Review: iHome iBN26 NFC Bluetooth Stereo System

AC only Bluetooth streamer unique in the market (January 2nd, 2014)

MacNN Rating:


Product Manufacturer: iHome

Price: $80

The Good

  • Consistent sound
    - Easy to use
    - Port for USB device charging

The Bad

  • It isn't truly "wireless"
    - No battery, so limited portability
    - Must be plugged in to use

An important thing to look for in the pre-purchase considerations for a Bluetooth speaker is if it will fill the customer's specific needs. Is it easy to use? Does it have any additional features? Would its maximum Bluetooth range be sufficient? How is the audio quality? One that may not be thought of when it comes to Bluetooth speakers is, "does it require constant power?" Now there is a device may make it important to tack that question onto the others -- the iHome iBN26 NFC Bluetooth Stereo System. Billed as a "wireless stereo speaker," it comes with the added bonus of needing to be plugged in an electrical socket for use. Will this be a hinderance? Or will it work to its advantage?

The iHome IBN26 is a lightweight speaker with some well-rounded sound, as may be indicated by its circular shape. Offered in a small cheese wheel-like configuration, the speaker is coated with a rubberized texture on top of its plastic shell. The aluminum shell, with what feels like a lacquered coating, offers a contrasting view to the remaining black of the unit. Four buttons on top offer power, pause/play, and volume up and down buttons, each operating with an obvious "click" and tactile feedback.

Power and pause/play buttons double as answer and hangup buttons for speakerphone use. It also has a clearly-defined reference point for pairing with NFC devices. Both the use of the speakerphone features and the NFC enabling are easy to use, but lack anything special to differentiate them from other Bluetooth speakers with the same abilities (even considering the ATI Soundclear technology for echo cancellation in the speakerphone).

With a relatively small footprint (six inches by six inches) and only 2.5 inches tall, the speaker is sure to fit onto many desks and workstations without much reconfiguration. Ideally, it will be placed in a studio or home where the speaker is able stay in one place. While it can be placed on a bookshelf or other place out of the way, there are two reasons that may limit that decision. The first is that it offers a 1A USB port for device charging. Rather than having to reach for an outlet to plug in a charger, the unit offers a convenient place to plug in a USB cable next to the 3.5mm auxilary port and pairing button. The second is of course its need for power.

Obviously, the design of the NFC Bluetooth Stereo System leaves it at a disadvantage when it comes to being competitive in the market. While many other speakers have a battery along with an AC plug that lends well to portability and travel, the iHome IBN26 requires an AC adapter for use. It isn't that the iBN26 is a power hungry device during operation, it was just designed for a different type of use than others in the market.

There is an advantage to the power situation. Not everyone actually needs or wants a portable speaker to play music in their home or office. Leaving out the battery and associated circuity makes the device cheaper, and avoids battery corrosion when one forgets to ever take the battery out. A speaker like this could easily approach the $150 mark, but instead is priced at a more reasonable $80 through the manufacturer. Large Internet retailers price it at an even lower point, making the system more appealing. That much of a cost gap could easily sway a consumer that wants something to use with their music collection when at work.

The iBN26 doesn't offer a huge overhead sound, nor does it attempt to drown out the sounds of everyday life. It isn't the loudest speaker that that we've tested, but it falls somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of volume and decay rate at a distance. From one to three feet, there was an approximate loss of sound intensity (dBs) of 10 percent across all tested set volume levels. It should be noted that there was an increase in registered dB levels moving from three to nine feet until the 25 percent volume setting level. Approximate changes resulted in a 2-2.5 percent increase over the three foot recorded levels, with a variance of +/- 0.5 - 0.9 percent at the 25 percent volume mark.

One thing interesting to note about the sound quality: even though adequate in its delivery, the sound never broke up -- even at at 100 percent volume levels. With the source and the speaker both cranked all the way up, bass hits or complex audio signals didn't cause any distortion in the sound. Compressed sounds were favored in how far the Reson8 Speaker Chamber could be pushed, but offered no noticeable sound superiority over dynamic or raw recordings. All sounds were clear, even when used as a speakerphone. It should be noted that the iBN26 is somewhat light on bass, which may explain some of the clarity and resistance to sound distortion.

The Reson8 Speaker Chamber is a tricky beast to place, as no information is given about the size of the drivers or its wattage equivalent for the iBN26. Behind the mesh there are two speakers slightly larger than a quarter in diameter, with a port hole for air passage spaced about an inch away from the speakers on either side. The technology uses through body porting to its advantage in order to give the device a better sound response than a traditional delivery.

So where does the iHome iBN26 NFC Bluetooth Stereo System fit in? It does have the perk of not needing to be charged, but given the manner in which these devices are widely used, that might not be a good selling point. It will, however, appeal to people that don't want to pack around a speaker, that instead want something they can connect to on their desk at any time. Leaving out the battery makes the price of the unit more desirable than having to shell out for a speaker double its price that would never see full utility of its feature set. Unfortunately, without the battery and ability to truly take it on the go, we feel that there may be other, better options unless you're specifically looking for a AC powered speaker.

by Jordan Anderson


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