While the company is more known for its iPod clock radios, iHome has been branching out into more iPod-related audio accessories in the last couple of years. Case in point: the iHome iH70 (also known as the "iH70SRC"), a pair of computer speakers with a built-in iPod dock and integrated USB connectivity for syncing your iPod--or iPhone--with your computer.
Let's start with the obvious: if all of your iPod's music is, presumably, already on your computer's hard drive, why do you even need 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 iH70 replaces an existing charge cradle will save a bit of clutter on most people's desks.
If the silver-colored speakers have a primary fault, it's that they look cheaper than they should for a product that lists for $150 (the online price is closer to $130). And here's where it gets a little strange: there's a black version of the speakers, the iHome iH69B. That version is only one-third as powerful (5 watts versus 15 for the iH69) and lacks a remote control, but it lists for $100, and is widely available for around $80. That price feels a lot closer to the actual value of what you're getting here.
Controls for power and volume up/down are conveniently placed on the front of the right speaker, while the iPod dock is embedded into the front of the left speaker. The speaker grilles are removable, which is nice, but pulling them off doesn't exactly reveal luxurious guts. Alas, you get a glimpse of more cheap-looking plastic and a single driver (there's no separate tweeter). Better to leave things covered up. At least, however, peeking behind the curtain shows that they were smart enough to position the drivers at the top end, so the left one won't be blocked when the iPod/iPhone is docked.
On a more positive note, the iH70s 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 iH70 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.
A couple of gripes: we would have preferred if the small iPod syncing button was on the front of the left speaker instead of the back of it mixed in with the rest of the ports. As it is, you have to reach blindly around the back of the speaker and feel for the button (or, of course, you could simply turn the speaker around, but that's more of an effort than it's worth). We also had a little 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've 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.
The unit ships with a remote control, which is somewhat rare for lower-priced computer speakers. The remote is identical to the one that ships with the iHome iP99 clock radio; controls are limited to volume and basic iPod functions (play/pause, skip forward, skip back).
As for sound, it won't wow audiophiles, but it's not bad. The speakers use the same Reson8 design that the iHome clock radios do but what makes the iH70 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). Don't expect booming base or to fill a large room with rich sound, but these speakers would do fine as a stereo system in a smaller room (like a dorm room) and offer decent clarity if you're sitting in the aforementioned sweet spot. The iH70 compared favorably to Bose's entry-level $100 speakers, the Companion 2 Series II. Those Bose speakers cost a little less but don't feature the built-in iPod dock of the iHome iH70.
It's also worth noting that the iH70 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.
In the final analysis, 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. While the speakers aren't going to win too many style points, they do pair up well enough with the current generation of silver iMacs. But absent a bigger price cut, we suspect most people are probably going to go with the cheaper iHome iH69B.