In the marketing materials for its latest audio accessory, iHome asks the question: "Why buy speakers and headphones?"
For most people, the answer is pretty simple: Because you want speakers that sound good when you're listening at home, and a good pair of headphones when you're on the go. Products that offer the Transformer-like capability to morph from headphones to speakers have been tried before (the Jabra BT8030 comes to mind), but it's not easy to make them sound good in both roles, particularly at a budget price point.
So, has iHome managed to buck the trend with its iHMP5 speaker/headphone system? In short, no. However, that doesn't mean this product is totally without merit.
We did like the iHMP5's whole duality aspect, which it handled pretty well. To go from headphone mode you connect the two earcups and "a magnetic proximity switch activates the amplifier to increase output for listening in a room." Two AAA batteries in the left earcup power the speakers and you can swivel the two earpieces so they fire up at an angle. (Just be sure you don't snap the delicate plastic articulating hinges.)
The sound that comes out of the speakers really isn't good. They sound thin, canned, and just about what you'd expect a couple of amplified headphone earpieces to sound like. (There's an inline volume control on the headphone cord to raise and lower output levels). But if you and a couple of other people were watching a video on your iPod and wanted everybody to be able to hear the sound, this iHome headphone/speaker system would certainly do the job. For music, it's a little dicey, but if you're OK with hearing tunes through a $12 transistor radio, you'll be able to live with the sound.
As headphones, the iHMP5s perform better, but the sound isn't good enough to redeem the product. There's not much in the way of detail (clarity) and the bass is pretty messy (read: thick, mushy). They're not terrible, but they do sound like budget headphones and the earcups don't feel all that comfortable on your ears.
In the final analysis, it's hard to recommend these guys unless you find them significantly discounted from their list price of $60. Again, they have some merit, but we'd be more forgiving if they'd excelled as headphones.