The boombox (AKA ghettoblaster or jambox) is arguably the coolest pop-culture icon of the 80s. Those of us who spent our youth growing up in the decade of the Brat Pack, break dancing and Billy Idol remember that you couldn’t walk three blocks without running into someone with a boombox sitting on their shoulders, or nearby on the sidewalk kids tried to moonwalk.
It is those of us who get nostalgic for the days before the Walkman iHome is targeting with its $200 iP4 Portable FM Stereo boombox for the iPod and iPhone. In our iHome iP4 iPod/iPhone boombox review, we take a look at whether this modern twist on an old-school classic is totally fresh, or straight up bunk.
Out of the box
The iP4 is a far cry from the 25 pound mega-bricks of yester-year. It sheds a few pounds to bring its weight in at 7.5 pounds (without batteries, mind you) but remains a respectable size at 17.81 x 9.06 x 4.96 inches (W x H x D).
Along with the iP4, we found a power supply, a magnetic remote control preloaded with a CR2032 battery, an optional FM antenna, a carrying strap and some product literature.
Design and specifications
The iP4 feels as if it was built to take a beating. The rubbery gray (or hot pink, if that’s how you roll) exterior resists scratches very well, and its blocky, utilitarian appearance make it seem as if it could take a six foot drop and never miss a beat. Closer inspection (by way of smacking it around a bit), however, reveals that beneath the iP4’s resilient surface is some typical-feeling plastic. Maybe we won’t test out our six foot drop theory after all. Still, the iP4 seems much better prepared to handle the elements than its counterparts from three decades ago. Sandy beaches and splashy pool decks should be no problem for this thing.
The iP4 is digitally amplified, which should be good for battery life if you chose to run it off of six D-cell batteries instead of the provided wall plug. iHome doesn’t disclose any power ratings, probably because the numbers aren’t terribly high, which could make the unit seem underpowered (it isn’t). We do know that the “Class D” amp drives a pair of 4-inch woofers and 1-inch tweeters.
The iP4 provides most of the boombox’s controls right on the front face. Two large dials handle volume and FM tuning (or display dimming when in iPod mode). A power button, mode button, play-pause button, SRS TruBass button and five graphic EQ buttons finish off the front face.
The iP4 has a built-in FM antenna, which we think will work pretty well outdoors in areas where reception is decent. For rural areas or indoors, an external FM antenna is provided. Curiously, this antenna is to be inserted in the auxiliary input on the back of boombox.
The included remote will control power, track advance and reverse, volume up and down and mode. Pressing the play or mode buttons on the remote will power up the iP4 if it is turned off. The remote is magnetic, so it can be stuck up on the fridge or placed in the provided cut out on the top of the boombox near the handle.
Just one nitpicky item: There are no FM station presets, so users must scan away to switch up their FM listening.
There’s one thing that anyone interested in the iP4 should know right away: It sounds pretty lame right out of the box. Fortunately, though, some break-in time and a little tweaking of the EQ makes a dramatic change for the better. Here’s how our audition process went:
Our experience with the iHome iP1 had us braced for disappointment with the iP4. The iP1 was such a promising looking product with some great looking features and impressive specifications: It had four-channel bi-amplification for its 1-inch tweeters and 4-inch drivers, plus Bongiovi digital signal processing. By comparison, the iP4 looks pretty ho-hum (though, for all we know, the exact same drivers as the iP1 could be in use).
We had the iP4 playing music just 30 seconds after pulling it from the box. Sure enough, its sound disappointed us. It was just flat and lifeless. We even put our ear right next to the tweeters to make sure they were working. Then we hit the SRS TruBass button and, wow, what a difference! It may be marketed as a bass booster, but the SRS processing acts more like a “loudness” button, boosting both high and low frequencies; in this case, by a lot. Then we realized we were getting a little ahead of ourselves.
We turned the SRS processing back off and started playing with the five-band EQ. To our delight, we were able to coax some much improved sound out of the iP4. Happy with our custom EQ job, we kicked the SRS back in. At this point, the highs were way too hot. Ultimately, we decided the best sound was achieved by using the SRS processing and customizing our EQ from there.
After some break-in time, we came back and had a good listen to the iP4 boombox. Several hours of auditioning later, we could confidently say it is the best sounding iHome product we’ve heard yet. We even pulled out the older iP1 for the sake of comparison and there was simply no contest. Whereas the iP1 was anemic in the midrange with artificially bloated bass and bright treble, the iP4 was much better balanced across the frequency range. Vocals and electric bass sounded particularly good with the iP4 and high frequencies, while not up to audiophile standards, were still very good for a portable iPod/iPhone dock. Of course, we’d love to hear a little more deep bass, but that would be asking too much. We’re talking about 4-inch speakers in the sealed cabinet of a $200 iPod speaker dock. Taken in context, the bass was just fine, thanks. We even cranked the iP4 to its maximum volume and were pleasantly surprised to find that distortion was kept to a minimum.
iHome did itself proud with the iP4. Not only is this retro-styled boombox one of the better efforts at bringing back the feel of the ‘80’s (for those of us who care to remember), it also happens to sound pretty darn good, too. The look and feel of this speaker dock, combined with its portability and solid sonic prowess should make it a super hot holiday gift item this year. We definitely recommend checking out the iP4, which is why we’re giving it our recommended product stamp and featuring it in our Best iPod/iPhone speaker docks for 2011 guide.
- Totally retro styling
- Best sound from iHome yet
- Five-band graphic EQ and SRS sound boost
- Magnetic remote
- No FM presets
- Requires healthy adjustments to sound good