For our first iPod Dock Bracket Battle, we're starting with our cheapest, but most attainable units on the list— the iHome iH8 and the Logitech Audiostation Express. The approaches are different: the iHome is a fully functional alarm clock while the Logitech is a no-frills speaker dock. But both run $100 and are smaller than a loaf of bread. So which one wins the face-off?
Both units are similarly sized, fitting on a shelf with ease. And they are each attractive enough in their own way.
iHome: we like the orange glowing lights are a clever throwback to older iPods, and a snooze button is incorporated on the remote.
Audiostation Express: the HAL-like (also orange) glowing button is attractive even if unnerving. When you push it to turn on the unit, the button pops out and becomes a volume wheel. The premise works, but were there no more functions engineers could squeeze into that button/knob/thingie?
iHome: alarm clock functions operate flawlessly, and even if the iPod is removed before you wake, a separate ringer alarm will still go off. You can change time zones with a designated button, too. But really, this dock is too large for most jet-setters.
Audiostation Express: Logitech offers no frills here, but we don't mind. The one extra feature included is something we really appreciate: video out. (Why is this small touch absent from the iHome even though it makes room for multiple audio outputs?) Video docking is practical in a bedroom television setup where you don't want a lot of components or a more expensive Apple TV.
The sound tests are where things became one-sided...
First we listened to Bolero as performed from the musical Blast!. (Think gentle solo trumpets countered by loud brass ensembles and strong percussion.) The iHome failed miserably, falling into the clock radio stereotype. The sound was thin, often shrill and constantly accompanied by a hissing when high frequencies like tambourines were in the mix.
The same song on the Audiostation almost sounded like a different band altogether. The brass was warmer and the instrumentation was generally more balanced. Overall, there was a feeling of roundness to the music that was enjoyable even at louder volumes. Sure, the bass is still in the toilet and few sounds were carved with perfect distinction, but we were actually able to enjoy Bolero on the Audiostation. Plus, the Audiostation Express sounded better than the iHome from any listening position, and it filled the room with more confidence than I'd anticipated.
To put it simply, the iHome is to the Audiostation Express as radio is to CD. And while Logitech's cheapo model will fall short for the audiophiles (and even amateur audiophiles), I just can't imagine anyone wanting to listen to the iHome for an extended period of time. We won't go through all our tests, but let's say that the results were no different with other genres.
WINNER: Logitech Audiostation Express
While the iHome may be a nice alarm clock, it's a crappy music player. We're not claiming the Audiostation Express will blow you away Memorex-commercial style, but for $100 it's not an unreasonable compromise with sound quality and it meets an unquantifiable yet critical threshold of general listenability.