capsule review

Emerson Research iTone iC200

At a Glance
  • Emerson Research iTone iC200

iPod-docking alarm clocks seem to be the latest rage in iPod accessories, bringing many "traditional" audio/appliance vendors into the iPod-accessory fold. A prime example is Emerson, a company long known for its inexpensive electronics, with the iC200.

As an alarm clock, the iC200 does nearly everything right. Upon plugging the system in, the radio automatically scans the FM band for stations that transmit the time, and uses that information to set the time, including the date and the day of the week. This feature worked well, although I did not get a chance to test it during the switch to daylight savings time.

The clock has two alarms, each of which can be set to wake you to the radio, a dockable iPod, or -- for those heavy sleepers -- the dreaded buzzer. Each alarm can be set to go off on just weekdays, just weekends, or every day. For example, you could set one alarm for a particular time Monday through Friday and the second alarm for weekends. The sleep setting will play for up to 99 minutes, allowing you to drift off to your favorite songs. However, unlike the iLuv i177 we previously reviewed, the sleep timer does not fade the music out, lowering the volume as time progresses; rather it plays at a constant volume and then simply switches off.

A nap timer allows you to easily wake from shorter snoozes without resetting the alarm, however this feature supports only the buzzer alarm. One of my favorite features on the clock was a snooze motion sensor that lets you catch a few extra Zs by simply waving your hand in front of the unit.

The remote control works well, and I found it useful for controlling most of the unit's features without getting out of bed. The large snooze button is easy to find, even when groggy. The music controls, which are positioned similarly to those on an iPod shuffle, are easy to use and allow you to skip forward or backwards, fast forward or rewind a track, play, pause, and control the volume. You can also use the remote to switch between functions -- iPod, radio, and auxiliary input -- and to switch radio bands and station presets.

Once you get past the clock functions, however, the iC200 isn't as impressive. Although it's nice to have a multi-function player in such a small package -- it plays audio from any dockable iPod, an iPod shuffle, the radio, or an external (auxiliary) source -- there is considerably less to this machine than meets the eye.

Radio reception is rather poor compared to other iPod clock-radio systems I've tested in the same location -- every station that I tuned the radio to had noticeable static. And although the ten station presets are nice, an inability to auto-set them left me fiddling with buttons too much of the time.

The speakers are equally disappointing. Though the iPod controls are simple to use and positioned right on top of the unit for easy access, the sound that comes out of the iC200 is disappointing. Both bass notes and treble tones sound one-dimensional. At higher volumes (I achieved a maximum volume of 94 decibels) the sound was quite distorted; bass sounded blown out and the midrange was fuzzy. Yet even at more moderate volume levels, the iC200's audio quality suffered by comparison to the iLuv, iHome, and JBL alarm clocks we've previously reviewed, some of which are less expensive. Finally, the unit has an ever-present hum in iPod mode -- even when no song is playing -- that's quite noticeable at lower volumes.

All in all, despite its great clock functionality, the iC200's audio quality is so poor that it's difficult to recommend the system. You'd be better served buying a dedicated (and less expensive) alarm clock and looking elsewhere for iPod enjoyment.--Mathew Honan

At a Glance
  • This alarm clock and desktop player from Emerson Research is a mixed bag. It has a fantastic clock, with functions I'd like to see on every iPod-enabled alarm clock. Yet as a stereo, well, read on and find why it won't make any best-of lists this year.

    Pros

    • Touchless snooze sensor works with wave of the hand
    • Two alarm settings, each with weekday, weekend and 7-day modes
    • Auto-sets time and day of the week

    Cons

    • Speakers have poor, distorted sound
    • Sub-par radio reception
    • No auto-set function for radio presets
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