iHome dips into mobile audio and multiple device charging. (December 5th, 2010)
Although iHome is best known for its speaker docks and alarm clocks, it has lately branched out into headphones with its iB24 earbuds and pure power accessories with its iB969 charging station. Both are extensions of what it already does but are also big gambles. We'll determine how well it succeeded in our iB24 and iB969 hybrid review.
Product Manufacturer: iHome
Price: $30 (iB24), $50 (iB969)
- Headphones: low price.
- Headphones: good mid-range.
- Headphones: in-line mic and remote.
- Charging station: powers multiple simultaneous devices.
- Charging station: very flexible layout; quick charge option.
- Charging station: stealth cord management.
- Headphones: weak bass, average highs.
- Headphones: indistinct L and R markers.
- Charging station: slightly cheap feeling.
With a retail price of just $30, the iB24 earbuds are nonetheless iHome's top of the line headphone offering. Included with the earbuds are three sizes of ear cushions and a small carrying pouch. The drivers are housed in a metal housing and provide very clean sounding audio, if strictly what we would expect for the price. Mid-range sound on these earbuds is good, but the bass is unsurprisingly a little weak and the highs are merely acceptable. We tried maxing out the volume with the iB24 earbuds and found an enormous amount of distortion at higher volumes; if you like to listen to your music loud -- although we'd advise against it regardless -- these are not the earbuds for you.
There is a set of iPod/iPhone audio controls built into the headphone cable; however, the controls are put so close to the right earbud that you can't see them while actually wearing the earbuds. This wouldn't be bad in and of itself, but the buttons on the controls aren't well defined, so it was easy to accidentally press the wrong button on the controls without the visual aid. Once we learned how to use the controls, they worked just fine for adjusting volume, answering and ending calls, and pausing and starting audio tracks on an iPhone.
Physically, the earbuds are a bit larger than most. Due to the larger size, we found the iB24 set to be easier to adjust in our ears. Other than the position of the audio controls on the cable, our biggest gripe was that it was very difficult to read the L and R markers on each earbud to tell which bud was for which ear. Like Apple's earbuds, the easiest way to find the right-side earbud was to look for the in-line controls . It's not a fatal flaw, but iHome really needs to make these markers easier to find.
iB969 charging station
The iB969 is a charging station that can power up to four devices at a time. Although the station has an Apple-centric design, iHome Includes cables for charging BlackBerry phones and e-readers like the Amazon Kindle. The station is also capable of syncing iPods, iPhones, and iPads if it's attached through USB. The retail price for the iB969 is $50, which we saw as a reasonable price to ask for a multi-purpose dock.
We tested the charging station with an Apple iPhone, a Samsung Galaxy Tab, and a Samsung Continuum. We successfully had all three devices charging at the same time, even while syncing the iPhone -- a certainly possible feat but rare to see out of any other dock. There are two Apple device docks on the station; one is for quick charging, and the other is for full charging. Only the full-charge port supports syncing to a computer, however, making it a question of picking and choosing your charging strategy; the likely scenario is to quick charge the more vital iPhone but let an iPod power up at a more conventional rate. There are switches underneath the charging station to change the quick charge and full charge settings.
Underneath the charging station are two USB ports and some decidedly convenient cable management hardware. USB cables can be wrapped around four pegs to shorten the amount of cable that is routed out from underneath the unit to charge devices above. The front half of the unit can also be pulled forward to provide a larger landing area for bigger mobile devices, which again shows just how flexible it can be. The dock's main limitation is its construction; it isn't overly heavy duty, and the moving section does give it a somewhat cheaper feel.
Despite our gripes with distortion at high volume levels and some design issues, the iB24 headphones really are a respectable set of earbuds. The large design of each bud makes the iB24s easy to wear for most listeners, and the reasonable price tag of $30 makes them easy to gift or to pick up as a replacement. While they won't win any audio quality contests against high-end earbuds, they certainly sound better than the standard white Apple pack-ins or indeed most bundled and entry-level audio options for other mobile devices. Separately, we would give the in-ear headphones three out of five stars.
For families with multiple devices always in need of a charge, though, the iB969 is not only a smart idea but helps bring "peace on Earth and good will to all men." Given how many devices it can support, it's very likely that a multi-person (or at least multi-device) home would never need to pick and choose which devices have a chance at a recharge. The cable management features further ensure that rat's nests of cables are relegated to Ethernet cables and holiday lights instead of power cords. Highly recommended and a four-star rating.