in with the included 100-240V world AC adapter.
For a small speaker system, the iHome iW2 has very loud and nice rich sound. iHome includes SRS WOW HD technology to enhance the dynamics of audio output and Reson8 sealed speaker chambers to provide more power, depth and clarity for the sound. If you connect your device or computer via either the USB or aux-in, you will enjoy the full sound range and powerful bass. It's really impressed that such a small system can produce such a full range of tracks in very high volume. We tested many tracks in different genres and listed some of the results below.
Classical - when playing classical music including symphonies and chamber music tracks, the iHome iW2 can produce amazing clarity. The audio quality of each instrument sound full and distinctive, and the dynamic of these pieces are fully realized.
Instrumental - when playing tracks featuring specific instruments such saxophone, acoustic guitar, etc., the speaker performs well with ringing quality and wide range. Bass is also noticeable yet balanced without overwhelming the dynamic.
Pop/Rock - when playing rock and pop music tracks, the iHome has a nice balance that accentuates each part of the band or vocal as the artists intended you to hear. The dynamic range is often very clear and bass sounds rich yet clear.
Overall, the audio quality is surprisingly excellent for a speaker this size. But that's only when you connect it via wired connections. Over Wi-Fi however, the sound quality lost some lot of dynamic and clarity, even though we tested it on a fast 802.11n WiFi system with two routers. The speaker still sounds nice with most audio quality intact, but when you compared the sound quality between the wireless streaming and the wired streaming, you can tell the different quite easily.
The iHome iW2 AirPlay speaker system is a powerful speaker for its size, and you will enjoy full range, rich dynamic and clear audio if you use wired connections. The speaker is easy to use, works nicely with all most Apple device as well as desktop machines. For those who want to stream their music wireless, the iHome iW2 AirPlay speaker system is a capable speaker that's easy to setup and simple to use. Just be prepared that the audio quality isn't as amazing as wired playback. Using the AirPlay app from iHome, you can use the speaker system as an alarm clock and listening to internet radio.