We don't associate the iHome brand with "premium" audio and cutting-edge design, but the folks there are giving it their best shot with the 100-watt iP1, which has a new look for the company known for its budget iPod audio systems.
The first thing you notice about the iP1 is that it has a very distinct, industrial look. It's all black with translucent, dark tinted plastic glass on the front supporting two, rather deep cylindrical speakers (they extend a little more than 6 inches out the back). Weighing 8 pounds, the system has some heft to it, but you can easily move it around the room, though it's a little awkward to carry.
The iP1 has a set of "custom-designed" 4-inch woofers and 1-inch silk dome tweeters that are powered by Bongiovi Acoustics' proprietary Digital Power Station processor. In terms of connectivity, there's a standard audio input to connect other audio sources along with a component AV output and a remote control. It also works with iPhones; it's GSM-shielded, so you can dock the iPhone without having to toggle it to airplane mode.
We could lament the lack of a built-in alarm clock or radio on the iP1. However, all iPods have built-in clocks with alarms that will rouse you out of bed in the morning--just be sure to leave the iP1's speakers turned on. Likewise, the iPod Touch and iPhone have plenty of live streaming audio options available, and the fifth-generation iPod Nano has a built-in FM radio--so the dearth of a radio on the iP1 isn't such a big deal.
Indeed, the only real extra from a features standpoint is that AV output for iPod videos. The idea behind it is that you could position the iP1 near a TV (preferably under it in a rack) and the iHome becomes the stereo audio system for your movies. Its audio quality is superior to what the integrated speakers on most TVs can produce.
The remote control that comes with the system is longer than your typical credit-card-size iPod speaker remote and it has a few more buttons. You have the usual controls (skip track forward/back, rewind/fast forward, and play/pause), plus there's a menu button that lets you navigate through the menus on your iPod or iPhone, though you will have to stand close to your device to see the screen (Apple menus do not display on your TV screen when you're in video output mode).
In terms of sound adjustments, can raise and lower bass and treble levels and engage the "B" button that kicks in Bongiovi Acoustics' Digital Power Station processor; it's also supposed to make your MP3s sound better.
One issue we had with the bass/treble adjustments was that it was hard to tell just how much bass or treble you'd dialed in because there are no numbers or settings to read. You simply hit the plus and minus symbols to raise and lower the levels. It's also worth noting that if you lose the remote control, it doesn't appear that you can set bass or treble levels. The only buttons on the unit itself are for raising and lowering the volume.
At first, we weren't impressed with the sound of the iP1. However, that was partially because of where we placed the unit in our early listening tests. We had it on a table away from the wall, and the bass sounded underwhelming. But we then moved it to another room and placed it on a shelf about 18 inches from the wall, and it immediately sounded better. The moral of the story is, placement is important for audio speakers.
We fed it various genres of music and concluded the iP1 offers aggressive sound (read: the opposite of laid back). The bass and treble are amped up, but its midrange doesn't have a strong presence (voices sounded a little higher-pitched than they should have). Engaging the "B" button helps to balance out the sound and smooth things out, so we suspect most people will keep it activated most of the time.
What's this all add up to? Well, the iP1 sounds better with rock, hip-hop, and thumping pop music from the likes of Lady Gaga and Rihanna, but isn't as well-suited to playing acoustical or classical music. In other words, because the system is on the aggressive side, it tends to sound better with equally aggressive music. With finer material, it just doesn't have the chops to truly impress. The audio detail is there, but it has a little too much edge to at times and we noticed some slight distortion in certain acoustical tracks (we listened to Dan Auerbach's "Keep it Hid," for example). Also, as with all compact iPod audio systems, it's hard to get great stereo separation from speakers that are so close together.
In terms of volume, the system does have some kick to it, and while it's not as powerful or as good overall as the identically priced Altec Lansing Mix iMT800, but it will fill a small to medium size room with sound. Again, placement is important, so if you do buy one, move it around to hear how it sounds in various locations.
Overall, the iP1 mixes an interesting, arresting design with relatively dynamic sound that's geared toward contemporary music. That said, while the iP1 is better than what Bose has to offer in this price range, $300 is still a fair amount to pay for an iPod music system, and this model would be more attractive if it cost less than $250. Altec's Mix iMT800 may not be as sleek looking, but it offers better sound, an FM radio, and a portable option for the same price. However, the Altec is considerably larger and does not have video outputs.