Apple iPod Hi-Fi boom box
Apple's superhyped February 28 announcement didn't yield a new video iPod, but it did bring a new iPod speaker system to the table. The $349 iPod Hi-Fi is Apple's answer to the many third-party iPod speaker systems available from companies such as Bose, Altec Lansing, and Logitech. The one-piece speaker system has a built-in dock for any dock-connector iPod, it can be powered using six D batteries, and it ships with the simple iPod Remote. There's no doubt that the Hi-Fi outputs excellent sound for its size, though after putting it through a few sonic workouts, we think Apple should have offered a bit more for the price.
The Apple iPod H-Fi is an Apple product through and through. From its white, glossy plastic to its minimal, boxy design, it's destined to become an icon in the living room, the kitchen, or the dorm room, in spite of the fact that some people consider it boring or unimaginative. The Hi-Fi is certainly durable, and it has excellent build quality. Experience with the Hi-Fi is critical before making any claims, though, because it has some great intangibles and some disappointing qualities (more later).
The Apple iPod Hi-Fi measures 17 by 6.9 by 6.6 inches and looks much like a center-channel speaker that one would find with a nice home-theater system, though these speakers have integrated stereo channels, of course. Thanks to its boxiness, the Hi-Fi's footprint is quite a bit larger than that of one of our fave iPod boomboxes, the($250), though it's not bad sitting on a table; plus, it makes an ideal shelf system, as long as you have enough clearance for an upright, docked iPod. Adding to the Hi-Fi's Apple-ness are the two built-in handles that are essential for transport, given the unit's weight of 14.5 pounds (16.7 pounds with batteries installed). Although the Hi-Fi can conveniently operate on six D batteries, it's more ideal in the home than at a picnic, and it certainly shouldn't be carried (actually lugged) ghetto-blaster style--less because of it weight and more because of the way the iPod sits precariously atop the box.
Adding an actual iPod to the mix is easy, though it must have a dock connector to fit in as designed. After selecting the proper dock adapter from the neat little dock-adapter accessories box (very Prada), your iPod will fit snugly onto what is essentially a gigantic dock. This design is convenient in that the iPod's screen is in clear view and accessible, but there's something incongruous about an iPod sticking out and interrupting the smooth line of the Hi-Fi. And although the iPod is powered and recharges when docked, the speakers don't include a dock output for a connection to a computer. Unexplicably, a video output, which is on the standard dock, is missing as well. The only items found on an otherwise clean back of the Hi-Fi are power and audio inputs, as well as a compartment for the batteries. We appreciate the dual analog/digital audio input--for connecting to an AirPort Express digitally, for example--but there should have been more ports, including a headphone jack (activating the iPod's headphone jack doesn't mute the system) and a subwoofer output. An integrated FM tuner would have been a nice bonus.
Directly in front of the iPod are touch-sensitive volume-up and -down buttons, which are amazingly responsive. If you hold the minus (-) button down for a second, the volume dissipates. A thick rubber foot on the Apple iPod Hi-Fi's bottom side keeps the speakers secure on any surface. The power brick normally associated with anything electronic is built into the Hi-Fi, so all you need to deal with to plug it in is a handy 9.5-foot cable.
Removing the front grille exposes two 80mm midrange drivers and a 130mm dual voice-coil woofer. Apple spent some time with an in-house team in creating a durable and well-constructed speaker system, with a sealed, tuned, and double-walled enclosure, plus separate cabinets for each driver. Near the drivers, you'll notice an infrared port, as well as an indicator light that lights up green (also visible through the grille) when you adjust the volume and orange when a command is not recognized.
The indicator light coupled with the bundled iPod Remote creates a unique sense of feedback, making the Apple iPod Hi-Fi the most responsive and even pleasurable iPod speaker system we've used. The simple and supertactile remote is one of the best IR models we've used. In fact, we constantly had the soft Apple Remote in hand, which helped create an organic, interactive relationship with the Hi-Fi. In contrast, the Altec Lansing iM7's remote often needs two or more presses to register.