The iHome iH69 is the little brother to the company's iH70 computer speaker/iPod dock package. The two models share much in common, including integrated USB connectivity for syncing your iPod--or iPhone--with your computer. But the cheaper iH69 is slightly smaller, less powerful (5 watts per channel versus 15), doesn't sound as good, and doesn't include a remote control. But it's arguably better looking, and it has at least one nice control improvement over its big brother.
In our review of the iH70, we started off by trying to explain why the whole computer speaker and iPod dock combo makes sense in light of the fact that all of your iPod's music is, presumably, already on your computer's hard drive, obviating the need for having your iPod in the room. Fair enough, but most of us would prefer the instant start-up of the iPod to the long boot sequence of the computer. Plus, the fact that the iH69 replaces an existing charge cradle will save a bit of clutter on most people's desks.
We faulted the iH70's silver-colored speakers for looking cheaper than they should for a product that lists for $150 (the online price is closer to $130). The black-colored iH69 speakers don't look all that luxurious, either. They feel even lighter and cheaper than the iH70s when you pick them up, but we did prefer their nonremovable black plastic grilles and overall look. That said, we're not quite willing to let the iH69 completely off the hook: it lists for $100, and sells online for closer to $80, but considering what you're getting here, it should be closer to $60.
The speakers are around 8 inches tall and tilted slightly back at an angle. Controls for power and volume up and down are conveniently placed on the front of the right speaker, while the iPod dock is embedded into the front of the left speaker. As noted, the speaker grilles aren't removable, but you can see the two small drivers through the grilles--a 2-inch active woofer on top and a 1.5-inch passive driver below. While it doesn't affect the sound much, if you have one of the bigger iPods or an iPhone sitting in the dock, it will block the bottom driver of the left speaker. (By comparison, the single driver of the iH70 is positioned higher up on the speaker, so it's never covered.)
On a more positive note, the iH69s offer excellent connectivity--at least, they do if you're comparing them with most PC speakers. Around back you'll find two inputs: one for connecting the iH69 to your computer's audio output (or headphone port) and an auxiliary input in case you should want to connect another portable audio device. At first glance, there doesn't seem to be a headphone jack on the speakers themselves, but a closer inspection reveals one on the outside of the left speaker. The USB port is on the back of the left speaker; it's reserved for syncing your iPod or iPhone with iTunes on your Windows or Mac computer (the cable is included). You'll also need to connect the dedicated AC power supply.
On the iH70s, the small iPod syncing button is tucked away on the back of the left speaker, mixed in with the rest of the ports. But with the iH69s, the synching button is placed on top of the left speaker, where it should be. It is strange that iHome got it right with this model and not the iH70--but we'll take it where we can get it.
As with the iH70s, we also had some trouble with the cable that connects the left to the right speaker. It resembles an S-Video cable, and the jack just didn't fit as securely into the sockets on the speakers as we would have liked. And speaking of wires: there are quite a lot of them. Letting the USB connection do double or triple duty for power and PC audio (in addition to iPod connectivity) might have cut down on the cable clutter.
Another problem is the lack of input toggling. When you have more than one source hooked up (PC, iPod, and auxiliary), the audio gets all mixed together. On the one hand, that's not bad if you're listening to music on the iPod but still want to hear the notification sounds from your computer (inbound instant messages and e-mails, for instance). But the optimal solution would've been for a "source select" button, with "mix" being the fourth option. It's not hard, and it wouldn't have cost a lot to add.
As for sound: while it's not awful, it's a step down from that of the iH70. The iH70s simply sound richer overall. Or, you could say the iH69s' sound is leaner is comparison, though neither model delivers a ton of bass. On a good note, the speakers use the same Reson8 design that the iHome clock radios do, but what makes the iH69s sound better is the simple fact that you get better stereo separation from having the two speakers set to the width of your computer screen (or even a little wider). Better yet, when you're at your computer, you're sitting at the perfect distance to get the best sound from these speakers (3 feet away). As we said with the iH70s, don't expect booming base or to fill a large room with rich sound, but these speakers would pass as a stereo system in a smaller room (like a dorm room)--just not a very good one.
The iH69s don't quite measure up to Bose's entry-level $100 speakers, the Companion 2 Series II, which retail for slightly more but don't feature the built-in iPod dock of the iHome iH69. The difference isn't huge, however.
It's also worth noting that the iH69 will work with most late-model iPods and iPhones, but the lack of GSM shielding requires iPhones to be switched into airplane mode (no calls) to avoid speaker interference.
Like we said with the iH70, this is a pretty nifty setup if you have an iPod or iPhone and like the idea of being able to conserve space by having a docking station built right into your computer speakers. The iH70 certainly does sound better than the iH69, but as of this writing, it costs about $50 more. Of course, the big question is whether the iH70 sounds $50 better. No. Maybe $20, but not $50, which probably makes the iH69 the better value at the current price points.