Portable party machine
iHome’s iW1 is a portable AirPlay speaker designed to make streaming music over a Wi-Fi network effortless, a challenge it meets with aplomb. By Craig Wilson.
Thanks to the iPod — and subsequently the iPhone and iPad — an entire industry has sprung up creating docks, headphones and other audio accessories designed to work with Apple devices.
iHome is just one of the third parties making such devices, and its latest offering, the iW1, is a rechargeable speaker designed to work with Apple’s wireless AirPlay technology.
AirPlay, Apple’s wireless multimedia streaming solution, is another bid by the company to lock users into its ever-expanding ecosystem of hardware and software. It’s also really simple to use, which makes it hard not to like. It works by sending audio – or video, or images – from any Apple device on a Wi-Fi network to an AirPlay device connected to the same network.
Thanks to AirPlay, the iW1 works wirelessly with iTunes, meaning Windows users aren’t completely left in the cold and, like Mac users, can play audio on their computer and via the iW1 simultaneously — a great feature for parties or any time you want the same audio playing in two different locations.
Mac users also have the option of pushing system audio to the device, but unfortunately there’s no ability to maintain system audio on the Mac at the same time.
It’s possible to push audio to the iW1 from any other AirPlay device like an iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad, but again there is no way of simultaneously playing the audio through the device itself. This is, however, a limitation of Apple’s own software and not the iW1 or other AirPlay devices.
The rear of the iW1 includes a power switch, a 3,5mm auxiliary port, a USB port, a status LED for indicating connectivity, and two physical buttons, one for entering network setup mode and another for checking the battery level.
The top of the iW1 is clad in shiny black plastic and includes a range of capacitive-touch controls for standby, switching between Wi-Fi and iPod/direct input mode, controlling volume, and buttons to play/pause and track back/forward. The volume control — a row of 16 white dots — also doubles as the battery indicator and is activated by a button on the rear of the device.
With a built-in battery and handle on its back, the iW1 is designed to be portable. The unit is supplied with an oblong charging panel that the speaker unit sits on top of, meaning it simply needs to be picked up rather than unplugged.
An LED indicator in the centre of the device’s face shows whether it is charged or charging and when an input from the remote control is received.
The built-in 2 600mAh battery offers almost four hours of listening time at low volume and two or three hours at moderate volume.
The iW1’s audio quality is excellent straight out of the box. Granted, bass-heavy tracks tended to distort at extremely high volume, but unless you’re planning to use the device as the primary sound system at an enormous party — which seems unlikely — it’ll more than suffice for even fairly demanding users.
With a little fiddling, the iW1 can be made to sound even better. It includes something called Bongiovi Acoustics DPS, which is turned on or off using the supplied remote control and is designed to analyse digital audio dynamically and adjust levels automatically for a fuller and more rounded sound.
It certainly works. With the Bongiovi Acoustics DPS turned on, everything we played — from classical music to hip-hop — sounded better. The remote control also includes bass and treble controls for those who want to do some fine-tuning and level adjustments of their own.
Setting up the iW1 can be done either by connecting an “iDevice” using the supplied 30-pin to USB cable and the USB port on the device, or via a PC or Mac. Using an iDevice requires downloading an iHome setup application, but this proved far simpler than the setup process for PC or Mac.
On the whole, the setup process is fairly straightforward and, once a single device has been successfully connected, the unit will work with any other suitable device connected to the same Wi-Fi network. The iW1 can also be renamed during setup so that those with multiple AirPlay devices can name them according to the room they’re in.
AirPlay proves to be pretty reliable, but being dependent on Wi-Fi means it’s subject to other variables like the quality of Wi-Fi router and quantity of network traffic. We found the unit occasionally cut out when network traffic was high and range was of course limited, too. On the whole, though it’s a stable, elegant and simple way to stream music across a wireless network.
With only the iHome logo embossed on the chrome band that encircles the bottom of the device, the iW1 looks the part. At R3 499 it’s no cheaper than a high-end iDevice dock, but then those don’t offer the wireless capabilities the iW1 does. — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media