Price: $599 US
What do you get when you have a company, Sonance, renowned for its in-wall speakers and they create a solution for playing your iPod in your house? The in-wall iPort, a device that will literally challenge you in how you use your iPod.
I originally wanted to do this review as a video review via QuickTime, because I think more people would understand what the iPort is all about that way. But because the size of a QuickTime movie can be so large, we decided to hold off for a few more weeks. Thus, this text review to start.
The iPort is a docking station. Nothing new there, right? Ah-ha, but imagine a docking station inside your wall, one connected to your home theater system. Imagine being able to send music to different rooms in your home. Obviously the iPort is designed with the high-end music lover in mind. If your home does not have a multiroom sound system, then the iPort is really not for you.
Installation is the key. If you’re not handy or comfortable with cutting holes in your walls, then the iPort will need to be professionally installed. You may also want to make sure, if you are a renter or living in an apartment, that installing the iPort won’t get you tossed out of your home or void your lease.
While I do have a multiroom amplifier in my Onkyo, my wife really was not very keen on my ripping holes in a wall simply to test and review a product that I have to ship back soon. So Sonance was kind enough to send a demo unit box, which they use at expos and the like. How good is the customer service and people at Sonance? The first demo box they shipped was damaged in shipping (Thanks UPS!) and they replaced it with a non-damaged unit days later. Keep in mind that this demo unit weighs around fifty pounds, so it wasn’t cheap for them to do so.
As I said, installation is no simple matter. Included with the iPort (which supports all the large dock iPods, as well as the iPod minis) is a template to use when cutting into your wall. But installing the iPort in the wall is only half the installation as you also have to run wire from the iPort to your sound system as well. Not a biggie if you install the iPort near your sound system but much trickier if you place it in another room. You also have to power the iPort via the included 15-Volt DC power supply. This will provide power to the iPod for charging as well.
Speaking of wire, the iPort uses Cat5, 8-pin cabling to connect it to the rest of the system. This is much better for quality sound transfer than a super long RCA cable. It also allows you to use an iPod Photo video features to connect to your television for slide shows.
Once all the cables and installation of the iPort itself is complete, you do have the option of painting the white ABS iPort faceplate to match your wall color. The white itself does match the iPod color, but you may want it to better match your wall than the iPod.
The iPort does come with a variety of cradles for the different iPods. For instance, the full size iPod cradle will not work with an iPod mini, so the iPort has a cradle for the mini included. The cradles are easily removed, so if you are a multi-iPod family; you own an iPod Photo and your spouse owns an iPod mini, you’re all set. (Older iPods will not work, you must have a dockable iPod) This also means that if Apple releases a newer iPod dock slimmer than the current models, all you would need to purchase to keep using the iPort is a new cradle. Since it’s a piece of plastic, it shouldn’t be expensive.
The iPort comes with a built-in IR emitter so that you can use an optional IR receiver for remote control of the iPod. This is really a great feature, as the iPod does not come with a remote control (hint to Apple) and to change tracks or playlists require you to get off your couch or chair to make any changes. With the built-in IR, you can use a third-party remote control with the iPort, making the system even better yet.
One neat $550.00 add-on Sonance offers is the Navigator K2 In-Wall Keypad. This LCD control pad can be programmed not only to control the iPod but your sound system as well. The K2 can be placed in any room (see installation information above) so that you have access to your iPod or audio system remotely. Without actually trying one myself, I can’t give much more information than that. But it sounds like an almost must-have add-on. I know if I were going to be installing the iPort, I would probably spring for the Navigator K2 as well.
I really like the iPort. It’s a great way for high-end audiophiles to attractively add an iPod to their multiroom audio system. For instance, I enjoy spending time in the backyard, but hate carrying a radio or CD player with me. I also don’t want to take my iPod outdoors if the weather doesn’t look too inviting. With outdoor speakers connected to my home audio system, and the iPort and iPod safely in the house, I can send the audio from my iPod through my audio system to the outdoor speakers very easily.
While anyone can purchase a cheap iPod dock with audio-out options, the Sonance system is superior for those serious about aesthetics and acoustics. It is a brilliant design, implemented with the same craftsmanship Sonance is known for with their in-wall speakers.
After the Review.
Ah, nothing like progress. After this review was written and edited, and right before it was posted online, good news came out about the iPort. It seems that as great as the iPort is, it is about to get even better!
Following on the heels of its successful 2004 launch, iPort™ announces a new and expanded line of five feature-packed iPorts to satisfy any in-wall application. Highlighted by a universal docking bay that conforms automatically to the shape of all current generation iPod hard drive players, the new line’s features include integrated IR remote control, two-way RS232 communication, and the ability to pass balanced video over long distances. iPort is the newly formed division of Dana Innovations. Dana Innovations is the parent company of Sonance, who introduced the first iPort in 2004.
The new iPort In-Wall, or IW series represents a dramatic leap forward in install-ability and future upgradeability. Fundamental to the new design is that all iPort models feature a universal docking system (patent pending) with a self-adjusting base plate that automatically conforms to any size iPod. An adjustable insert on the face easily rotates in and out to ensure a secure fit. No adapter plates are needed with the new iPort IW series products.
In addition, all but the most basic iPort model incorporate an upgradeable motherboard, into which plug-in cards can be added making future system expansion a breeze. These feature cards offer expanded capabilities for balanced audio, balanced video and two-way RS232 communication.
“Adding integrated remote capability and RS232 compatibility and eliminating the need to change inserts to fit different sized iPods were our top design priorities,” said Kim Parker, Director of Product Development. “Addressing all three goals and adding an upgrade path to the future are huge plusses for our customers.”
A new and simplified two-piece design makes the iPort easier to install and upgrade. A primary in-wall chassis houses the electronic motherboard and wiring connectors. The chassis is secured to the wall using a pair of integrated Rotolock™ clamps and the audio and video terminations are simple plug-in RJ45 connectors. A separate faceplate, incorporating the new universal docking system, snaps securely onto the in-wall housing.
The IW-1, a basic version with a fixed feature set, charges the iPod when docked and outputs unbalanced audio and video for local room applications. It will have a suggested retail price of $200. A wall plate for unbalanced audio is included, while a wall plate for the unbalanced video is optional.
The IW-2 ($350) adds an integrated IR receiver and uses the modular motherboard design that provides an upgrade path for adding plug-in feature cards. Three upgrade kits are planned: balanced audio ($275), balanced video ($325) and RS232 ($225). iPort will also offer stepped up configurations that pre-load the plug-in cards simplifying the installer specification process and reducing dealer inventory concerns. These prepackaged models include the IW-3 ($600), which builds on the IW-2 by adding a balanced audio capability for shielded long distance wiring runs between the iPort and the system’s amplifier or distribution hub.
The IW-4 ($800) adds to the IW-3, further enhancing it with RS232 connectivity for two-way communication with larger control systems. Two-way communication allows for remote viewing of the metadata from the iPod, including playlists, track, artist and album name on third-party video displays. The top-of-the-line IW-5 ($1100) completes the available feature sets by adding a balanced video module for runs up to 250 ft between the iPort and the video display or distribution hub.
“We learned a great deal with our first two generations of iPort, and consumers don’t just want to share music next to the computer,” added Scott Struthers, president of iPort and developer of the first high-fidelity in-wall speaker more than 20 years ago. “People want their iPod where they hang out with friends and family: the living room, the kitchen, the den, wherever they get together. We developed this generation to be the most complete line possible to address the wide variety of applications our customers described.” All the iPort In-Wall models except the IW-5 will ship by the end of June, with the IW-5 is scheduled to ship in July. Upgrade kits will be available starting in July.