Under-$100 speakers, and even more so Bluetooth speakers in this price range, often sound thin and brittle, and tend to distort on deep bass tracks. This is to be expected, and we award high praise when it doesn’t occur. The iHome iBN24, at $79.99 (direct), is a good-looking portable Bluetooth/NFC-enabled speaker that can get quite loud for its modest size, but on tracks with deep bass, the distortion is the main thing you hear. This much is fairly forgivable, but when combined with noise issues that make the speaker hard to enjoy at low volume levels, it becomes a deal breaker. And when the deep bass distortion actually occurs even at low levels, we have a problem. We tested two different units, and with multiple devices, both streaming and directly connected. And we ran into the same problems every time.
The 7-by-8.4-by-2.5-inch (HWD) frame of the rectangular, 1.2-pound iBN24 comes in dark gray, yellowish green, or purple. Along the front face, two small drivers sit behind plastic mesh grilles that are the same color as the rest of the body. The iHome logo itself looks pretty cool—it’s an interesting font they’ve chosen to use for the iBN24, and it’s etched into the front and back panels. Along the back, we have bass ports to move air from the speakers, and some decent connectivity: a 3.5mm aux input, (a cable is included), the micro USB connection point for charging (a USB cable is included), a Power switch, the Bluetooth power button, and the 3.5mm Aux output, should you want to send the audio to another speaker. (Quite possible you will want to do that, but you might just cut out the middleman and go to the other speaker directly.)
You can use this speaker as a speakerphone, and it works with NFC-enabled devices. That makes answering calls wirelessly quite easy. (Non-NFC-enabled devices can use regular old Bluetooth for calls.)
With the iBN24, I experienced tremendous noise and distortion issues with the first unit sent to us. It was suggested that perhaps the battery wasn’t fully charged. Possible, I conceded, so I fully charged it and the results were identical with a second review unit.
The replacement speaker sounds exactly the same, fully charged or not. When streaming Bluetooth audio, it distorts wildly on deep bass tracks. When streaming tracks with almost no deep bass, you can hear a static-heavy noise floor lurking beneath the track—turning it up is the only real way to overcome the distortion. This works okay for, say, Fiona Apple tracks that can be turned up loud without major low-end distortion issues. But this does not work for bass-heavy music. So, you’d guess that it’s maybe just a speaker that can only be used at moderate volumes, but here’s the kicker: The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” with its deep sub-bass content, distorts even at very low volumes! The speaker drivers sound like they’ve been blown out below the half-way point.
So, the logic problem becomes: What can I listen to on the iBN24? You can listen to singer-songwriter music with almost no bass, and some classical music, provided you blast them to overcome the noise issues. At lower levels, the underlying hiss and noise artifacts will ruin your experience. You can’t listen to anything with deep bass at any level, and most things with even average bass presence are going to present some sort of distortion problem at high levels or noise problems at low levels.
Some tracks seem to be dense enough to cover up the noise at lower levels, yet don’t have so much sub-bass that they distort at higher levels. An example would be Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” but that’s not really praise for the speaker—more just showing you that I tried to find examples of music that did not sound dismal on the iBN24. The speaker can get quite loud for its size, and on the random track like “Hey Ya,” it won’t ruin the listening experience if you more or less blast it, and somehow the track’s bustling mix covers up the noise at lower levels.
“Maybe the noise was a Bluetooth issue,” one might reasonably think. Nope. Same noise issues, same distortion issues, Bluetooth engaged or not, wired or wireless.
The hard-working people at iHome have no doubt made plenty of products worthy of praise, so it pains me to write such a negative review—and just so we’re clear, that’s not meant in any snarky, sarcastic way. This particular speaker just isn’t something I could recommend, not for its $80 price tag, not for $20. It doesn’t perform the basic functions a speaker needs to do.
Here are some speakers, $100 and below, that stream Bluetooth audio and don’t suffer from the noise issues—some of them don’t even distort. The Editors’ Choice Panasonic SC-NT10 doesn’t distort or have any noise issues, but at $100 it’s a bit pricier than the iBN24. The $35 808 Audio Canz Wireless Speaker is far less expensive and while its audio is pretty weak and definitely distorts, it still sounds better than the iBN24. The Logitech UE Mobile Boombox can be found for about the iBN24′s price and delivers a far better experience, while the less expensive ($70) Bem Wireless Mobile Speaker has distortion problems, but no noise issues. All of these are more sensible choices than the disappointing iBN24.
|Wireless Remote Control||No|
|Type||iPod, Computer, Wireless, Portable, iPad, iPhone, Android|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc