REVIEW: iPod Hi-Fi… Overpriced, even for Apple - Macenstein

REVIEW: iPod Hi-Fi… Overpriced, even for Apple

Posted by Lab Rat

Apple has a long tradition of taking a good idea, perfecting it, simplifying it, encasing it in white plastic, and then charging way too much for it. As a loyal Mac user I have come to appreciate that as good as Apple’s products are, Apple’s marketing department is even better. Those looking for proof need look no further than Apple’s iPod Hi-Fi speaker system.

Home Stereo. Reinvented.

Apple’s iPod Hi-Fi (I wonder if they had to pay a licensing fee to use “iPod� in the title?) is marketed as the reinvention of the home stereo. This is sort of like when Lexus puts out a new model and says “We’ve reinvented driving�. No you didn’t. You made a nice (but slightly over-priced) car that gets you where you want to go. Same with the iPod Hi-Fi.

Before anyone accuses me of bashing Apple’s first foray into the speaker market, let me just say the iPod Hi-Fi does indeed deliver one of the best listening experiences you can get in the $200-$250 price range. The problem is, Apple has priced these speakers at $349, which in theory pushes them up into competition with “real� speakers. The iPod Hi-Fi just isn’t up to the challenge.

Ease of Use

Here is where the iPod Hi-Fi shines. It was designed by the makers of the iPod, so it stands to reason that it should work seamlessly with the iPod, and it does. The built-in dock, located on the top of the Hi-Fi, serves as both a charging station and a line-in for the unit. The iPod Hi-Fi does not have a built-in display of any kind, but thanks to the dock connector, you don’t need one. Using your iPod’s display and the iPod Hi-Fi’s remote you can adjust a few sound settings, such as bass and treble. Apple calls these “Tone Controls�. Additionally, you can set the Hi-Fi to display the album art of the track you are listening too if you’d like (assuming you have a color screened iPod). One thing I thought was interesting; the iPod Hi-Fi’s remote is the same as the iMac and Mac mini’s, so if you have the Hi-Fi positioned near your computer, you will find BOTH volumes will go up and down when using the remote. The plus side is if you lose one, you’ll have a backup.

The iPod Hi-Fi has both a built-in dock for charging your iPod as well as the universal Apple remote.

One area Apple dropped the ball is with Air Tunes integration. To hook up AirTunes you need to have an open nearby outlet and a mini stereo chord to run to the Hi-Fi’s audio in port on the back. Apple should really have thought to include an extra AC outlet on the back of the Hi-Fi for plugging in the AirPort Express unit.

Sound Quality

Like I said earlier, the iPod Hi-Fi sounds quite good for an all in one unit. It has a pretty deep bass for a system of its size, but I found on pretty much every song the vocals sounded muted. Despite trying just about every iPod EQ setting or Hi-Fi “Tone Control� setting, the overall sound just seemed a bit low. This was not something that initially jumped out at me, in fact I thought the first song I played (“Lightning Crashes� by LIVE) actually sounded great. However, I then played the exact same song on a pair of Audioengine’s A5 speakers (also priced at $349), and the difference was day and night. Suddenly the vocals popped, the bass got even deeper, and the mid ranges sounded crystal clear. Switching back to the iPod Hi-Fi, suddenly the tones sounded muddied.

I would put the sound quality of the iPod Hi-Fi slightly (VERY slightly) above the recently reviewed Boomtube H2O1 (another portable speaker solution), by ThinkOutside, mainly for its deeper bass. Yet, the iPod Hi-Fi costs about $160 more than the Boomtube. So what do you get for that $160? An extra 10 pounds and a remote. Additionally, the Boomtube runs off a RECHARGEABLE battery. The iPod Hi-Fi needs 6 hefty D-cell batteries to play as a portable unit, and we found those only lasted about 7 hours of continuous use.

The Boomtube H2O1


Granted, the Audioengines I mentioned above are not “portable� speakers, but they by no means tower over the iPod Hi-Fi either. If Audioengine had decided to slap a $5 handle on their speakers and call them portable, they would have a pretty similarly sized (and weighted) “portable� unit. Basically what I am saying here is it was possible for Apple to fit higher quality components into the Hi-Fi’s form factor without upping the cost.

The iPod Hi-Fi is pretty much the same size as the Audioengine A5’s

One final note on portability… the front of the iPod Hi-Fi is standard speaker mesh fabric. Most iPod speaker sets that bill themselves as portable are made of a durable material with the speakers encased in some sort of protective plastic mesh grill. While I am sure this can compromise sound quality, Apple could have at least included some sort of protective case for the Hi-Fi. As is, you can’t exactly throw it in the back of your SUV and drive up to the mountains. It needs to be fairly well pack to keep anything else from squishing it and damaging that material. Also, Apple seems to have made the Hi-Fi out of the same white plastic the iPod is made of. Not exactly the most rugged and scratch-proof of materials.

Final Thoughts

Despite all my criticisms, the iPod Hi-Fi delivers a great room-filling sound and decent bass, especially for an all-in-one unit. However, Apple’s claims that it is portable are more of a gimmick than practical. Just because it CAN run off batteries doesn’t make it portable. If your speakers weigh close to 20 pounds and have a handle that requires 2 hands to hold, how far are you gonna go? The clear intended use for the Hi-Fi is as a stationary home stereo or bookshelf system, and for the $349 price tag Apple slapped on it, there are better systems available.

Apple iPod Hi-Fi

Price: $349

Pros: Good sound, has remote, has a built-in dock

Cons: Way too expensive. Easily scratchable and speaker material too flimsy for a portable unit. Heavy with batteries. Despite Apple’s claims, this is not really a portable unit. For the price, there are better sounding home stereo alternatives. Did I mention it is way overpriced?

One Response to “REVIEW: iPod Hi-Fi… Overpriced, even for Apple”
  1. Hamish says:

    I love it…. it replaced my old Hi-Fi system….as I have no need for CDs anymore, it works flawlessly, and soundwise I find it excellent…and the bonus is, if I am going away for a weekend I can take the system with me and have decent sound…. a rechargable battery is only useful if you do have a power point to plug it in to… I have had great use of the iPod Hi-Fi when I have gone away camping with friends, to the beach and as a sound system when my car stereo failed…
    Yes, I agree with a few of the gripes: an AC outlet at the back would be great but wireless built in would be even better…i expect that will appear in future models…
    I love the fact that it is so simple aesthetically….until you start to use it, no one would really notice it in the room, compared to most of the other over-designed speaker systmes available… and the fact that it is so solid means that it can be placed on nearly any surface. There is no concern that it’s going to fall off, or over like some of the others…

Leave A Comment


Click here to inquire about making a fortune by advertising your game, gadget, or site on Macenstein.