Radian’s iBlast speaker system (not to be confused with the company’s iBlastFM, an FM transmitter) is a bit of an odd product. At 9.1″ wide by 4.7″ high by 3.5″ deep and weighing just over a pound, it’s small enough to be portable/transportable, yet it requires AC power. That means it’s limited to desktop use, yet unlike most of the desktop speaker systems we’ve tested, which include larger speaker enclosures, dual drivers, and more-powerful amplifiers, the iBlast still sounds like a small portable system.
Although made of lightweight plastic, the iBlast feels sturdy. On each side is a single, unprotected driver — Radian’s specs list each driver as 2 inches in diameter, but they’re closer to 1.5 inches by my measurements. I would have like some type of protective screen in front of the drivers, although the iBlast’s approach does make for a more high-tech appearance. In between the speakers is an iPod dock cradle; your iPod is charged when docked. Instead of using Apple’s Universal dock design, the iBlast includes four dock inserts and a rubber sticker that together accommodate most thinner dockable iPods — all except for the second-generation iPod nano. (Thicker iPods work without an insert.) There’s also an insert that covers the iBlast’s dock connector so you can use the system with non-dockable iPods and other players, which connect to an auxiliary-input minijack on the back of the unit via an included cable. (Connecting a cable to the aux-in jack mutes dock-connector audio.) Unfortunately, these inserts don’t fit well: The loose ones, such as the one for the first-generation iPod nano, fall out easily, while the tighter ones, such as the dock-connector cover, are very difficult to remove.
You control the system’s volume via two touch-sensitive buttons (Volume Down and Up), one on each side of the dock cradle; these buttons work well and are a nice feature for a system in this price range. On the rear of the iBlast are the aforementioned aux-in jack, along with a USB port for synching your dockable iPod with iTunes on your computer (cable included), the AC power jack, and a power switch (which lights up when the iBlast is on). Also included is a plug adapter that allows you to use the included AC adapter with 240V wall outlets outside the U.S.
The iBlast’s sound quality can best be described as “clear” — there’s lots of treble detail. However, although upper midrange is good, there’s little lower midrange and basically no bass, resulting in slightly tinny sound. If you’re a fan of treble and clarity, the iBlast may satisfy, but if you’re looking for warm, rich sound, this isn’t the system for you. (Granted, this is true of most systems this size, but considering that a number of truly portable systems provide fuller sound, it’s a valid criticism for what is essentially a desktop system.) In addition, when no music is playing, a low hum is audible from the speakers. On the positive side, the iBlast reaches surprisingly high volume levels without distortion.
The iBlast isn’t a bad system, but it’s tough to recommend given its combination of odd design (portable size but no battery power), small-speaker sound quality, and lack of now-common features such as a wireless remote. The iBlast’s most appealing feature is likely its price: Since it can be found online for under $60, it’s a decent, inexpensive desktop system for listening to bass-light music or voice recordings (such as podcasts). However, Logic 3’s i-Station 7, for example, which retails for around $80 or $90, offers better sound quality, a wireless remote, and battery-powered portability. –Dan Frakes