The iSonic 2 is a table-top audio product that is predominately designed to interact with Apple’s iPod line of devices. However, it can provide much more audio playback than just MP3s. The four speaker design basically floods a room with audio from both the front and back speaker sets, and creates a large sound field to enjoy whatever source of audio is playing. Depending on what source you are using, you will see the song title and artist, time into song and time of day.
Starting with an iPod, I ran through quite a few songs across all styles and genres. I paid close attention to those that were heavily dominated by vocals to see how the unit handled them. Due to the limitations of its design, it gives a nice bass punch from the PowerPort technology, but it cannot replicate a subwoofer by ant means. Therefore I pulled out “Viva Las Vegas” by Dread Zeppelin and “Beth” by Kiss. The music and vocals were very clear and sounded as I have come to expect. Needless to say, I was very pleased with the range and quality that the iPod connection made. For those that have read my reviews of audio products before, you know I always use “Real World” by Queensrÿche to test the overall dynamics of the device. I did this using the analog audio inputs instead of the iPod. This is a difficult song to replicate due to its dynamics, but I was pleasantly surprised as the iSonic did very well with all facets of the song including the heavy bass emanating from the drums near the end.
HD Radio is still a foreign concept (and little brother to HD Television) to many folks. However, they really have no idea what they are missing. I was able to tune to the handful of stations here in Columbus, OH that have HD Radio, but I picked up their HD feed without issue. I will say that the sound was absolutely crystal clear without even the slightest hint of interference or static. I happened to catch 4 Non Blondes “What’s Up” while testing the HD radio play, which is a great song to test with. It features a nice bass track in addition to the incredible range of lead singer Linda Perry’s voice. The iSonic handled it flawlessly with crystal clear reception and solid response on the low end (bass) of the frequency response. After listening to several more hours of HD radio, I am now hooked on hearing music the way it should be without any annoying static or interference.
During my time with the iSonic 2, I spent many hours hooking up multiple audio devices up to the iSonic 2 including an iPod Nano, Xbox 360 (w/Media Center) and Laptop (via mini-jack) in addition to enjoying analog and HD radio. In all instances, the sound was clear, crisp and had a real good dynamic range. You can push the unit too far if you crank the bass and volume to the max, but at normal audio listening levels, it is hard pressed to find something that sounds this good that isn’t part of a separate component home theater system.
Normally when you get an audio device such as the iSonic 2, you do not need to perform any video testing. However, this device is a special, because it can output the video off of an iPod device including the 3rd gen iPod Nano that I own. To test it, I downloaded a couple of preview episodes off of iTunes to test out the connection.
I used the best output option (S-Video) and ran it to a HD LCD television. There are no adjustments within the iSonic menu for the video out, so the iPod is responsible for making adjustments such as the picture size when outputting to a TV. In the testing instance I set up, I used widescreen output and watched the season 2 preview for Ice Road Truckers. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the image translated to the TV off of the iPod via the iSonic. Anyone that uses their iPod devices to watch video would be well-advised to check into the iSonic 2 as an option to display those iTunes shows on a regulation screen.
Game Audio Testing
While the size and design of the iSonic 2 is designed to be a table-top audio option, it is more than capable of anchoring the audio gamers expect in their gaming rigs. Case in point was the way the GamingNexus staff put the unit to use as the only sound source while previewing Rock Band 2 at GamingNexus Headquarters. The iSonic 2 more than held its own by provided plenty of full-range audio while playing through numerous hours of missed notes and equally bad singing by the staff. The only problems we experienced while enjoying Rock Band 2 came with some of the singers that were a little too exuberant trying to tap their inner feminine octaves while trying to hit the high notes. This may have been more to due with the Rock Band 2 microphone, but it ended up distorting the sound and took it above what the iSonic 2 was capable of handling. While this occurred only a few times, it should be noted that it was the same singers in each instance.
After punishing the iSonic 2 with over five hours of non-stop Rock Band 2 action, it came time to test it out with some more conventional game play. I put it through the paces with the multi-player beta for Call of Duty: World at War (shooter) where hearing everything that is going on around you is critical. The iSonic 2 worked well to give me louder and crisper audio than the TV speakers ever could, but it just could not quite pinpoint specific sounds occurring in the game environment. Because it utilizes a four-speaker system, gamers will know that a noise is coming from somewhere nearby, but will not be able to identify the exact location like someone using 5.1 surround audio. This will not be an issue for the vast majority of gamers, but the die-hards that are ultra-competitive could be turned off by potentially not hearing that guy that snuck up and fragged them without them realizing they were behind them.
I also spent time playing a variety of other games on both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 while they were connected to the iSonic 2. Just as I experienced with the Call of Duty: World at War beta and Rock Band 2, the unit performed well and provided a much better sound than any TV speakers could ever do. Specifically, while playing Grand Theft Auto IV, the iSonic 2 rendered the dialogue, soundtrack and game effects as flawlessly as my home theater system in my gaming rig. GTA IV doesn’t really require specific sounds to be pinpointed so much as it needs the audio to be reproduced evenly and without losing any of the sounds that are constantly being produced in the game environment.
After spending many hours with the iSonic 2, I have concluded that it is a great option for gamers that are looking to add higher quality audio to their gaming experience without taking up much space. While it cannot quite deliver that true digital surround-sound experience, it is more than capable of handling the high-pitched wails of an inebriated Rock Band singer or the low-bass blast of a shotgun in a First Person Shooter. All-in-all, the iSonic 2 will inject a boost of energy into any gaming rig that does not have a good audio device integrated into it.
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