There seems to be little doubt that ‘wireless’ is the way forwards for most modern computers, portables and peripherals and, where possible, manufacturers have attempted to offer wire-free alternatives to their seemingly endless collections of gadgets. The i2i Stream is certainly an interesting addition, claiming to offer a total wireless audio solution for any of a myriad of players and audio equipment.
The basic package comes with two transmitter/receiver units, which are each around the size of a matchbox and come with all of the relevant cables, along with a lanyard and belt clip. One unit can be connected to any audio player with a 3.5mm headphones port, so mobile phones, MP3 players, CD players, computers, home stereos and pretty much anything else that can pump out a tune are fair game. A regular pair of headphones can then be plugged into the top of this unit, which acts as a pass-through device so as not to interfere when switched off.
Now comes the good bit. The second unit, which will also take a regular pair of headphones, is able to receive the audio signal wirelessly from the transmitting device so that a second person can enjoy the same music.
This system works very well and is easy to set up and manage using the relevant controls. These include an on/off and volume flick-switch, transmit and receive buttons to send or attempt to connect to a signal, and a ‘channel button’, which switches between seven available channels.
These are colour-coded for quick reference so it’s easy to tell at a glance whether both units are set to the same frequency before you try to connect. The reason there are so many is to help prevent signals from clashing within the device’s 30-foot radius and to allow you to choose between multiple broadcasters, provided you know the relevant colours. We’re still not sure why there need to be seven though, as i2iGear states that a maximum of three can operate at the same time, and this may drop down to two in areas with strong WiFi presence.
In addition to using the i2i Stream to allow two people to listen to the same music, you could also plug one into a home stereo system’s auxiliary port and the other into your music player. This would be an excellent way to keep your player to hand and retain full control over volume and playback settings without stringing wires across a room.
In terms of performance we were actually quite surprised by how well the i2i Stream worked. There’s only a very small reduction in sound quality that’s unlikely to bother any but the choosiest of audiophiles, and the only real grievance we have is that bass was a little less pronounced on the receiver unit.
This isn’t noticeable enough to ruin the experience, however, and if you’re connecting it to a home stereo you will be able to benefit from treble and bass/equalizer controls to get things to your liking. The devices were able to maintain this quality for most of the 30-foot range and were also quite fast and responsive in terms of broadcasting and connecting to a relevant station.
There were a few issues that we think will prevent the i2i Stream from really making a mark on the industry, however. The control boxes do feel rather cheap, are quite hollow and have a nasty rattle to them due to the plastic buttons. Also, the fact that a cable is required between the box and a player (rather than a protruding or retractable 3.5mm jack, as with devices like the iTrip) means that it’s not the tidiest solution, since most of the time it’ll be dangling down the back of the audio device when you’re adjusting playback.
Finally, there’s a charge time of around 5-6 hours via USB, from which you’ll get a similar amount of playback, so you may find yourself hooking the units up to a computer more often than you’d like.
Despite these faults it’s really difficult not to like the i2i Stream and the fact that it gets the important things right, like usability and performance, will outweigh the drawbacks for most. It’s the most effective method we’ve seen for sharing a music experience on the move and the fact that it doubles up as a receiver for a home stereo system is the icing on the cake.
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