The Sharper Image's wares fall almost entirely into one of two categories: expensive, useful electronic toys or expensive, useless electronic toys. When I first caught sight of the iPulse, a light-adorned speaker system for the iPod, I fully expected it to fall into the latter category. After my experience with the Griffin Disko, who can blame me? However, the $149 speaker with subwoofer (a $99 model, without a subwoofer, is available) is a surprisingly fun and engaging gadget. iPod owners looking for a complete audio-visual experience will be enamored with the iPulse.
Any way you slice it, the design of the iPulse is funky. Indeed, it looks like an oversized wedge cut from a sphere, with one flat edge acting as a base, the other making up the front of the speaker, and the back, rounded portion housing two ports: a DC power input and an auxiliary line input for connecting non-iPod MP3 players (cable included). An angular chunk is cut out of the top of the iPulse, creating a base for the iPod. The system includes eight snap-in adapters for the various iPod models. On the front edge of the cradle area is a slider for adjusting the intensity of the light show.
When the iPulse is not in use, the front of the unit looks more than a little funky. The upper arc is covered in a clear, plastic speaker grille of sorts. It has all these bubbly holes in it, which I initially thought were lights. In fact, the lights are tucked away along the edge of the lower arc, and the holes serve to affect the refraction of the lights. The controls for the iPulse also reside on the front of the device and consist simply of a power button and volume keys. Unfortunately, a remote is not included in the package, and there's no option to purchase one separately, either. Battery power is also not an option, though the unit will charge the iPod while it's docked.
Of course, the iPulse's main feature is the light show, but the unit also features SRS Wow technology, which creates a wider stereo separation, improves bass perception, and generally offers a more immersive listening experience. As for the light show, it really does go with the music, unlike with the Griffin Disko. Three colors of lights--red, blue, and green--pulsate in response to the rhythm, loudness, and frequency of the music. During testing, I was able to determine that the red light corresponds to the bass, but the green and blue were tough to nail down to any particular sound. The iPulse itself is entrancing to look at while in action, but the real visual treat to be had is in a darkened room, where the lights dance on the ceiling. This thing screams dorm room.
As for sound quality, the iPulse can hold its own against other tabletop stereo units. Music was perhaps a bit on the bright side--almost too crisp--for my taste, but bass response was good. The unit offered good high- and mid-level clarity as well, and it can get quite loud. The iPulse is a worthy addition to any kitchen, bedroom, or den.