Developer: Rain Design
Price: $129 ($100 street)
Requirements: iPods 3G, 4G, 5G, mini, or shuffle. Separate iPod nano/shuffle version available (same price).
Rain Design, better known for their ergonomic accessories like the iLap, has branched out into the burgeoning iPod accessories market with the iWoofer. This $129 speaker system also functions as a USB dock for third-generation or newer iPod models, including the iPod mini and iPod shuffle models. A second iWoofer model supports the iPod nano (as well as the iPod shuffle). Both iWoofers include an FM tuner for radio playback if you ever get bored with your iTunes library.
Features-wise, the iWoofer is fairly complete. You can’t quibble with its broad iPod support, and an FM tuner is a nice touch. The radio could use a better implementation, though. The reception is nothing to write home about; it’s not as atrocious as the radio Shark (thank the iWoofer’s external antenna for that), but it’s not great either. Any $20 department-store clock radio will rival the quality of its reception, which is perhaps not what you wanted to hear about the device you just dropped a hundred and thirty smackers on. Worse, there’s no visual indication of station frequency, and the tuner is digital, so you have absolutely no clue what station you’re listening to until the DJ takes a break from overplaying “My Humps,” interspersed with commercials for the local used-car lot, to do his FCC-mandated duty and announces what station he’s working for. Finally, it would have been nice if Rain Design had thought to include a feature where switching to the FM tuner would automatically pause the iPod.
But you didn’t buy it for its FM tuner capabilities, so you don’t care about all that. You bought it because you want to be able to unleash Rammstein on your unsuspecting cubicle neighbors. For having only two tiny, 30-mm drivers and a 2.5-inch subwoofer, the sound is surprisingly good. While the drivers can distort at high volume settings when playing music with a heavy midrange, and the bass is only average for a speaker of this size, the high notes are clean and crisp. If you keep the volume under control, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the sound. You don’t even have to be chained to the AC adapter to enjoy it, either; the iWoofer can be powered by four AA batteries for portable, uhm, “woofing.”
The iPod dock implementation is excellent. Unlike many third-party docks, the iWoofer allows the iPod to both charge and update while docked via the included USB cable. Kudos to Rain Design for getting it right here. Kudos are also given to the engineer who insisted that a means for turning off the blue LED ring underneath the unit be included, as the light is extremely bright in a dark room and quickly wears out its welcome. (Note to other manufacturers: not everyone wants you to prove that you can create a blue LED with a brightness of 1,588 lumens per milliwatt.)
That leaves two complaints. The AC adapter is quite possibly the worst wall-wart I’ve ever had the displeasure of dealing with. There is simply no way, in any reasonable power strip, to avoid taking up three plugs with it. While this might be excusable were the adapter attractively designed, it’s not even good-looking, and it doesn’t match the design of the iWoofer to boot. Plan to pony up $10 more for a tolerable third-party AC adapter. And speaking of the design, either you love the look or you hate it. The iWoofer—especially the black model—looks like the mutant bastard child of Volkswagen’s Fast and an iPod, but I mean that as a compliment. It’s rather endearingly cute, in an alien sort of way.
I like Rain Design, I really do. And I want to like the iWoofer. But the AC adapter is lousy enough to knock it down one full rating, and its half-thought-out FM tuner and high price don’t help. Send this one back to the kitchen to bake a little longer.