Review: iHome iBT4 Rechargeable Bluetooth Boombox

The iHome iBT4 doubles as a portable radio and wireless Bluetooth speaker. Image © iHome

The advent of smartphones didn’t just create a generation of folks forever facing downward as they busily tap their little touchscreens. It also led to the proliferation of Bluetooth accessories as a way for folks to get their media fix with no wires. Bluetooth speakers are especially a popular option these days for people looking to stream their music out of their smartphones without much fuss.

Boombox Design

Although a lot of Bluetooth speakers try to either go the sleek route like the Wren V5AP or go for all-out power like the iNuke Boom Junior, one recent entry is going a different route by tugging on the heartstrings of consumers who remember an older generation of music devices, albeit with a modern twist. That would be the old radio player and boombox design, which iHome’s iBT4 unapologetically emulates.

Complete with dial knobs, a carrying handle that swivels out and even a decidedly old school antenna, the iBT4 evokes an older time before smartphones and tablets became the apex gadgets in the market. The antenna isn’t just for show either as the iBT4 comes with an FM radio tuner for picking up local stations. Selecting stations is done via a forward and back button with reception being good overall, especially with the antenna extended out.

Directly Connect Any MP3 Player, Smartphone or Tablet

Click the mode dial one more time to the right and you get a couple more options for your music source. Connect the included 3.5 millimeter double sided cable and the iBT4 automatically goes into aux mode so you can directly connect any MP3 player, smartphone or tablet with a headphone jack slot to output your music to the boombox. Unplug the cable and the iBT4 enters Bluetooth mode for wireless music streaming from any Bluetooth-capable device.

Just press and hold the middle button until the pairing indicator starts to blink, then go to the Bluetooth settings of your smartphone, tablet or compatible MP3 player to pair your device with the iBT4. Once paired, you can use the same aforementioned buttons to play, pause and skip tracks on your iPhone, iPad or Android phones (in my case, I tested the device on an iPhone 4S and a Samsung Galaxy S3).

Rechargeable Battery

Other distinguishing features include a smooth, rubbery finish that comes available in dark gray, neon green and purple. The iBT4 also comes with a rechargeable battery, which further expands the portability for the device. Battery life is typically 7 hours though your mileage may vary depending on your volume levels. For folks who like to daisy chain the the iBT4 with other speakers, the boombox also comes with a line out port.

Although SRS Tru Bass makes the iBT4 more dynamic than some budget speakers, the sound itself isn’t powerful enough to satisfy hardcore audiophiles. Try pushing the volume, for example, and you start getting noticeable distortion. It’s basically a step up from something like the Scosche boomSTREAM but doesn’t sound as good as, say, the Edifier Prisma.

Potential Downsides

Volume levels are also inconsistent. The iBT4 is plenty loud in radio mode and when streaming from the iPhone’s stock music player but loses some volume when streaming with my iPhone’s Denon app or my stock Galaxy S3 player. Volume also isn’t as loud when I tested it with a line in connection. Meanwhile, low battery levels affect both volume and clarity.

Another downside is that the Bluetooth connection has very limited range and can be blocked even by narrow walls. This happened regardless of whether I was using an iPhone or my Galaxy S3. Finally, it would have been nice to have the option to program a certain number of stations so you can quickly switch between your favorite ones without having to manually search for them every time you want to switch.

Overall Review

Still, at about $99, the iBT4 isn’t bad for what essentially is a budget speaker, particularly given its feature set. The addition of a rechargeable battery and built-in radio options is especially nice if you want a no-fuss speaker that you can take with you to the pool or the yard. If you’re primary focus is portability as opposed to premium sound with lots of bass, then the iBT4 is worth adding to your list of devices to check out and compare with other options.

Final rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

WHAT'S NEW? iHome has released a bunch of "iBT" devices since we reviewed the iBT4.

Jason Hidalgo is About.com’s Portable Electronics expert. Yes, he is easily amused. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhidalgo and be amused, too. For more about headphones, make sure to check out our Headphones & Speakers hubDisclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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