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But to balance the innovative design and features is a raft of irritations and annoyances, not least of which is the control system. Controls on the head unit itself are pretty minimal: all you get is a pair of touch-sensitive volume up and down buttons, just below the iPod cradle. That's to be expected with a lifestyle product such as this, but with everything else left to the remote control, it's got to be halfway decent or you're stuck.
Unfortunately the small coin-cell operated remote supplied with the Boom China isn't very good. It's reasonably well-featured: you can turn the system on an off with it, alter the volume and subwoofer output power, skip tracks, pause, play and switch between repeat and shuffle modes with it. But its blister buttons feel cheap and make the remote uncomfortable to use, and it's woefully underpowered. As with other remotes like this I've used in the past, you have to point it directly at the head unit's infrared receiver for it to work at all.
And those touch sensitive volume control buttons below the iPod cradle don't work brilliantly either - there's no indicator as to whether you've pressed a button or not. Neither did I like the fact that there's no physical support in this cradle for Apple's smaller players; they simply sit on the connector with nothing else to protect them from accidental knocks.
But these are the least of the Boom China's worries; its biggest weakness is its sound quality. It's not as if it's bad in itself. In fact if you plonk it in the corner of a small room, it'll get on with the business of music playback quite happily. The 25w sub and 8w-per-channel head unit speakers produce enough reasonably balanced and punchy and bassy sound to fill a small room and although there's a little hole in the mid-range, they otherwise sound pretty good - it's perfect as an unobtrusive background music system.
But, critically, you can get a lot more for your £180. Buy a pair of the Creative Gigaworks HD50 desktop speakers (£80) and you've got better all-round sound quality for less than half the cash - and a pretty minimal speaker set to boot. Even better, buy yourself a set of Acoustic Energy Aego M speakers for a paltry £110 and you've got superb bass and a much fuller, hi-fi style sound. Again this comes without the mess of a full hi-fi system and still leaves you almost enough money over to buy a 4GB iPod nano. It's this high price and average sound quality that ultimately counts against the Boom China, while the slightly iffy usability and lack of proper cradle inserts for smaller iPods doesn't help either.
If you're into the Chinese restaurant looks and like the idea of playing music to your plants, you'll just have to swallow the high price: there is no other product like it, of that I can be absolutely sure. But there are much better quality, equally unobtrusive systems you can buy for much less money than this. Unless you're absolutely desperate to have a vase-come-speaker in your living room, I'd advise choosing one of those before this.
Scores In Detail
- Sound Quality