Cambridge SoundWorks i765
Editors' note: As of June 2008, Cambridge has lowered the price of this product.
Remember when clock radios were merely clock radios? That was long before the iPod-ization trend took the world by storm. Outboard docks are yesterday's news and integrated docks have become de rigueur. Witness the new Cambridge SoundWorks i765 with an iPod/iPhone dock molded into its top panel. The i765 is the latest and greatest entry from Cambridge's well-regarded line of stereo clock tabletop radios. The new model also boasts a slot-loading CD/DVD player, so it functions like a self-contained home theater in a box.
The conservatively styled gray and black radio has a sturdy and solid feel and is 5 inches tall by 14 inches wide by 10 inches deep and weighs 13 pounds. Except for the Snooze/Mute button and iPod dock on the otherwise bare topside, all of the i765's controls are located on its front panel. CDs and DVDs load through a slot just above the large, 32-character LCD readout that sits above two clusters of eight buttons. The buttons are tiny, identical size, and shaped so that they're hard to see in low light. The display is linked to a light sensor that dims to eliminate glare in dark rooms. The centered knob controls volume by default, but clicking the nearby jog key, the knob toggles through a variety of other functions including bass, treble, and loudness tone controls. The loudness circuit boosted bass at low to moderate listening volume to create a rich, warm sound balance.
The newly designed remote has 43 identically sized little round buttons and they're color-coded by function--iPod controls are gray, DVD controls are brown, alarm buttons are blue, and so forth. The overall layout is less than intuitive, but we were grateful that we could always find the volume up/down buttons in the upper-left corner. It should be noted that all of the front-panel jog functions are also accessible from the remote.
If the i765 looks familiar, it's because it's basically just a refresh of the Cambridge SoundWorks Radio CD 745i with the iPod dock integrated into the topside (instead of a separate outboard dock) and a built-in DVD player (instead of just CD). The front panel's left set of buttons are reserved for radio presets--press one while listening to a station you want to store, you'll hear a "beep" tone, and it'll be saved to one of three "bands" (FM1, FM2, or AM). The right set of buttons offers a choice of source--Radio, iPod, Disc/Aux, as well as up/down radio tuning. There's also a seek function for jumping from station to station. The tuner supports Radio Data Service, so the readout offers call-letter and song information from stations that support the technology. The lower edge of the front panel hosts a headphone jack and an auxiliary input (both jacks are 3.5mm jacks). The back panel has an S-Video and audio output jack, and the i765 comes with an S-Video-to-composite cable.
Alarm setting options are flexible: Each of the two alarms can be set to wake to tone, AM/FM radio, CD, or iPod. You can preset the volume of each alarm, so it can be as loud or subtle as you want, regardless of what the volume level was when you turned the i765 off. Snooze times can be preset to intervals of 5 to 22 minutes.
To pull in harder-to-receive radio stations, you'll need to attach the included external AM (1/8-inch) and FM (RF screw-type) antennas to the i765's rear panel.
The integrated iPod dock can be used with any of the eight adapter sleeves included to fit most iPods. Cambridge claims the i765 supports video-out on the newest iPod models including the iPod Touch, iPod Classic, and iPod Nano--but not the iPhone. Our testing verified that: we had no trouble playing videos from the fat iPod Nano, but the iPhone could only play audio. You can navigate iPod menus with the remote or with the i765's front panel controls; the remote navigation works fine, but since there's no navigation options displayed on the TV screen, you're going to need to be close enough to see the iPod's screen anyway. With newer iPod models, the artist and song title is displayed on the i765's LCD display.
The i765's stereo speakers and woofer are each powered by their own amplifier. The speakers are magnetically shielded so the i765 can be placed near a CRT TV or any other sensitive device without affecting picture quality. Using the jog dial, the sound can be set to stereo, mono, or "wide,"--the latter increases stereo separation beyond the 14-inch width of the i765's cabinet.
Feature comparisons to the Polk Audio I-Sonic tabletop system ($600) and Denon S-32 ($500) will be of interest to potential i765 buyers. The Polk sports HD Radio is XM-ready and has a pair of rear-mounted, built-in speakers that produce a more spacious sound than the i765. The I-Sonic lacks an integrated iPod dock--compared with the follow-up I-Sonic Entertainment System 2 ($500), which includes the dock, but loses the disc player and satellite radio functionality. The Denon system, meanwhile, includes an iPod dock, AM/FM radio, and the capability to stream network audio, but lacks the CD player, XM-ready function, and HD Radio found on the Denon S-52--which costs a whopping $700 total.
The Cambridge SoundWorks i765's CD and iPod sound was richly balanced, sounding bigger than we had expected. We fiddled with the bass, treble, and loudness controls and came away convinced of its ability to tailor its sound to taste. The bass was punchy and nicely defined while vocals were clear, however the treble detail was merely adequate. The FM tuner sounded very good and successfully pulled in the most difficult to receive stations cleanly. The i765 worked fine for playing back audio and video from our third-generation iPod Nano, but had trouble with our much older circa-2003 iPod--the remote didn't work at all, and once docked the iPod's controls froze. In other words, anyone with a fourth-generation or late iPod should be fine.
While watching DVDs with the stereo function set to "wide," the crowd noises on the Blue Man Group's The Complex Rock Tour Live were projected well out to the sides of the radio. While we enjoyed the ambience, the actual band itself was confined within the cabinet's narrow dimensions. The Blue Men play percussion instruments, which sounded decent, though they lack the dynamic punch we get from most $500 home-theater-in-a-box systems. By home theater standards, the bass wasn't all that deep or powerful, but overall definition was pretty good, and the i765 can play fairly loud without undue harshness.
Straight dramatic DVDs like Factory Girl, set in New York City in 1965, sounded fine. Dialogue came across clear and natural, as did the '60s rock music soundtrack. The i765 wasn't intended to replace a home theater sound system and it won't. But when judged as a compact music/entertainment center in perhaps a tiny bedroom or office, it'll be a competent performer.