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iHome iW1 AirPlay® wireless speaker system

One portable system that's at home with my music

Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.

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iHome iW1

I had an opportunity to take an iHome iW1 home for a long weekend and try it out. I'm always looking for simple wireless audio solutions, and was happy for the opportunity.

I've auditioned iHome products before, and have been generally impressed with the sound. The iW1 didn't disappoint in that area, and its portability made it doubly attractive.

The iHome iW1 is an Apple AirPlay-enabled wireless speaker system. So you need some type of iDevice — iPod touch®, iPad®, or iPhone® — or computer running iTunes® to use it.

The system has built-in rechargeable batteries that, according to iHome, can last from 6 hours at max volume to around 15 at medium volume. I didn't play the iW1 at full volume, and was able to get 8-10 hours of continuous playing without any trouble.

iHome iW1
I really liked the simple design of the charging base.

One design feature I liked was the recharging stand. It's a small rounded ovoid that the speaker system just sits on. I didn't have to match prongs-to-outlet or anything like that. I just placed the system on the base, and the rounded edges made the it slide right into place. Simple!

Signing on with AirPlay — through a portable

There are two ways to sync the iHome iW1 via AirPlay, and I tried both of them. If you have an iDevice, you can sync it directly to the iW1. It took but a few seconds to download the free iHome app to the iPhone from the iTunes app store.

I then had to connect the iPhone to the system via a 30-pin charging cable. Every iDevice comes with one, but iHome thoughtfully included a cable in the box just in case. (Good thing, too. Mine was hooked up in the car.)

After the iPhone and iHome iW1connected, and recognized each other, I only needed to select the wireless network the two devices would use. Once that step was completed, I could go wireless.

Signing on with AirPlay — through a computer

Connecting with my home laptop was a slightly different - but equally easy - process. I turned on the iW1, which looked for my home network. In the instruction book, there was the address of a webpage I needed to go to.

I did so. The page had all the necessary instructions and code the computer needed to find the device. With the click of a button on the site, the instruction process started and within a minute the syncing process was complete. I then selected the network, and that was it. In my computer's iTunes window I could see the iHome iW1 as a speaker option, and I was ready to stream.

Plays more than iTunes!

With a portable device, I could not only play the music stored on it, but also steam audio from any app I was using. So I could listen to PANDORA® Internet radio through the iW1, or Slacker, YouTube™ audio, or even the sound effects from Angry Birds.

Most of the time I used the iHome iW1 at home with my laptop. I very quickly discovered that it played anything that would normally go through the computer's speakers. Of course that meant it played anything cued up from iTunes — songs, podcasts, Internet radio stations, etc. But it also meant AirPlay streamed audio from any source on the computer. So I could listen to movie soundtracks as I watched Netflix movies, or enjoy enhanced sound from the YouTube clips I played.

But I also had to be a little careful. If I left a browser window open, my music would be interrupted by little bleeps alerting me that a new tweet had come in. And one time when I was listening to the iW1 in the basement my wife got online on the computer upstairs and started playing a Facebook game. I heard every move! (We soon learned how to disable game sounds.)

iHome iW1
The iW1 on the basement workbench, streaming music from upstairs.

Goes anywhere, upstairs or down

I had a great time with the iHome iW1. Anyplace my wireless home network covered, I could use it. So I could take it to the basement workshop, the upstairs attic, outside on the porch, and all around the first floor.

There are a few spots where the iW1 lost the signal (due to metal ductwork in the walls, I think) as I walked from one place to the other. But the system quickly locked into the signal again once I moved past the obstruction.

The iHome comes with its own remote, and also works with the Apple remote app you can get for your iDevice. I didn't really use either. The top of the system has basic touch-sensitive controls, and for the most part I just set the volume once and let it play.

Well-grounded sound

The system has two tweeters, two woofers and ported base, and although it was fairly compact, the sound never sounded small or tinny. The iHome features Bongiovi circuitry, which does a very good job at decoding digital audio. It fills in missing harmonics, and helps fill out compressed audio — which really helped with less-than-audiophile signals like those from Internet radio stations and some older MP3 files I had.

Passes with classical

As always, I tried a variety of music on the iW1, and was generally pleased with the result. Manuel Barrueco's classical guitar sounded clean and natural, with just the right amount of presence. So too did smaller instrumental combinations, such as the piano, violin, and cello of the Ames Trio, or the sackbuts, lutes and crumhorns of the King's Noyse early music ensemble.

The iW1 reproduced full orchestras with a nice wide range, although the overall sound stage sounded a little closed in. The higher I pushed the volume, though, the more the field seemed to expand.

iHome iW1
The iW1 in our family room, in front of some of the CDs it replaces.

If you're planning a party, the iHome iW1 can handle your music. I pumped all kinds of electronic music through the system — including 2 Many DJs, Kanye West, Kraftwerk, Metallica, Chemical Brothers, Lady Gaga, and even some Sass Jordan. It all hit with a satisfying crunchiness and razor-sharp responsiveness. And the system played the music at higher volumes cleanly and without distortion.

The only caveat I would give is this: if your ideal bass is the kind that enables car audio systems to rattle windows along the street, you'll probably be disappointed. The iHome iW1 delivered good, strong bass, but nothing with quite that punch. The bass boost setting helped, and got it to the point I think would be more than adequate for most social gatherings (at least at my home).

Simple setup, practical utility

On the whole, I enjoyed my time with the iHome iW1. It was easy to set up, and once the battery was fully charged, I could take it just about anywhere in my home (even a little outside of it). Sound quality was very good, and I especially appreciated the improvement the iW1 brought to my basement work area over the old AM/FM CD player currently residing there. Not only better sound, but a better variety of music!

It seems that each iteration of AirPlay-compatible speaker systems become more useful, more powerful, and more user-friendly. The iHome iW1 decidedly continues that trend.

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