Boston Acoustics Horizon Duo-i

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					Boston Acoustics Horizon Duo-i
By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge

Category: FM Radio Receivers, Speakers - All-in-One/Room-to-Room

Pros: An attractive, customizable, and great-sounding dual alarm clock radio for
the iPod, complete with strong AM/FM radio tuning and a straightforward interface.
Big, bright screen can easily be adjusted through 21 dimmer stages, while
replaceable speaker grilles enable color updating of the unit’s face. Smart layout of
front dials and remote control; reasonable pricing considering aggregate quality of
audio, features, and build.

Cons: Physical footprint that enables superior speaker performance also demands
more space. Not shielded against iPhone interference. Price tag, while reasonable
overall, is higher than competitors with added alarm clock features.

Just as there are often differences between actors turned singers and signers
turned actors, there are marked differences between alarm clock makers who
create speakers and speaker makers who create alarm clocks. The alarm clock
maker tends to get clock, alarm, and radio features right, while speaker makers
tend to deliver better sound and less impressive execution on the other features.
After spending two weeks with Boston Acoustics new Horizon Duo-i ($200), a dual
alarm clock radio, we’re pleased to report that this speaker maker has come closer
to getting both sides right than most of its competitors—the reason for our high
recommendation—though users needing the latest iPod alarm features will still find
a reason or two to consider their alternatives.
Relative to other clock radios out there, Horizon Duo-i’s single most impressive
characteristics are strong audio performance and a cool clock radio interface.
iHome, XtremeMac, and other clock radio makers have stuck to platform-style
designs that look like oversized Apple iPod Docks, measuring roughly 9” wide by
4.5” deep and 3.5” tall. These short cabinets have their advantages, but physically
limit the size and number of the speakers that can fit inside. Horizon Duo-i takes a
different direction: it’s 12.9” wide by 8” deep and 5.5” tall, using the extra width
and height for twin 3.5” speaker drivers, with the added depth for rear-opened bass
ports.




By contrast with iHome’s most recent iH9 or iP99 clock radios, as well as
XtremeMac’s Luna, the difference in audio is considerable. As is often the case with
standalone speakers we test, Duo-i sounds like a comparatively rich, powerful
speaker system, and makes the iHome and XtremeMac models sound flat and
lifeless—“like FM radios,” as the old saying goes. On one hand, this isn’t a surprise
given how much larger the cabinet is, and that you’d pay a $50 premium for the
Duo-i over the Luna, but on the other hand, you don’t have to compromise much
with Duo-i. Boston Acoustics has thought of pretty much everything here.
Start with the style. You initially choose from a dark gray ("midnight") or white
("mist") version of the Duo-i enclosure, each with soft touch rubber bodies and cool
metal grilles that make the system pleasant to look at and hold, while a large blue
screen on the face can be adjusted with clean, ratcheting front-mounted dials and
buttons. Having seen all of the other iPod audio systems from Massachusetts-based
audio companies such as Tivoli, Creative Soundworks, and Chestnut Hill Sound,
something about Duo-i’s design just seemed comparatively balanced to us, as if
Boston Acoustics had seen how each of its competitors went right or wrong and
built something smarter.
Chestnut Hill’s George, for instance, offered three different sets of replacement
fabric grille covers for $29 each. Boston Acoustics separately sells $25 replacement
metal grille covers that transform the stock gray or white speakers into nine
shades: Chili Pepper, Spanish Moss, Caramel, Olive, Glacier, Rose Bud, Pearl Gray,
Onyx, and Chocolat, which of course translate to varying shades of red, green,
brown, white, pink, black, and gray. We liked the system’s look as-is, but the
option to color coordinate it to your bedroom or office is a nice touch, and we found
the grilles very easy to replace using an included tool.




What many of Duo-i’s competitors lack is an equally easy to use menu system.
Boston Acoustics has developed one that uses a single dial—labelled “Mode”—and
clean text to help you quickly set different options. Twist mode and it will rapidly
skip through iPod, radio, and auxiliary inputs, then onto settings for brightness,
info, sleep, bass, treble, the alarms, and the clock. Let go of the knob for a few
seconds and it will switch to the last selected choice, or press the knob inwards to
select something. You can dim the screen in 21 different steps, separately set the
bass and treble from -5 to 0 to +5, and efficiently set the alarms and clock—
basically everything Luna could do, with greater speed and efficiency.
It bears further mention at this point that we really liked how Duo-i sounded even
before we started to play with the dials. As we occasionally say about systems that
make really good first impressions, Boston Acoustics’ “fresh out of the box” audio
balance for this system struck us as very listenable, with warm but not bloated bass
and more detail than we’re accustomed to hearing in clock radios. Though iHome’s
and XtremeMac’s radios also offer separate bass and treble adjustments, Duo-i’s
made more of a positive impact on the sound; neither of the features drove the
system into annoying distortion, and an even better than default balance can be
achieved through playing a little with the levels. In other words, this isn’t a system
you need to adjust, but if you do, you may hear benefits.
That said, there are some differences between Duo-i and some of the more recent
iPod alarm clocks that need to be acknowledged up front, namely that Duo-i doesn’t
have fancy wake to playlist or other alarm settings. You choose between the
system pressing play on the iPod or a beeping buzzer mode, and each one starts
quietly before becoming louder. If the iPod’s not plugged in, the system plays the
radio instead. Interestingly, Duo-i’s entire outer speaker grille serves as a giant
snooze bar, rather than requiring you to fumble around for a button, a feature we
really liked—especially given how tall the cabinet is. Another limitation is the
alarm’s lack of “7-5-2” or “all week, weekday, weekend” settings; here, you get two
alarms, and each is either on or off.




On Duo-i’s side are strong digital radio tuner performance and a very simple
approach to presets. Though the system is, like virtually all radios, subject to
location-specific interference, we had no problem tuning in channels and enjoying
them with full-bodied sound. You get 10 FM presets spaced out between FM1 and
FM2 bands, plus 5 AM presets, all accessible via dedicated buttons on the system’s
face and the aforementioned dials. “Mode” toggles between the FM and AM bands,
while a dedicated “tune” dial lets you select radio stations manually or be pressed
inwards to seek forward, while preset setting is as simple as holding down one of
the five buttons.

Duo-i’s 17-button Infrared remote control is, like the rest of the system, snappy
and well laid out. On the top are dedicated input buttons for each of the system’s
inputs, while the bottom has dedicated radio preset buttons. At center are speaker
volume, power, and iPod track controls. The only oddity on the remote is its
magnetized back, which probably isn’t the smartest thing to leave around a hard
disk-based iPod, but can keep the remote safely in place elsewhere in a room. We
attached it to a desk’s metal keyboard tray and kept it handy for adjustments while
the radio was on a shelf elsewhere in a room. Another distinctive feature is the
system’s inclusion of twin auxiliary inputs, one rear-mounted and one front-
mounted; Duo-i also has a front-mounted headphone port in case you want quiet
access to the radio at night.
There are only two obvious “misses” in Duo-i’s design. The first is iPhone
compatibility: the speaker is in no way shielded against TDMA interference and, like
virtually every other clock radio we’ve tested, doesn’t handle these noises well.
You’ll need to drop the iPhone into Airplane Mode or pick another clock radio, such
as iHome’s iP99, if full compatibility is a necessity for your needs. Additionally, the
system’s size, which is small by iPod stereo standards, is big by clock radio
standards—be sure your nightstand has space for it, and you’ll be satisfied.

				
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