Aside from being the dominant -- if not the coolest -- consumer electronics item, the iPod has created a cottage industry of devices designed to work seamlessly with the iconic MP3 player. Among the latest entries is Oregon Scientific's iBall wireless speaker system. Although it has some flaws, the reasonably portable iBall makes for a good device to use at parties. At £199 however, it's not cheap.
The Oregon Scientific iBall is a combination of a 2.4GHz wireless speaker and a transmitter dock. The speaker itself is a white orb that looks like a 1970s version of futuristic design -- think something out of Sleeper. You connect your iPod to the transmitter dock, which comes with docking trays for all iPod iterations. For owners of the iPod nano, Oregon Scientific will even send you a free docking tray, though it's not included with the package, while Shuffle owners can use the device's line-in jack. We connected our 60GB iPod Photo without a problem. For the speaker, the package also comes with six rechargeable batteries (they automatically recharge while the speaker is plugged in) and a wall-mount kit.
On top of the speaker is a small control panel, which includes buttons for power, play/pause, fast-forward/rewind, volume controls, sound mode/clock set and mute. The control panel looks like it should pop out to become a wireless remote -- sadly, it doesn't, though it's useful that the speaker itself serves as the iPod remote. The front of the speaker features a blue-backlit LCD, which indicates volume level and whether the device recognises an iPod connection. All indicators are graphically represented by a series of dots, which can make deciphering menu options tricky. It's also weirdly retro, given that this is a wireless system meant to be paired with the epitome of high-tech elegance.
To begin playing music, you plug in the transmitter dock, connect the iPod and turn on the speaker. Unfortunately, it has to be plugged in, so if you want to be truly portable, check out the Logitech mm50 or the Altec Lansing iM7. We didn't get a connection in our first attempt, so we had to go through the RF mating process. In this case, you power up the speaker then hold the fast-forward/rewind buttons simultaneously. When the dual-arrow indicator appears on the display, you then use a pin or a paper clip to press the RF mating button on the bottom of the transmitter dock to make the connection. Once your iPod tunes are piped through the system, you can use the speaker up to 30m away from the transmitter. We had no problems listening to music anywhere in our 85-square-metre flat, even with doors closed. The audio quality never suffered, although there is some noticeable background interference. To be fair, the farther away you are from the speaker, the less noticeable the background hum.
The audio quality is quite good and gets loud enough to use during barbeques, though you wouldn't be able to take it to a picnic unless you had a power outlet nearby for the transmitter. The product would be better if the speaker itself had a line-in port. You can also adjust bass and treble levels. After pressing the sound mode button, the unit displays bass and treble musical notations in annoying dots to denote the setting you're adjusting, which most people won't understand right away.
Like any good iPod accessory, the transmitter dock charges your iPod while it's in the cradle. You can also connect the transmitter dock to your computer to sync your iPod while it's in the cradle as well as connect a secondary audio source to the system, allowing you to play music on another set of speakers along with the Oregon Scientific iBall. Additionally, you can switch between listening to music from the iPod and a different audio source, such as a CD player. If you have an audio/video cable -- such as the one that came with earlier iPod Photos -- you can connect the transmitter to your TV and view a slide show of photos stored on your iPod while music is playing.
The Bose SoundDock may be the high-water mark of iPod speakers, but the Oregon Scientific iBall adds a new level of mobility.
Edited by James Kim
Additional editing by Kate Macefield