Portable AM/FM speaker system suggestions- Sharper Image iSplash?

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Darrenq

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I'm interested in the new Sharper Image iSplash Rugged Spashproof Stereo Speaker System with AM/FM Digital Tuner. This is the model SI327WHT or SI327POD that is designed like a boombox with a carry handle, NOT the wireless one with a hook for shower use. Any opinions appreciated.

I'm also considering the Sony ZS-H10CP boombox. That one has CD/MP3 capability, but no iPod integration except for an aux input. Others include the Tivoli iPal, Songbook, TEAC R2 Premium, GPX iLive IBCD3816DT and any other relatively small boombox/portable speakers. At minimum, they need to have battery and AC power, an AM/FM tuner and some way to play music from an iPod. Integration and charging for the iPod are a bonus, as are radio presets and a splash/sandproof design. A CD player isn't necessary, but is acceptable. Any boom boxes near 2 feet long or 10 pounds are probably too big. I'm looking to spend less than $150 if possible, so the Tivoli iSongbook is not really a consideration.

I've read a number about the iPal that came up on a search already, but no one seems to have anything on the Sharper Image, Sony or TEAC models.

Thanks,

Darren
 
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Darrenq

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Short Review

I decided to give the Shaper Image iSplash a try today, since there's a 90 day return policy. It's a little more impressive than a lot of the stuff Sharper Image sells these days. It seems fairly well made and has some features that fit the niche I wanted.

Pros:

Water, dust, sand resistant- everything seems well sealed for use next to a pool, at the beach or outside in the rain. Note that it isn't weatherproof, so prolonged exposure to heavy rain or submersion would probably damage it. It even has a sealed compartment to protect your iPod. My 30GB 5G iPod video fits fine.

AM/FM tuner- Digital tuner has 5 presents for each band.

Battery/AC power. Six D-cells for portability and an included AC wall adapter.

Sound Quality- Stereo sound with a little separation is given by a pair of what appear to be decent quality 2.5" drivers. I'd say the sound is above average for a small boombox this size, but can't compare it to other portable iPod systems. For a full range driver, it does much better than I expected at the high end. I can actually hear percussion that is often lost in cheap boomboxes.

EQ- No bass/treble controls are included, but you do get a 4-setting EQ feature that lets you select "Flat", "Classic", "Jazz" and "Rock".

Handle- A nice, rotating, dual carrying handle also give it great stability.

iPod Charging and Playback- You can charge and play your iPod inside the housing using the ZipConnect feature. The connection is a cable that fits the bottom docking port, which is great for me since it works with my metal case. You can also buy a "Universal MP3" version that has a headphone jack instead of a 30-pin port cable.

There is also a headphone and subwoofer output.

Cons:

Reception- There is no external antenna, so reception is mediocre. Strong stations are fine, most stations have some static. Weaker stations or indoors, good luck. Just the addition of a telescopic FM antenna or a connection for a dipole antenna would have been a big improvement.

Volume- Though the sound quality seems pretty good, it doesn't play loud at all. It's definitely for a small size room or just enough for background music in a small area outside. Even our ancient Sony boombox that is about the same size can put out a lot more volume before it distorts.

iPod Integration- Front panel controls only allow you to skip tracks forward and backward and there is no display of information from the iPod on the iSplash screen. Fortunately, You can also remove the iPod from the sealed compartment. The cord stretches a foot or two so you can also use the iPod to select songs while attached.


I really wanted to like this, because the design is nice and the internal compartment for the iPod is great. On the other hand, if I'm going to get a boombox for AM/FM radio, I do want decent FM reception. If I'm going to carry even a smaller boombox unit around, I also want at least a modest volume level.

I returned it today and plan to get the Sony or GPX boombox I mentioned, or possibly the iLuv i552 or iHome iH30, even though it lacks an AM band.
 
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Darrenq

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Next in my search is the iLive IBCD3816DT portable docking system. It excels where the Sharper Image iSplash was lacking, but fails in some areas where the iSplash did a good job.

Pros:

Volume- The literature claims "50-Watts of total output power." Considering that many boomboxes its size are limited to a few watts per channel, that sounds good. It has a pair of 3" front firing speakers and 5" side firing woofers. With all that, the maximum undistorted volume is just average. Much better than the Sharper Image, but only about the same as our old Sony boombox with a pair of 4" drivers.

AM/FM Tuner- nice to have. 10 presets per band.

Battery/AC/DC power. 10 D batteries, an included AC wall adapter and an optional car adapter.

EQ- 4 preset equalizer functions and 3 bass settings.

CD Player- slot load single CD player, but no MP3 capability.

iPod charging and playback- a front dock with adapters lets you use most iPods including 5G, 4G, nano and mini. There is a connector on the front for Shuffle and an AUX input for others.

Remote control- Basic functions and more are all on the remote including volume, track forward/back, mute, pause and various other settings. Pretty handy, but range is less than 10 feet.

Misc functions- Simple clock, timer, sleep and program play modes. Not a clock radio by any means, but some nice extras.

Video output- In addition to a headphone out, there's an RCA jack with composite video output to play iPod photo or video onto a TV screen. Another nice touch, though I doubt I'd ever use it.

Price- For $79 delivered at Buy.com, it's a good value. Best Buy and others now carry it, too.

Handle- A simple strap does the job, but I'd have liked a real handle. It's heavier than most other iPod boomboxes I've seen in person, so you will want to use the strap unless it's a fixture in a room somewhere.

Cons-

Sound Quality- Very typical of boomboxes that sell for under $100. Not awful, but not great, either. The Sharper Image sounded better, but couldn't play nearly as loud.

Reception- FM reception was average, better than the Sharper Image probably because of the external telescopic antenna. AM reception was horrible out of the box. Even outside, it couldn't tune in very strong stations that any of our alarm clocks and portables can tune in crystal clear from our basement. I was ready to ship it back, but when I turned it on again I could tune in stations fine. Operator error or bug, I'm not sure, but I'm going to play with it a while to see.

Controls- The remote is decent, but the top panel control of things like tuning and volume are tedious because there are no dials, only up/down buttons. There should have been hard buttons for each preset, too.

Water Resistance- No claim or appearance that this is water or sand resistant. At least with the remote you can reduce the chance of getting your iPod wet. The dock was too narrow for my hard case. I might dremel it out a bit if I decide to keep it.
 
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icantpod

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Thanks. Appreciate that.

Too bad about the sound of the iLive - I had a feeling it might be the achilles heel on something this inexpensive. Unless the ILuv is really good, it looks like the elder statesman of portables, the Altec im7, might still be the king.
 

Darrenq

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I bought a Memorex iMove at Target last night. I was not impressed. The iLive was better in almost every regard. The iMove did have a nicer carrying handle. It also fit my 5G iPod even when it was inside a hard case. On the downside, the sound quality was worse and there were no EQ adjustments that I could find. Reception was worse on both AM and FM bands. Front controls were even more lacking than the iLive. The remote control was more limited in both functions and range. The AC supply required two cables a power brick in between; no DC input was present. It lacked a CD player, though that was not an issue for me. The comparison was so obvious to me, the iMove went back to Target within a few hours.

Not sure if I will buy the iLuv or just consider the iLive good enough for the price. I see that you can get the iLuv for about $95 shipped at Amazon or at Target with a coupon code. It's unclear to me if it has an external FM antenna or any bass/treble/EQ settings. The product page also doesn't mention if it can run on batteries. The iHome looks nice from the review here at iLounge. I'd buy one if only it had an AM tuner.
 

Darrenq

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Hmmm.... and it comes in black... and it appears to have analog-type dials...

Thanks for the link!

Incidentally, I discovered the AM reception issue on the iLive. When the iPod is docked, it apparently creates signifcant interference for AM reception, enough that it's hard to get any stations. When you remove the iPod, AM reception is respectable.
 
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icantpod

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You're welcome. Please post impressions of the iLuv if you get it.

I just discovered an iLive in town and I'm gonna go listen for myself today.
 

icantpod

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Okay, at Best Buy I was able to audition the iLive alongside the Altec im7 and im9. It doesn't sound like total hell...for a $100 system that is. It also definitely does NOT sound good.

Now, when you put it next to the im7, it completely sucks. The Altec absolutely blows it away and its not even a contest. The im9 also just kills it. The iLive really sounds like a toy compared to these two.

Even in a bang-for-the-buck contest, the Altec im7 wins at more than twice the price and less features. Those of you who've heard it know how incredibly good it sounds for something that small. I remain very impressed with even the smaller im9, but its a notch below in sound quality.

As far as portable iPod "boomboxes" I've heard, I'd rank them thusly:

Altec im7 (this beats even the Bose and Klipsch home systems)
Altec im9
MTX iThunder
iLive IBCD3816DT
DLO iBoom
 

pbrokaw

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Darrenq:

I have a iLuv,sounds pretty good to my ears.A little bassy perhaps.
Volume is good although I noticed a little distortion at max(40 on the LCD screen)
FM radio has good reception although I live only 20 miles from the towers.Have not tried AM yet,maybe when I get home.
Has a external antenna.
Remote range seens to be around 10-15 feet,plus it has mute along with all of the usual remote features.
Rotary knobs on the front(although they are like the iHome clock radio,smooth disc's where it is hard to get "finger traction" on them.
Beefy handle for carrying the unit.
Aux input
12V input(buy or make you own adapter).

In short,I like it.I was going to hold out for the Memorex or the iLive units.But thanks to your mini review,you saved me the trouble. I bought mine on a whim at Farm and Fleet in Baraboo WI.In fact I bought the display as they did'nt even have a shelf spot for it yet.

Thanks

Perry
 

Darrenq

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Thanks. I'm still considering an iLuv. I found a weird thing about the iLive. There is no separate battery backup for the clock/presets/programs. You'd think that wouldn't be a big deal since the 8D batteries should serve as a backup. Well, they do, but ONLY if you unplug the power cord at the iLive first. If you unplug it from the wall first, it loses the memory regardless of whether you have batteries in it.

Sure enough, I found a switch in the receptacle for the power cable on the iLive. If I push it in (as it would be if the cable was plugged into the iLive) then the unit shuts off and loses memory. Rather than sensing voltage or current on the AC line before switching to AC power, they used a switch in the receptacle instead. So, if the cable is plugged into the iLive and you unplug it at the wall, it still thinks it is on wall power and loses everything. Very poor design, but at least you can work around it if you know the issue.
 

pbrokaw

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that iLive power switch scoket is out of 1980's boombox design.
I am glad Ibought the iLuv instead.

Perry
 

frankc29

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icantpod said:
Now, when you put it next to the im7, it completely sucks. The Altec absolutely blows it away and its not even a contest. The im9 also just kills it. The iLive really sounds like a toy compared to these two.
You're not kidding! I bought an Ilive and returned it the next day and coughed up the extra dough for the im7. The extra features and cheaper price lured me in (no display to play), but within 5 minutes of turning it on it was repacked and ready to be returned. Sounded like a $20 radio. The im7 is the real deal, with a price to match, lol.
 
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