iHome's iW2 AirPlay speaker system betters its predecessor for less
The iW2 looks an awful lot like the iW1, only smaller, measuring 10.5 inches wide, 5.8 inches tall, and 3 inches deep; it weighs 4.6 pounds. It’s rectangular body has rounded ends and is mostly covered in black-mesh cloth. The base of the system is made of metal, whilte the top is black plastic with silver buttons.
Those buttons are thin, identically shaped, chrome rectangles for power, AirPlay mode, iPod mode, volume down, volume up, previous, play/pause, and next. Above each button is a backlit, iconographic label. If you want to play audio from a USB-connected iOS device instead of AirPlay, you tap the iPod mode button. These buttons are a big improvement over the pricer iW1’s touch-sensitive controls.
On the back of the iW2, you’ll find a power-adapter jack, a 3.5mm (1/8-inch) auxiliary-input jack for connecting a wired audio source, a USB port, an ethernet jack, a reset button, a network-status LED, and a Network Setup button.
Connecting the iW2 to your wireless network is painless. The easiest method is to launch the free iHome Set app on a USB-connected iOS device and follow the onscreen steps. (You can instead use the iHome Connect app, but iHome Set offers more post-setup features—see below—so there’s little reason to use Connect instead.) Alternatively, you can press the aforementioned Network Setup button to create an ad-hoc Wi-Fi network; you then connect to that network on your iOS device or computer, enter the IP address of the iW2's built-in web server, and set up the iW2 from there.
Beyond configuring your iW2’s network and name settings, the iHome Set app lets you tweak the system’s audio. I found that boosting the bass a few virtual notches significantly improved the iW2’s sound quality.
You can also make audio adjustments using the included plastic remote. Though not anything fancy, at 5 inches long and 1.3 inches wide, it does feel more solid than the remotes included with similarly-priced speakers. In addition to offering all the controls found on the iW2 itself, the remote adds shuffle, mute, repeat, bass up and down, treble up and down, SRS WOW HD (PDF link), and Reset—this last button for reverting to the default sound setup. The playback buttons control whatever AirPlay device you’re using as a source—iTunes on your Mac, an app on your iPad, and so on—letting you, say, skip tracks without having to switch away from the iOS game you’re playing.
At its price and size, the iW2’s sound falls somewhere between good and very good. With the SRS plug-in enabled, as it is by default, music sounds fuller, bass presence improves, and stereo separation feels noticeably wider. The iW2 can get plenty loud, too. Even more surprising is the iW2’s performance compared to that of its larger sibling. While the iW1 employs a pair of 1-inch tweeters for treble and a pair of 3-inch drivers for lower frequencies, the iW2 uses a single pair of 2.5-inch drivers that handle all frequencies. No matter: To my ears, the iW2 actually sounds slightly better than the seemingly more powerful iW1.
The iW2’s AirPlay playback worked without a hitch for me on my home Wi-Fi network. I had no issues connecting, no hiccups, and no other issues. However, like the iW1, the iW2 doesn’t put itself to sleep automatically after an extended period of non-use, which is disappointing.
Size and power aside, the biggest difference between the iW1 and the iW2 is that the newer model lacks the iW1’s built-in, rechargeable battery. If you value the capability to haul your AirPlay speaker around your home—bearing in mind that it’s only as portable as your Wi-Fi network—the iW1 obviously has the advantage there.
Macworld’s buying advice
The iW2 is a great AirPlay speaker at a great price. If you don’t mind that it needs to be plugged in at all times, you’ll find that it’s simple to configure, generates good (loud!) audio, takes up little space, and looks nice, too.