Review: iWoofer - Rain Design

A small, good sound system with a unique design (September 8th, 2006)

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Product Manufacturer: Rain Design, Inc.

Price: $119.00 US

The Good

  • Well-balanced and surprisingly good sound. Compatible with most iPods. FM tuner. Battery power. Syncs to Mac using USB. AC adapter doesn't block other outlets. Angles iPod for better photo and video viewing.

The Bad

  • Radio too difficult to use. Bulky design makes it hard to tote. Different version for iPod nano. Moves around when you press buttons unless you hold it in place. A remote with FM display would solve a number of minor problems.

After a few days of using Rain Design's anthropomorphic iWoofer, I felt as if I was being watched or as if Marvin the Martian had dropped in. A compact, integrated speaker system designed to work with iPods; it is slightly smaller than a candlepin bowling ball. The spherical iWoofer features two 30-millimeter titanium satellite speakers safely ensconced behind grills and one downfiring 2.5-inch subwoofer built into its base. A ported design helps add a little more emphasis to the bass.

Surprise, surprise

Rain positioned the port below and between the two satellites, which gives the iWoofer the unmistakable appearance of a surprised look with eyes wide and mouth agape. A telescoping chrome antenna, used for the built-in FM radio, extends from the top, like the cowlick of Alfalfa from The Little Rascals. It's an absolutely adorable design

Flexible and adaptable

The iWoofer perches your iPod in a holder on the top of the sphere, in front of the antenna. iPod photo and video iPod users will benefit from the added height and adapter's slight angle, because it makes the iWoofer very useful for watching videos or slideshows directly from the iPod.

Rain includes adapters to fit dock connector-equipped iPods, iPod minis and iPod shuffles. They also make a version that works with iPod nanos and Shuffles. Both models come in black and white. In fact, even if your iPod is a second or third-generation model, it will work, because the iWoofer also includes a line-in 3.5 mm connector on its back. An adapter cable that accepts input from a devices' headphone jack makes it compatible with any MP3 player, though you obviously won't be able to perch it on top. Rubberized circular controls placed on either side of the iWoofer evoke the click wheel of the iPod, though the controls are a bit different. A center button on the right powers the iWoofer on and off; clicking the control up or down changes the volume; and left or right controls bass level. The control on the left switches input from the iPod to the built-in FM receiver and scans FM stations up or down (or controls track play on dock connector-equipped iPods).

A center button on that left control turns on a blue "halo lamp" that surrounds the subwoofer. The halo lamp reminds me of the glow of Harman Multimedia's satellite speakers, but it is not excessive, and it's striking against a reflective surface like the white melamine desk on which I tested out the system. The iWoofer can also dock to a Mac or PC. A mini USB cable on the backside connects it to the computer, so you can use it to synchronize your iPod's contents to your Mac. Dock connector-equipped iPods will also benefit from battery charging. FireWire-based iPods are out of luck here, though many can still connect using the 3.5 mm auxiliary input.

Juicy fruit

The grapefruit-sized iWoofer runs on a 9-volt AC wall adapter -- a brick that's thoughtfully been designed to work lengthwise so it doesn't block other outlets on an outlet strip or wall jack. What's more, the iWoofer can operate on four AA batteries that you supply.

At 12 watts, the iWoofer isn't designed to fill the room or even shake the table, but it provides a surprisingly full and well-balanced sound that you can tweak by adjusting the bass level. It reproduced a wide variety of music with pleasing tones.

Rubberized tips on the chrome legs help keep the iWoofer in place when it's on your desk, but I noticed that it has a habit of shifting around a little bit. When I'd adjust the volume or scan the radio it moved around, unless I held my other hand against the opposite side to provide some counter-pressure. Perhaps larger non-skid feet would help or even a remote to adjust the bass and volume from afar would solve that annoyance.

Mystery Tuning

The iWoofer is one of the smallest iPod speaker systems I've seen that also integrates an FM radio; reception is fine thanks to the telescoping antenna, but the design is lacking. The iWoofer doesn't have a built-in display, nor does it use the iPod's screen, so there's no way to tell what station you've tuned in. That is most irritating if you just want a quick fix of your favorite talk radio or college station and don't feel like surfing the dial.

That isn't to say that Rain Design totally dropped the ball on FM tuning, in fact, the halo lamp surrounding the subwoofer pulses to let you know the tuner is scanning. That's a nifty idea. I just wish there was some better way of seeing what I'm tuning. As it stands, the radio is near useless unless you just want to keep it tuned to a small range of stations.

Portable - Case not included

While the iWoofer is portable, because it weighs a bit more than a pound and easily fits in a backpack, it's not exactly the best design for portability. The bulky sphere shape is awkward and the subwoofer is unprotected from puncture in a bag that has other loose items in it. The exposed dock connector, antenna, and legs bulk it up even further. Rain sells a very nice $29.90 padded hard carrying case complete with aluminum frame and steel lock, big enough to tote your iPod too, but it's probably overkill. It also adds yet another bag to carry when you want to take your iWoofer somewhere.

The iWoofer has a nice, rich sound for a portable iPod speaker system and a unique design that's sure to catch the eyes of passersby. The built-in radio and optional battery power increase its utility, but the awkward shape and lack of FM tuner display are definite negative strikes against it. So is the price, though Rain has lowered it $10 from its original price.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by Lee P. Meredith


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