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iHome iHM79 rechargeable portable speakers -- share the music

During his tenure as a Crutchfield staff writer, Marshall Chase wrote about home theater receivers, sound bars, and in-wall and in-ceiling speakers.

More from Marshall Chase

When earbuds just won't do

There have been plenty of occasions when I've had something great to share on my MP3 player and I had to hand my earphones over to a friend. Other times there have been multiple people-buds around, so passing around the plugs for a listen just wasn't too practical.

I wished I had some other way to turn people on to the latest from the Flight of the Conchords. I just wanted to fulfill my fantasy of laying some funny or simply awesome new tunes down for people to enjoy without having to shlep around a boombox. The iHome iHM79 rechargeable portable speakers turned out to be an outstanding solution. They sounded great and slipped easily in the pocket of my backpack, my jacket, or most happily, a cargo pocket in my pants!

The iHM79 speakers are compact. They fit perfectly into the water bottle pocket of my backpack and came with a neat pouch that kept off the cookie crumbs. Strong magnets hold the speakers together therefore one must not let them mingle too close to certain sensitive items (debit cards, memory cards, laptop computers and such). The speakers extend and fold back in very easily with just a small turn.

No way speakers this size can sound good — can they?

Well, yes they can.

The iHM79 speakers begin at a height of 2-1/2" but have a built-in beveled extension to make them about 3" tall. This extension is not only in height but in sound. The seemingly slight difference in size extends the sonic reach of these speakers a bit further into the bass range. In fact in using these speakers I discovered that they are ideal both for sharing tunes with others in a small area, like around the desk at work before anyone complained, or on the night stand at home before anyone complained.

I had the iHM79 going at near-full blast with robust volume and clarity. I powered up Billy Joel's Waltz #1 (Nunely's Carousel). In this instrumental piece Joel demonstrates his amazing solo piano prowess and composition skills in a more classical mode.

I find piano to be an excellent test of any speaker because of the instrument's dynamic range. This particular piece is replete with sections where the piano keys are barely glanced and others where they take some hard hits. The iHM79 speakers had to deliver notes soft and hard with equal precision. They didn't flinch and I was frankly delighted. The expression of the artist came through clearly, and that's all I require of speakers.

The "steam roller"/charging test

The '79s have built-in batteries that recharge through a USB port in about 3-4 hours. I love not having to replace batteries. Note that the included USB cable is for charging only. For sound, you'll need to plug your MP3 player, or anything else you have with a headphone jack, into the system's mini-RCA cable (3.5mm connector). I got about 4-5 hours of play out of the speakers before I had to recharge them.

As the speakers recharged, I had James Taylor sing a few numbers for me. Before the speakers were fully charged, I tried an experiment. I unplugged the '79s from my computer's USB port, but didn't move the speakers. And I kept James Taylor playing. Charging or not there was absolutely no detectable change in volume or fidelity. Now it's possible that could occur if the speakers were a bit more discharged, but they were already running for ninety minutes when I tried. As far as their sound with JT, they were great, charging or not.

Initially, the speakers were cranked high enough for me to feel a slight vibration in my computer's keyboard. I had to drop the volume a bit because there was a small amount of distortion in the vocal. Although they sounded great in a normal room, the '79s performed well when it was especially quiet (like when my daughter wasn't home). 

Speaking of my daughter, I played a little Matisyahu in her honor at a volume she would respect. The beginning of One Day had a bit of a buzz in it so again I turned the volume down to a listening level that a dad-pushing-50-but-not-wanting-to-appear-to-be-too-much-of-a-geezer could manage. There's a lot in the mix of a Matisyahu song that could get lost. I found the percussion dropped a little in prominence, but it was still clearly present. As with all of the music I ran through the speakers, you could hear the middle bass notes. But this system is not meant for the great "bass-heads" among us who crave frequencies loved by blue whales. The '79s are just a groovy way to bring tunes into whatever environment you choose.

How do they do on the grill?

This was probably the most important test of all. When I'm out at the barbecue I want to hear music. I have an average-sized deck and wanted to hear the iHM79's outdoors. Time for some classic Rolling Stones. With the speakers about 10 feet away, I could hear Mick's singing and Keith's guitar, but Charlie's drums and Bill's bass didn't make it to the grill very successfully.

Since an audio situation like that was nearly sacrilege, I put the lads on the grill's side panel and found we were all much happier. In fact, the magnetic bottoms were particularly useful since the speakers couldn't walk like they did on top of my dresser. I concluded that the '79's liked to be where the action is — outdoors. I could easily see them as an awesome personal system to enjoy while I lay in repose on the patio or at the beach. Best of all, at my favorite outdoor listening volume the Stones made it into the house where my wife actually was in repose, but it wasn't loud enough to bother her. I think we have a winner!

The bottom line

The iHM79 is one of the best personal speaker systems I've used. It sounds great, it's compact enough to take anywhere I take my backpack (which is nearly everywhere), it's rechargeable and it works with anything that sends sound out of a headphone jack. The iHome iHM79 rechargeable portable speakers are ideal for both young and young-at-heart people who want to share exciting listening with others, or simply to give their earbuds a rest.

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