iPod speaker systems are all the rage. But what about the people who don't just use an iPod? Mobile phones are fast becoming as capacious as some MP3 players, so why not cater to their users too? Gear4 has struck the nail on the head with a sexy-looking 30W speaker setup that includes an iPod dock and stereo Bluetooth.
We were immediately taken with the HouseParty Blu's speckled silver front. It's a solid finish that's complemented by a glossy control panel, the buttons on which glow a neon blue. The corners of the system curve round on to a less inspiring back. We don't feel as much attention was paid to the back, but this is probably an area most people won't feel too cheated over.
The iPod sits mounted in a dock on the top, and a variety of adaptors are included to make sure that it sits as snugly as possible. The supplied remote control is pretty small, but it serves its purpose. It operates over infrared and allows you to navigate the various iPod menus as well as skip forward and back between tracks.
Any iPod with a dock connector will slide into the system, and can be browsed as normal, or by using the fiddly remote control mentioned above.
The blue touch-sensitive controls on the front are cool-looking but they're annoying to use. Sometimes it takes a couple of seconds to get your finger over the correct part of the button in order for it to detect your touch. This is a minor qualm though, and isn't a significant drawback.
Pairing a Bluetooth device is simple and takes only a few button pushes. We had our Sony Ericsson Walkman phone paired in less than 10 seconds, and a Samsung YP-T9 connected in the same amount of time. The Blu utilises A2DP Bluetooth for high-quality stereo music.
Playback performance is above average and, as we expected from Gear4, pretty loud. We don't expect hi-fi-quality sound from a general-purpose system like this though. What we do expect is good volume and all-round decent performance over a range of musical genres. These speakers are definitely best suited to pop and light rock: there's a distinct lack of power behind the bass reproduction, meaning hardcore dance fans may be disappointed. Louder, more complex rock and metal lacks the separation between instruments that many fans of the genre will expect.
These negatives aside, the system performs well for what it is. Music is loud and clear enough for general use on the bedside or in the kitchen -- the two areas this is best used in. Sadly, there's no battery-operated option, since this would suit a bathroom (provided it was away from water, of course) and would be ideal to take away camping thanks to its volume level.
One final issue we had was that the iPod's hard disk can be heard through the speakers when it's spinning up after a track is selected.
For general bedroom or kitchen use, the HouseParty Blu is charming. It looks pretty and volume goes all the way up to 11 (metaphorically speaking, of course). Both iPod and Bluetooth devices work seamlessly, so technophobes will have no problems. Our only complaint is that more complex music gets slightly muddy at higher volumes and there's no battery operation. That apart, it's a decent bit of kit.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide