Waking up, if I may paraphrase, is hard to do. When you work out of your home like I do, that’s doubly true. What’s the motivation of rolling out of bed when it’s only a two- or three-foot commute to the office? In the past few weeks, my only real reason for getting up at all has been that I’ve been testing iPod clock-radios, among them the Macally TunePro
The first thing you’ll notice about the TunePro is its striking appearance. Long and flat, it looks a bit like Bose’s SoundDock, with one obvious difference: the speaker mesh has been replaced with a silver mirror finish. The speakers are in fact hidden behind the reflective panel—Macally is using NXT flat-panel speakers to provide sound. In addition, the unit’s clock display is invisible until you supply power, at which point the clock shines through the top-right-hand corner of the panel.
At 13.25-inches wide by 5.25-inches high by 4.5-inches deep, the TunePro is especially wide, so it may eat up a decent amount of real estate on your bedside table, though the slimness of the panel helps offset that a bit.
Front and center, along the bottom, is a built-in iPod dock cradle that uses Apple’s Universal design. Included are three iPod dock adapters: one that accommodates first- and second-generation nanos; one for the 30GB fifth-generation iPod; and one that fits the 60GB fifth-generation iPod, all fourth-generation models, and the iPod mini. The latter adapter works with such a wide array of iPod models thanks to small, adhesive pads that you apply to the adapter to get the right fit. Unlike most iPod speaker systems, your iPod is charged only when the TunePro is on (which means playing sound); if you turn the TunePro off, your iPod will be paused and will no longer charge.
The TunePro works with any dock-connector iPod; I tested the system with a variety of iPods, including the iPhone, and it worked fine with all of them; the iPhone had to be switched into airplane mode since the TunePro is not shielded from GSM interference.
Two rows of control buttons flank the dock cradle: To the left are the Alarm 1 and Alarm 2 buttons, a Sleep control, and a Radio Preset button. On the right are Up, Down, and Set controls for adjusting the clock time, alarm time, and other functions; the Volume Up and Down buttons; and the Audio Source button. There’s also a large, multi-purpose button on the cradle itself, just in front of where the iPod sits. This button serves as the TunePro’s Power button, Mute mutton, and alarm Snooze button, depending on what the system is doing.
Three more buttons hide in the rear of the TunePro on its stand. These are for infrequently-used functions such as setting the clock, choosing the display brightness, and adjusting the speakers’ bass, treble, and SRS WOW audio enhancer settings. Pressing the WOW/TRE/BAS control cycles through the settings for each mode; the current setting appears on the TunePro’s display and you adjust them with the Set, Up, and Down buttons. The WOW function can be turned on or off and the treble and bass can each be adjusted from -3 to +3. The display has three brightness levels you can cycle through. There are also connections on the back of the unit for the power adapter, AM antenna, and audio-in (cables are included for all). The system’s integrated FM antenna is also attached here.
Setting up the TunePro’s clock and alarms is pretty straightforward, though it’s a little inconvenient to reach back to hit the Clock Set button; you’ll need to look behind the unit to make sure you’ve got the right button. There are two independent alarms that can be set with controls on the front; each can be configured to wake you to a radio station, buzzer (actually a series of beeps), or your iPod; the alarm cannot play music from a source connected via the line-in jack. Waking to the radio plays the last station you were listening to; waking to the iPod automatically plays the most-recently-played track. In all three cases—radio, iPod, or buzzer—the alarm gradually increases, which is a nice touch; on the other hand, I had to turn the alarm off pretty quick, as the higher volume settings are very loud. Turning the alarm off can be difficult in a groggy state, as you have to hit the corresponding alarm button; hitting any other button will trigger the snooze function, which silences the alarm for seven minutes.
I found the TunePro’s volume controls to be difficult to locate quickly when a particularly loud track came on suddenly; setting them apart from the other buttons, or using a different control type, such as a rotary dial, would be preferable. In fact, the overall control design was one of my major gripes with the TunePro. All of the buttons look the same, they’re not laid out in any sort of logical fashion, and they’re nestled so close together that even if you know which button you’re aiming for, if you’re anywhere near as bleary-eyed as I am early in the morning, you’ll likely hit the wrong one by mistake. Another annoyance is the fact that the alarms don’t “re-arm” automatically; you must remember to turn each on again every night.
The TunePro also has a sleep function, though it offers only limited settings of 60, 120, 180, and 240 minutes. Unlike some other alarm clocks, the TunePro has no battery, which means that if it loses power, you’ll have to reset the clock time and alarms.
The radio functions of the TunePro are pretty solid. FM and AM reception were both quite good, even without connecting the optional AM antenna (better, for sure, than the RCA RP5500i I’ve also been testing). There are five presets per band and they’re easy to set; just tune to the correct station, hit the Set button, pick the preset you want to assign that station to by pressing the Up/Down buttons (the display will cycle through to tell you which preset you’re on), and then hit Set again. Switching to a preset involves selecting the correct band (by using the Audio Source button) and then hitting the Radio Preset button to cycle through the presets.
In iPod mode, you use your iPod’s own controls for playback; the only setting you use on the TunePro is volume. This has advantages and disadvantages: the iPod’s user interface is of course one of its strengths, but using your iPod’s Click Wheel while the iPod is in the TunePro can be a little awkward, especially from bed. A wireless remote would be useful for this purpose.
As noted above, you can also play another audio source through the TunePro by connecting it to the line-in port on the back of the unit. As with iPod playback, you can control volume using the TunePro, although in this case, the source’s controls will also affect volume level. All other playback functions must be controlled via the connected device. The TunePro has no line-out or headphone jack, so you’re stuck with the internal speakers, though that’s not surprising for an alarm clock; you’d likely not want this to be the center of your home audio system anyway.
As far as sound quality goes, the TunePro performs pretty well; I listened to a variety of music on it and found it better than your generic clock radio, though not as good, of course, as a dedicated iPod speaker system. There’s not a lot of bass without enabling the SRS WOW functionality and, while that did make music sound a little more immersive, songs with heavy bass turned somewhat muddy. And, of course, given the unit’s small size, you won’t get very good stereo separation either. The TunePro lets you jack the volume up pretty high, although not without some distortion; still, in my bedroom, lower volume levels were perfectly sufficient for listening to music.
Macworld’s buying advice
It used to be that shelling out $100 for an alarm clock was the folly of the well-heeled, but nowadays, with systems offering so much more functionality than the ability to wake you up, it’s not uncommon to splurge on an audio system for the nightstand. And the TunePro is actually a bit cheaper than many of its iPod-playing competitors. For its price, the TunePro offers pretty good sound quality and solid radio reception. But there are some tradeoffs, including the amount of room the unit takes up on your nightstand, as well as the unintuitive controls. It might not get me out of bed every morning, but it may very well work for you.
[Associate editor Dan Moren is co-editor of the MacUser blog.]