Review: iHome iW2 AirPlay speaker
I attend the Consumer Electronics Show every year, and every year I talk with vendors who have a love/hate relationship with AirPlay technology. They like the idea of wirelessly beaming music to a speaker system from any device that runs iTunes (including iPhones, iPads and both Mac and PC computers) but hate the expensive license fees that Apple charges for the technology license. Indeed, it's not uncommon to see a desk speaker that's $100 more than its non-AirPlay cousin with exactly the same specs.
Some companies release their own technological solution, which I always think is rather doomed for failure, while others bite the proverbial bullet and pay the license fees so that they can include AirPlay on their own device. Well-known Apple peripheral maker iHome is in the latter category, and with the iW2, their second attempt at a portable AirPlay speaker, they've finally got it all right and have created the perfect wireless speaker.
I have to admit that I'm a big fan of AirPlay and have a lot of different AirPlay devices, including an AppleTV hooked up to a top-end Yamaha home theater system. It's just nice to have music where I am while the rest of my house remains quiet, and I know my kids appreciate not having to listen to my music when they're elsewhere in our house too. Once you get the hang of how to point your audio at the correct speaker or speaker system, it's also a matter of just two or three seconds to get the music flowing, whether it's off my iPhone, MacBook or even something a guest wants me to hear from their own iOS device.
What's most impressive about the iW2, which is about the size of a hardback book (10.5" wide x 5.8" high and 3" deep), is that it has a strong, rich, deep sound, far more than you'd expect from something without a subwoofer. Indeed, while I like its AirPlay capabilities, it's the sound that makes this a great purchase for anyone who enjoys their music with its full range and tonal quality.
Configuring the iHome iW2 AirPlay Speaker
Based on wifi, the biggest challenge with an AirPlay device is configuring it the first time, whether you have an open network or have it secured with a password. To accomplish that with the iW2 you have to go through a number of steps, but it's only once, so it's not too bad.
Power on the unit, press the "Network Setup" button on the back, and it'll show up as a wifi unit after a moment or two, as shown here:
Select the "iHome Setup" network then, in your favorite Web browser, connect with the iS2 speaker by going to the URL http://192.168.1.12/, which brings up the configuration Web page, which lets you name the speaker and, of course, hook it up to your main wifi network:
Let's focus on the networking piece for now. Click on the "Available Networks" pop-up menu and select your own network, at which point it'll prompt you to enter your password:
Enter your password, click "Join Network" and moments later it's done and you're ready to enjoy your AirPlay speaker:
I should point out that if you prefer, you can plug any iOS device directly into the speaker via the included wire -- remember, the iW2 isn't a proper docking device for iPhones or iPods, though iHome does have some great solutions in that space too -- or you can plug in anything else, including a small television, via the AUX jack.
Still, the point of the iW2 is its AirPlay capability, so that's where I'll focus.
Once you have the speaker connected on your network, you can leave it permanently powered on if you'd like, and any time you want to send music to it, simply click on the "AirPlay" button on the lower right of iTunes (Mac, PC or on an iOS device). In the below pic, it's the square with the triangle pointing upward:
I have a lot of AirPlay devices, so there's quite a range of choices when I do that:
I've renamed the unit "iW2 Speaker" and with a click of the mouse, iTunes is ready to send music to the device directly from my MacBook Pro, and as long as they're on the same wifi network, I can be dozens or hundreds of feet away and it'll work flawlessly. This means, for example, the iW2 is a perfect speaker for outside parties: the computer can be safely inside, far away from the activity.
The iW2 also comes with a remote control which works well, adjusting volume and letting you pause and change tracks even with the music source being wireless. Over time, however, I imagine that the remote will prove superfluous to most users as you can also remotely control your music directly on the device you're using as the audio source anyway.
With its full, rich sound and the flexibility of AirPlay, the iW2 from iHome has quickly become one of our favorite speakers, and at $199 street price, it's a great deal for a speaker that will overnight improve your listening experience, whatever type of music you prefer.
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