iHome iW2 AirPlay Speaker - front

Pros: AirPlay Support; Small, attractive design; Easy network setup

Cons: Lousy sound quality; Expensive

Bottom Line: iHome’s iW2 sounds bad and costs $200. But if for some reason you’re in the market for a good looking speaker with AirPlay and literally don’t care how it sounds, I guess this is the one!

The Details

Apple’s AirPlay technology is pretty nifty, though when it comes to audio-only applications I’ve yet to have my socks blown off. Slinging video from a late-model iPad or iPhone to an Apple TV-equipped HDTV is awesome. Flinging audio in a similar manner usually makes me want to spend a little more for a Sonos setup, or wonder what’s really so bad about the latest iterations of stereo Bluetooth (it’s come a long way, sound quality-wise). Reviewing iHome’s newest AirPlay-compatible speaker dock made me realize part of why I’m apparently a bit anti-AirPlay: Too many iOS speaker dock makers emphasize features and design at the cost of sound. And to me, the most important job of any speaker is to make sound. Good sound, if at all possible.

iW2 does not sound good. I streamed music to the unit via AirPlay in a number of ways, and at a variety of file quality (bit rate) settings. Then I connected my iPhone directly to the speaker with the included connector cable and played music that way. Then I used an old-school 3.5mm audio cable jacked into the iHome’s “Aux In” port. In all cases what the cute little black iW2 gave me in return was highly compressed, tinny sound lacking in both high- and low-end detail. The first time I tested the unit out, I literally thought something was wrong with it. Surely, I thought, this thing must sound better than that noise given the $199 sticker price, slick design, and high-tech installation process involving the ‘iHome Connect’ network setup app. Nope. iW2 just doesn’t sound good.

To be clear, I’m not saying iW2 doesn’t sound as good as other, more expensive speakers. I’m saying it doesn’t sound good, period. I dug out a four year-old Vestalife Ladybug and it sounded better than iW2. I played music through my two year-old desktop Logitech speakers and they sounded better than the iW2. Both products cost far less than $199 back when they hit the market. So, no, I’m not just biased towards super fancy audio gear that costs double what the iHome does.

I’ll stop there, other than to say that AirPlay performance is dependent on the strength of your home network as well as what else folks are doing on said network besides streaming audio. That’s where a proprietary mesh setup like Sonos’ still has an edge on Apple’s system. Still, AirPlay is pretty neato, and if you’re already using iOS and/or OSX devices for music playback, it’s pretty cheap to deploy some AppleTVs and/or AirPlay-compatible speaker docks around your home. Just don’t look to iHome’s iW2 to do the job for you … unless you’re interested in dropping two bills on utterly mediocre sound.

iHome iW2 Gallery

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