In the past, we've looked at countless iPod audio systems that provide adequate to excellent iPod playback but lack other desirable features such as a CD player and AM/FM radio. The i199 from iLuv (the accessory division of discount manufacturer jWIN) strives to bring an end to iPod speaker systems that come up short. It's got an integrated iPod dock, CD player, AM/FM radio, USB port, and line-in jack, so it's equally adept at playing back any iPod-based music, audio CDs, and MP3 and WMA files from CD-Rs or USB devices. Furthermore, the i199 sports something iLuv calls "Bluepin," a Bluetooth-based wireless interface that allows the unit to receive as well as transmit audio. This means you can not only stream music from any compatible Bluetooth device to the i199's speakers, but you can also transmit any of the audio sources the i199 can play to any Bluetooth device--such as wireless Bluetooth headphones.
Available in black (i199BLK) or white (i199WHT), the i199 is coated with a glossy plastic that doesn't show fingerprints. About the size of a bread box, it can easily fit on virtually any shelf, nightstand, or countertop. The i199 has a vibrant blue LCD readout with three brightness settings--in addition to the time, the display can show file and track information when playing MP3s or WMAs via the USB port or data CD.
The i199 features a dual-alarm function with some impressive flexibility. The alarms can be set to wake to any source--iPod, radio, CD, and so forth--or an alarm tone. When an alarm is sounded, the audio begins to gradually rise until it peaks at a level you customize when you initially program the alarm. The volume customization also means you can lull yourself gently to sleep (the "sleep" function can be set in 30-minute increments) at a low volume level but still be awakened with a loud enough signal to get you out of bed in the morning. (Of course, a snooze bar is available for procrastinators.)
The eight-button remote control bundled with the i199 is small and has a rounded plastic edge that fits comfortably in your hand. On it you'll find most of the same buttons as on the top of the unit.
The i199's top-mounted iPod dock will work with most recent dock-enabled iPod models (including Nanos and Minis), and the system includes a number of matching plastic dock inserts for tight fits. The iPod will need to be controlled manually--with the scroll wheel--and its song info won't be displayed on the i199's LCD, but it does charge the device. Another welcome addition is the support for AV out for iPods with picture and video capability. Simply attach the included AV composite cable to any monitor or TV, and you can view all of your iPod videos and pictures on a bigger screen--just make sure your iPod is set to TV out. Video quality will vary according to how well your videos have been encoded and their resolution sizes. Owners of older iPods, iPod Shuffles, or any other MP3 players aren't completely out of luck--the included audio patch cable lets you connect anything with a headphone jack to the i199's line-in port.
Sound quality is right on par with what we'd expect from a mini audio system like the i199. Played at a normalized level, the unit sounded crisp and clear regardless of which audio source was playing. The only exception to this was quality via Bluetooth (more on that later). It was only until we really pushed the unit did it begin to sound clouded and muzzled. That said, the system can easily fill up a large size room, as it did in our 15x22-foot testing area. We would have liked to have been able to tweak some of the audio, but unfortunately, there is no EQ control on the i199.
USB mode worked well, but we did notice a few minor hiccups with its functionality. The i199 will recognize WMA and MP3 files on a flash drive or mass-storage-compliant MP3 player, but if you switch to another source and then back to USB, you'll most likely need to toggle the i199's power in order for the unit to reread your USB drive. Navigating through our drive was easy, and the i199 will also recognize "albums" if you place groups of music files in separate folders.
The i199 is equipped with a small removable Bluetooth transceiver iLuv dubs "Bluepin" that can send or receive audio to compatible Bluetooth devices--pretty much anything with the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP). That means it can stream audio from Bluetooth-enabled sources (MP3-friendly cell phones) as well as stream audio to Bluetooth headphones. Unfortunately, this was the only place where we found the audio quality noticeably lacking--the songs playing off our Motorola Q cell phone sounded like FM radio quality. That's probably because the i199 utilizes the older 1.2 version of the Bluetooth spec, not the more music-friendly 2.0 or better version.
One strange issue we did have with the i199 was completely unrelated to its performance, but rather a cosmetic concern. The unit shipped with a sticker on the top of cover to the iPod dock--visible in the main product photo--and removing it was incredibly difficult. In fact, we were never able to completely remove the residue left by the decal. Usually these peel right off, but in this case, we may have been better off leaving it on--it's something to keep in mind.
In the final analysis, the i199 is a solid all-in-one tabletop audio solution that offers more features than many competing models--some of which cost hundreds more. Models that include both an iPod dock and a CD player are actually few and far between--the $300 Sharp DK-A10 i-Elegance lacks the advanced dual-alarm features on the iLuv, and the $400 Cambridge SoundWorks Radio CD 745i has a somewhat cumbersome outboard iPod dock. By comparison, the i199 has a retail price of $250, but it's widely available online for less than $200. Considering its plethora of features and decent sound quality, it's a great value.