Totally Wireless: iHome's iW1 Portable AirPlay Speaker

Been looking for a portable speaker system to go along with your iOS device? iHome's long-awaited iW1 battery-powered AirPlay speaker is finally here. The iW1 was one of the first announced AirPlay speakers - and while it was slow out of the gate, it's now set to be the first available truly wireless AirPlay device.

There may be a million iOS docks, thousands of wireless speakers employing different streaming protocols, and even a fair number of AirPlay devices on the market right now, but oddly enough, there isn't any actual competition for this device right now, not when you narrow it down to portable, battery-powered AirPlay speakers - that niche, until now, was dominated by Bluetooth devices, with some hi-fi interlopers (like the Arcam rCube) using proprietary dongles for better quality audio streaming.

That's about to change, and the iW1 is the first of a handful of anxiously awaited devices to actually make it to market. The Sony SA-NS500 is still a month or so away, and will retail for $100 more than the iW1. Philips' Fidelio DS3881W is, like the iW1, priced at $299, but it won't be available until the holidays. As for AQ Audio's Smart Speaker, it's set to make its European debut in November, but US availability is an unknown at this point.

Is it worth making the leap to an AirPlay system over Bluetooth? AirPlay's getting traction, and music streamed via Apple's protocol (and BridgeCo's chipset) sounds a lot better than stock A2DP Bluetooth. Existing alternatives all require the use of dongles, which cut down on the convenience factor considerably. The one real downside of AirPlay is that performance is dependent on your local wireless network's traffic. Downloading big files? Somebody watching streaming video in another room AirPlay tends to take the hit. But AirPlay's plug-and-play (well, forget "plug"; it's just "play") convenience and sound quality outweighs the occasional dropout.