Published on December 29th, 2013 | by Greg0
iHome iW1: Airplay Issues Complicate A Great Unit
It’s the end of 2013, and sometimes it seems as if we’re living in the future. We’ve seen some major advances in home automation, on-demand streaming TV and music becoming simpler than ever, and more connected devices than ever before. But with the proliferation of devices, Bluetooth has captured a good share of the market, and the apt-X protocol has made it more appealing for music lovers. Which has left Apple’s Airplay protocol in a bit of an uncertain spot.
The iHome iW1 Airplay Wireless Audio System is not the newest model from the company, but it does offer several great features that made it quite an appealing unit. For starters, there is the well-implemented touch controls on volume, with 16 glowing dots that allow you to quickly- with one touch- change to a much higher volume setting. Unlike some touch controls, these worked really well, and weren’t too sensitive or fiddly. In addition, the iW1 offers a unique charging stand, which allows you to take the speaker anywhere while leaving the cables behind. Battery life is decent, at 8-10 hours, and the unit was fairly heavy at 6.5 pounds but that just means it will stay put on a counter or blanket. It’s not weather-resistant, really, so we wouldn’t suggest much outdoors use. The packaging and build quality though are great, almost Apple-esque, and iHome even included a remote control, handy if not totally necessary.
There are two downsides, though, that mean we will keep using our Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin Air, or other devices. The first is that the iW1 simply sounds merely average- about like many Bluetooth speakers in this price range. Airplay can offer additional fidelity that can make it preferred among audiophiles, but we noticed distortion here at both the upper and lower ranges at anything above middle volumes on many tracks with heavy bass or aggressive percussion. Again, considering the price, it’s not a deal-breaker, but didn’t convince listeners.
Worse, though, was inconsistent wireless performance. We’re no strangers to Airplay issues, and they’ve affected most every speaker or dock that we’ve tested. But the iW1 had more trouble than others, with signal strength restrictions, drop-outs, and regular restarts required. We tried a couple of routers, and also sending music from different iOS versions and Apple devices. Part of the problem was likely the lack of 802.11n support (only 802.11g). Sonos systems have come down quite a bit in price, and though require extra dedicated hardware (the bridge), generally don’t have signal issues or lose audio.
The iHome iW1 is available now, online and in stores, for around $130- a solid deal if you are looking for a portable Airplay system that also offers inputs for direct connection and even a USB charging ability.