Stylish look. Plenty of input options.
Works off battery power. Good LCD display.
Audio interference issues - loud hiss.
Small buttons interfere with control. No button lights.
Large and heavy when loaded with batteries.
No EQ options. Only one button for presets. Not compatible with older iPods.
The growing capacity of the iPod's internal storage means we carry around larger and more diverse types of music and audio. This brings up the issue: What is the most convenient way to listen to that music? Headphones are great when on the go, but when sitting at home it is more convenient to plug the iPod into a good speaker system. The iLuv i399 looks to deliver that home speaker system by providing a multitude of audio input options including an FM radio, an auxiliary jack, an iPod dock, and Bluetooth audio with an included Bluetooth adapter.
The iLuv i399 is a large portable iPod stereo measuring about 19 inches wide, 8 inches tall, and 7 inches deep. The front cover includes a large mesh speaker grille that conceals two 3.5-inch speakers. The right side of the top edge has a negative LCD with white backlight that displays the time and current input selection, but the clock does not include an alarm function. The main control buttons rest in front of the LCD, and to the left is an iPod dock, plus two small doors that hide the headphone jack, the auxiliary jack, and a connector for iLuv's BluePin Bluetooth adapter.
Two battery compartments grace the back, one for the unit's main power, which comes from a whopping eight D-cell batteries, and a second for the clock backup, powered by two AAA cells. That's a lot of battery power for one stereo. There is also an extendable metal antenna for the i399's radio, a clip for holding the remote, and two handles on the sides for carrying the iLuv i399.
The 4-inch subwoofer is on bottom of the device and includes a blue accent light that pulses to the beat of your music. This light is rather ineffective and is only noticeable in songs with an overpowering bass line. You can turn off the light by holding the mute button for three seconds. A small remote control and AC adapter are included along with four dock adapters for the 30GB and 60GB fifth generation iPod and the first and third generation iPod nano. You can dock an iPod without an adapter, but this increases the chance of damage to the iPod or i399 if someone bumps the stereo.
Even though the i399 control buttons are located in front of the LCD screen, I found it more convenient to use the iPod's controls. The buttons are just too small and hard to read, especially because there's no backlight, so you can't even see them in low light. The only button that was easy to find was the large Power button located by itself the all the way to right. Another control issue lies with the preset options. You can save up to 20 different radio presets, but there is only one button for cycling through the list. This made it a hassle to get to the higher numbered presets and if you accidentally go too far you must cycle through them all again to get back to the desired location.
LCD Display Options
What You Hear
The overall sound quality of the 2.1 channel iLuv i399 is decent, but it won't impress the audiophiles out there. The dedicated subwoofer does enhance the bass quality, but the mids and highs are a little muddy. There are no EQ options, so you have to make any desired adjustments from the audio source, and that defeats the reason for a stereo box.
I can hear a noticeable hiss when I plug an iPod into the universal dock. The hiss is present in all the iPod models (iPod touch and nano) I tested and the only solution is to turn up the volume until the music overpowered the hiss. Unfortunately, for quieter songs the hiss is audible through the music. The unit does not support 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation iPods either. When I put in my iPhone, it played but I got the, "This iPod model is not supported error."
You can receive and send audio signals with the Bluetooth functions, which allows it to send audio to Bluetooth headphones or receive audio from devices like cell phones and act as a speakerphone using a built in microphone. I paired my iPhone 3G to the i399 and called several people, with the same results. While I was able to hear the other person quite clearly, the person on the other end reported that my voice was choppy and the volume seemed to rise and fall even though I sat at a fixed distance. The Bluetooth support also allows users running Mac OS X Leopard to stream music wirelessly to the i399. This was easy to set up and provided decent results, but using the auxiliary input still provided better sound quality.
The Bottom Line
Overall, the iLuv i399 is a mediocre sound system that provides a multitude of inputs. The lack of EQ made it hard to customize the sound to my preference and the controls were too small and hard to use in low light situations. If you want a speaker system that accepts many different audio sources, you may like the iLuv i399, but if sound quality is important, you should look at other products, such as the MM173.