Rocking to sleep

Just before we made our transition to the new Macworld.com, reader Schneb posted a question on the Playlist forums. Those forums are gone, but we didn't forget his plea. Now that we've settled in, let me take a shot at it.

In response to our annual Plays of the Year awards, Schneb's question—actually more of a complaint—was directed at the makers of iPod speaker systems:

"So far, I have only found ONE iPod-ready unit that provides a sleep function (that is, press a button and the iPod will play for a limited time) and that is the iHome. Do any of these big-wig designers even know that this is a desired feature?!"

As the guy who tests speakers here at Macworld, I can tell you that, yes, some speaker vendors do include such a feature…but not many. Why not? The cynical will suggest that such a feature is omitted to cut costs, and I’m sure there's some truth to that view.

But another reason—one that’s been pointed out to me by more than one vendor over the years—is that the iPod already has its own Sleep feature. If you browse to the Alarms menu (located in its own entry in Extras on the latest iPods, or under the Clocks menu on older iPods), you’ll see a Sleep Timer item. Access this screen, and you can set a sleep timer for 15, 30, 60, 90, or 120 minutes of playback. At the end of the chosen time, your iPod will pause and turn off.

“Well, sure,” you might be saying, “but my speakers will still be on!” Perhaps, but now we’re at least at a point where some careful shopping will produce results. Many of the iPod speaker systems on the market these days have a nifty feature where the system automatically turns off after a period of inactivity—for example, after five minutes without any sound coming from your iPod. So you can set the sleep timer on your iPod and then start playback; when the iPod goes to sleep, the speaker system will soon follow.

Granted, it’s not the same as having a sleep feature on the speaker system itself, but it’s a decent workaround—good enough that you can choose the speaker system you want based on sound quality or other features.

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