Few party buzz-kills are more terminal than a cordless phone that shuts down your wireless music system every time it rings. Soundcast boasts you’ll never have that problem while using its iCast audio-streaming device for the iPod, and our tests back up the claim.
The iCast consists of a combo transmitter/iPod docking bay and a wireless receiver that you plug into powered speakers or a home-theater system. The transmitter charges the iPod’s battery while it’s docked, and a 1/8-inch stereo output enables you to plug in powered speakers. If there’s no iPod in the dock, the output connection automatically switches to an input, so you can stream audio from any other source.
You can build a two-room system by adding a second receiver ($130), and you can connect two transmitters to the same source to create a four-room system. To stream different audio to each room, assign each iPod/transmitter/receiver group to one of three channels to operate up to three iPods independently.
Because Apple refuses to open its DRM kimono to other manufacturers, some of our favorite audio-streaming products, such as the Sonos ZP-80 and the Squeezebox, can’t stream encrypted AAC tracks purchased from iTunes. The iCast overcomes this hurdle by taking the analog output from the iPod’s docking port, converting it to digital, and streaming that to its receiver. The receiver converts the signal back to analog and outputs it to either powered speakers or a home-theater system.
Despite these repeated conversions, the iCast sounded nearly as good as streaming boxes that can’t stream from iTunes. What’s more, the iCast’s use of frequency-hopping spread-spectrum technology prevented our cordless phone and microwave oven from interrupting the party, er, music.
The iCast is a fabulous audio-streaming system, but the absence of a display on the receiver limits you to simple play, pause, and resume controls and blindly moving up and down your iPod’s playlist. Considering the $300 price tag, we also expected to find a USB port on the transmitter—so we could sync the iPod to iTunes using the cradle and our PC.