These days you have to create something pretty compelling to ask 300 bucks for an iPod speaker dock, and iHome delivers with its iP1. A dramatic departure not only from the company's previous designs, but iPod speaker docks in general, it features audio enhancement technology developed by record producer and sound engineer Tony Bongiovi, cofounder of Bongiovi Acoustics. Although the $299 price tag may seem off-putting at first, the iP1's studio-grade sound quality and innovative design more than justify the expense.
For the most part, iPod dock designs tend to forget about an integral part of the device--the iPod itself. With the exception of a few Altec Lansing models, most docks look like the placement of the iPod is an afterthought. Past iHome docks such as the iH12 and JBL docks such as the On Time 400IHD stick the iPod on top of the device, like a bad cake topper. In contrast, the iP1 doesn't look complete until an iPod is placed on it.
The design of the iP1 is incredibly sparse, yet also futuristic. The iPod sits front and center, and is flanked on either side by two 4-inch, 40-watt woofers and two 1-inch, 10-watt tweeters in the upper corners. The black metal grilles covering the woofers can be removed and replaced with understated black rims that leave the speaker cones exposed.
The four speakers and the dock are encased in a half-inch thick slab of smoked acrylic at the front of the iP1. Without any side or back encasement, the dock has a very 3D look to it. Sound is created through vibrations in the air, and the openness of the iP1 gives you the sense that you're actually seeing sound created.
At 7.9 inches deep, 6.9 inches high, and 16.3 inches wide, we had no problem finding a place for the iP1. Because it's not encased in a cabinet, it won't work as a bookend. But with such a head-turning design, we wouldn't want to tuck this baby in a corner anyway. The iP1 weighed in at 9.0 pounds on our in-house scale, which is heavy for a speaker dock. However, the iP1 isn't meant to be hauled around to different rooms in your house. Besides, it's loud enough to hear in a large room, or even in adjacent spaces.
The iP1 has four simple buttons: Power, Volume down, Volume up, and the B button, which activates the Digital Power Station (DPS) audio enhancement. Also gone from this iPod-certified dock are the interchangeable inserts meant to accommodate various iPod/iPhone models. Instead, there is a knob on the rear of the dock which adjusts a small bumper to properly support different Apple devices. As we frequently switch between an iPod nano and an iPod classic, this is a very welcome change, because it eliminates fumbling around for the correctly sized insert. The iP1 is also certified as Works with iPhone, which translates to no irritating GSM buzz interfering with your tunes. A thin remote ably handles the bulk of the iP1's controls, including navigating the iPod and changing the bass and treble levels.
In iHome's quest to create a premium device, they thankfully didn't stop at looks alone. The iP1 uses Bongiovi Acoustics DPS to restore the high- and low-end frequencies that are often lost when a song is converted into, say, a 128-kbps MP3. The result? The best-sounding iPod dock we've heard.
The B button actives DPS audio enhancement and, quite frankly, there's no reason to ever turn it off. With the B button deactivated, Interpol's "PDA"--encoded at 128 kbps--sounded flat, without much distinction between the instruments. Activating the B button gave the song back its punchy bass line, along with high-range guitars and cymbals.
We also tested the iP1 with a few AAC-formatted Smashing Pumpkins songs from a scratched CD that were encoded at 128 kbps, as well as AAC-formatted songs downloaded from iTunes at both 128 kbps and 256 kpbs (which are typically ripped from the master recordings). Bobby Darin's classic "Mack the Knife" sounded full and alive. While the horns in this song flirted with distortion, they never actually distorted. The bass was noticeably present in the mix, but not overpowering. We even heard the piano in the back, an element we hadn't previously noticed.
Likewise, the strings in Coldplay's "Viva la Vida" stood out more than ever before. They were full, bright, and more of a focal point in the song than during previous experiences with other docks. We also heard a church-like bell in the song stand out more prominently than before. Complimenting the high and midrange sounds, the persistent bass line emphatically made itself known in the mix; although it threatened to become overpowering in bass-heavy songs like Radiohead's "Idioteque," it never drowned out other elements in the song. We appreciated the extra oomph because this dock provided a live performance feel.
The iP1 has component video outputs, but unfortunately, the cables are not included. When we hooked the dock up to a 32-inch Samsung HDTV and played a standard definition episode of Trauma from an iPod touch, the video looked decent; there were a few jagged edges, but it was definitely watchable.
iPod docks are nothing new, but iHome has set a new standard with the iP1. At $299, this device will not fit in everyone's budget, but with its forward-thinking design and superb sound, this is the iPod dock to beat.