The iHome ZN9 ($99) is a welcome addition to the short list of Zune MP3 player accessories. With dual alarms, battery backup, AM/FM radio, and a time zone indicator, it's also simply one of the best clock radios we've come across at this price.
The iHome ZN9 is created for the Zune, but its design borrows heavily from the Microsoft Xbox 360 game console. Looking like an artfully squashed shoebox, the iHome ZN9 wins no points for alarm clock design innovation; however, the overall construction quality of the product feels very good.
The front of the iHome ZN9 offers stereo 2-inch speakers covered in a metal grille, as well as a 4-inch illuminated LCD. The iHome ZN9's display has adjustable brightness settings that present the date and time in large, legible digits. Our only complaint about the iHome ZN9's LCD is that its completely perpendicular orientation can be difficult to read from bed, compared with slightly slanted displays.
The top of the iHome ZN9 is where you'll find all its most important features. A Zune dock sits at the very middle of the iHome ZN9, which accommodates all models of first- and second-generation media players. Eight buttons and a snooze bar are placed in front of the iHome ZN9's Zune dock, offering features such as AM/FM radio presets, EQ, sleep timer, radio activation, and two independent alarms. To the left of these buttons is a large volume wheel with a power button at its center, and to the right you'll find an identical-looking jog wheel for setting values on the clock and a play/pause button that controls your docked Zune.
Unlike many speaker dock alarm clocks we've reviewed, the iHome ZN9 keeps its clock set controls concealed on the back of the unit. Luckily, with the iHome ZN9's internal AA-battery backup, time zone indicator, and daylight saving time switch, you'll only need to set the time once. The back of the ZN9 also includes two small bass ports, AM and FM antenna wires, DC power input, and 3.5mm line output and input.
The iHome ZN9 takes its alarm clock responsibilities seriously with dual alarms that can be specifically set to a weekday, seven-day, or weekend schedule. Each of the ZN9's alarms can be set to wake you with either the built-in AM/FM radio, buzzer, or music from your docked Zune MP3 player. Should you forget to dock your Zune in the ZN9's cradle before bedtime, the alarm clock will default to a buzzer alarm.
We're happy to see the rarely supported AM radio band included on the iHome ZN9, although you may want to hide the unsightly AM antenna behind your headboard. Three buttons on the top of the ZN9 control up to six AM or FM station presets. If you can't stomach your local stations and your Zune music library has grown stale, the ZN9 allows you to route alternative audio sources through its line-input jack.
A Sleep feature on the iHome ZN9 offers a non-narcotic way to drift off to slumberland, scheduling a gradual decrease in volume to occur between 15 to 120 minutes. Your morning alarm also takes a gentle approach to volume, slowly stepping up intensity over the course of 15 seconds.
The iHome ZN9 does not come with a remote control, although you can buy one for an extra $20. Used as an alarm clock, we didn't feel slighted by the lack of a remote. If you plan to use the iHome ZN9 as a Zune speaker system above and beyond waking up in the morning, the extra money may be a worthwhile investment to control your Zune from across the room.
First and foremost, the iHome ZN9 is an alarm clock. If you're looking for a Zune boom box with standout sound, the Altec Lansing M604 is a better option. That said, the iHome ZN9 packs more than enough punch to get you out of bed. Adjustable EQ controls for bass and treble bands offer five degrees of cut and boost, while an switchable 3D stereo specialization effect can widen the ZN9's sonic footprint. People who need a serious sonic assault to rouse them from sleep have the option of routing the iHome ZN9's line output to a home stereo or a set of powered speakers.