iHome takes a crack at a quality AirPlay speaker. (May 12th, 2012)
Product Manufacturer: iHome
- Easy setup, convenient AirPlay streaming
- Bundled remote and on-speaker controls
- Attractive design, above-average build quality
- Volume, bass response relatively tepid
- Merely adequate range
- No dock to hold connected devices
- No app-based controls
- Extra/longer stream buffering
iHome generally isn't known as a luxury brand when it comes to audio, but it is prolific -- the company's docks and speakers are everywhere, at least if online ads are to be believed. The iW2 is one of the company's higher-end speakers, based around Apple's AirPlay streaming technology. In our review, we'll see how the iW2 holds up versus other options in terms of convenience, design, and performance.
Setup and Design
As with any Wi-Fi speaker, the first step with the iW2 is to get it paired to a network. While you can do this through a computer, the easiest option is to attach an iOS device to the speaker through a supplied USB cable, and then download iHome's Connect app from the App Store. I had to relocate the speaker to get a good Wi-Fi signal, but otherwise the process was quick and painless.
Strangely, Connect doesn't let users adjust any speaker settings, like treble or bass; in fact, loading the app after setup just prompts you to connect the USB cable again. It's a wasted opportunity. Thankfully iHome probably just considers this redundant, since unlike some AirPlay speakers the iW2 comes bundled with its own remote, which does have treble and bass controls, among others. Particularly useful may be the playback buttons, which can control any AirPlay/iPod audio source; you can even skip tracks on a computer streaming through iTunes.
The top of the iW2 has its own set of buttons, which are limited compared to the remote but still more than what you get with something like Logitech's UE Air Speaker, which costs twice as much. These include play/pause, skip, volume, and Wi-Fi and iPod function buttons. The latter two are used to switch between AirPlay and a device attached via USB, although it isn't that convenient in practice. You have to hit play again whenever you switch sources, and there's no dock to hold a device, so anything you connect has to sit awkwardly nearby. Still, it may be handy for parties, or just charging a device while having it as a music source at the same time.
As is normal, streaming audio via AirPlay involves selecting the speaker as output in iTunes or iOS. One oddity here, though, is that the iW2 seems to buffer slightly longer and/or more often than you'd expect. It's hardly a major annoyance, but enough of one that you may notice it. The speaker is absolutely fine during continuous playback, it's just play/pause or jumping around a music library that may (or may not) trigger any issues.
Audio quality -- obviously, the most important part of the equation -- is merely adequate. It's not especially clean, and there isn't a tremendous amount of power either, certainly not compared with more expensive hardware. You may in fact want to boost the bass to add a reasonable amount of punch, since even with it raised it feels a little weak. The speaker is at least loud enough, and it doesn't sound like you're missing too much in terms of range.
On a tangential note, the iW2 does at least have an above-average build quality. It's mostly plastic, with mesh fabric wrapping around the sides, but it feels reasonably durable and looks quite slick. It won't fool anyone into thinking you paid a fortune, but it certainly looks the part of a quality speaker system.
The iW2 is ultimately remarkable for how unremarkable it is. It's not a sterling example of sound or design, but neither is it terrible. It simply serves its purpose, which is to get you better audio than an iPhone or iPad can provide without having to dock your device. If you can, I would recommend listening to it in person and comparing it against similarly-priced speakers -- if the iW2 somehow strikes your ear, that may be enough for a recommendation.