The iLuv i199 iPod audio system impressed us with its seemingly endless array of features crammed into a tight package at an affordable price. Enter the iLuv i399: it's larger and more expensive than the older i199, and delivers a more thumping bass line, thanks to its built-in subwoofer. But it loses the CD player, USB port, and alarm clocks that helped make the i199 such a great value. Yes, the iLuv i399 still keeps an iPod dock and radio, and its Bluetooth 2.0 module offers noticeably better sound quality when streaming audio from compatible devices such as music phones. However, even with its better overall sound quality, we always find it tough to recommend a more expensive product that delivers fewer features.
The design of the iLuv i399 is much more reminiscent of a classic "boom box" shape: wide, but not very deep. All of the function controls have been organized on the right side of the iPod dock in favor of a minimalist design. The cloth speaker grille extends the entire width of the unit, with two handles on either side for easy carrying. The display on the i399 has taken a hit as well--it's now much smaller than the one on the i199. At the very top of the device, mounted all the way to the left are two flaps, one hiding the headphone and auxiliary-in jacks, the other for the removable BluePin adapter, which lets the unit wirelessly receive audio from compatible Bluetooth devices. (You won't be able to close the BluePin flap when you're taking advantage of it.)
Around back, you'll find for a spot for batteries, requiring a whopping eight D-sized batteries to take the i399 on the go. There's also a slot for two AAA batteries that will keep the clock ticking in the event of an electrical power outage. (As mentioned above, there are no alarms--just a clock.) That's quite a lot of batteries, and--while you can always invest in some third-party rechargeables--it would've been nice if the i399 had some sort of built-in rechargeable battery option instead.
The i399 also has a row of rhythm-sensitive blue LED lights that run along its base, hearkening back to the glory days of flashy Aiwa minisystems. Unfortunately, the lights don't react very much unless you really crank the volume. Thankfully, this feature can be easily disabled.
The included remote control is an improvement over the one bundled with the i199. We had complained about the flimsy feel to the previous remote, and while the i399's isn't a drastic improvement in that regard, it does perform noticeably better and doesn't require the need to hit buttons over and over.
We were pleased to see that the Bluetooth capability of the i399 was upgraded to the 2.0 version of the standard (up from the version 1.2 found on the i199). We were able to transmit audio from our HTC Mogul smartphone and the result sounded good--much better than the BluePin performance on the i199. The device also has the capability to transmit audio, which we successfully did with a pair of Bluetooth headphones. The resulting sound quality was solid, with a reasonable range as well.
The i399 also lets you pair the BluePin with a cell phone and use the unit as a speakerphone, with a microphone built right into the BluePin adapter. While we had no issues pairing the device with our smartphone, the resulting voice quality and performance was inconsistent. We were not able to conduct a static-free conversation, and we had to get very close to the BluePin for the other party to hear us coherently.
While we were pleased to see the capability to control your iPod's music with the i399's remote, the fact that you must be close enough to read your iPod's screen to navigate through it dampened the overall experience. Also, the removal of support for iPod video out (as found on the i199) was disappointing. The i399 supports all iPods with a dock connection (except the third generation iPod) and will charge your iPod while it's docked. An included set of four iPod adapters allow for most iPods to rest easily in the dock.
The FM tuner has up to 20 presets for your favorite stations. Unfortunately, there is only one button for cycling through them, so if you have a bunch of favorite radio stations, be prepared to button mash. It's also worth noting that sports and news fans looking for AM support are out of luck--the i399 if FM only.
In terms of sound quality, the i399 sounds just as good as its predecessor with a crisp and clean sound. There are still no equalizer settings, but the addition of an embedded subwoofer does add a satisfying kick in performance. The i399 had no problem filling our 15-foot-by-22-foot testing area and would do well in a bedroom or dorm.
It should be noted that we experienced a bit of buzzing whenever we had an iPod docked in the unit. Even stranger, the interference seemed to intensify whenever our iPod's screen lit up. Adjusting the volume had no effect on this, but fortunately wasn't easily noticeable while music was playing. However, if you're within 3 feet of the i399 in a silent room, you will notice the buzz in between songs or while the device is silent. We'd recommend removing the iPod from its dock whenever you aren't listening to it. We're not completely sure why this happens--perhaps it's an issue regarding magnetic shielding.
In the final analysis, we were upset to see that the i399 did not hang onto the CD player, dual alarm clocks, and USB port found on the i199. Yes, the boom box-like i399 does deliver meatier sound compared with the i199, which is designed for a bedroom nightstand. For the record, an iLuv representative stated, "iLuv did consider adding the CD but decided to focus on the high power output." She continued: "Adding the CD loader in the unit will cause lower power output." However, Sony has managed to cook up two similar products, the ZSS-2IP ($80, with iPod dock) and ZS-BT1 ($150, with Bluetooth), both of which managed to include a CD player. Call us old-fashioned, but we'd rather have the disc player rather than the speakerphone and rhythm-sensitive LEDs. In other words, the i399 is still a quality-sounding speaker system--it has just lost some of the value its predecessor was able to boast.