- Review Price: £179.99
There’s an age-old argument that has taken place between man and wife up and down the country since time immemorial. One partner wants the TV, hi-fi and home cinema setup at the centre of the living space. The other wants the wires and big black boxes hidden away, out of sight.
The result is usually some form of compromise – with sound, picture quality and toys sacrificed in the name of elegance and the gods of interior design. It’s the reason lifestyle systems exist… but has there ever been a product as single-mindedly aimed at the problem as TwinMOS’ Boom China? It’s an iPod dock – but with a difference. This is a system designed to disappear into your décor like no other. Instead of black, white or any other colour boxes, this 2.1 speaker set has a sub that’s designed to look like a Chinese vase.
It looks a bit bonkers – my first reaction was to laugh when I pulled it from the packaging – but I suppose if you happen to have the sort of colour scheme, wallpaper and accessories it fits into, it’s pretty convincing as a piece of audio furniture. Adding to the effect is the fact that it doesn’t seem to be made plastic, but a heftier, earthenware sort of material. Plus there’s an oriental design and Chinese characters adorning the side, and an attractive dark wood plinth base, which also allows sound from the downward firing woofer to escape. But the crowning glory is that the vase can actually be used to put flowers in, water and all.
Let’s not forget that the Boom China has a more practical use, though. When it’s not sitting quietly in the corner of your kitsch Chinese takeaway-style room with a bunch of daffodils poking out the top, this system is most at home with an iPod in its cradle, kicking out your favourite tunes.
The head unit – where all the action takes place – isn’t as nicely put together as the sub, though. It’s made from shiny white plastic and, though understated, is definitely more for the iPod than the housewife generation. Its boomerang-like shape that houses four tiny drivers – two either side of the docking cradle – is pretty sleek and low profile, however, and it can count a number of handy features among its specifications.
First up is compatibility with the full iPod range. The BooM China works, not only with the entire range of iPods – right up to the latest, fifth generation players – but also the iPod Touch and iPhone. I tested it with a fifth generation iPod nano and it worked perfectly. You can even plug a shuffle in via the USB socket just behind the main iPod interface.
On the rear of the head unit, as well as the output for the sub is a composite TV output for displaying iPod video on a TV. And owners of other MP3 players who like the idea of having a sub shaped like a vase need not feel left out either. Admittedly it gets in the way of the design ethos somewhat, but you can also hook up any other, non-Apple MP3 player via the Boom’s 3.5mm stereo input.
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.
Score in detail
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