All Ears - and Eyes - on the I-Sonic
XM-ready technology isn't the only thing that makes Polk's I-Sonic worth checking out next time you're in the mood for a compact stereo system for your desktop/tabletop/kitchen counter top/dorm room/bedroom/(other spot I can't think of right now). The I-Sonic - why can't I shake this vision of a hedgehog running amok? - also includes a digital HD Radio tuner. For those who've been out of the technological loop, HD Radio is a digital technology that, in terms of sound quality, does for FM what CD did to the analog cassette. AM isn't forgotten, either. Using HD Radio technology, AM sound gets boosted to FM quality. (Oh, joy. Now talk radio will be clearer - but not more coherent.) HD Radio stations will have the additional ability to multicast different channel streams - greatly increasing, in theory anyway, the number of genres of music, news, and talk filling the airwaves. The I-Sonic includes a traditional AM/FM tuner as well. That's a good thing, since most of the country lacks any HD Radio broadcasting stations; although Polk says that 2,500 stations nationwide have begun a gradual roll out.
One of the nicer aspects of HD Radio is that broadcasts are free for the hearing - as long there's a station in your area. XM Satellite Radio requires a subscription (currently running around $12.99/month), but the same channels are available no matter where you are in the U.S. Speaking of not free, the Polk's folks are stingy and don't want you to have any fun, so an XM antenna is not included as part of the I-Sonic package. Current or wannabe XM customers will need to add a new XM Connect & Play antenna ($49 MSRP).
Some might think, especially the people who design this sort of thing, that a tabletop system (for most manufacturers, the term "clock radio" is a more apt description) should really be of limited capability with equally limited sound quality. Polk brags about the I-Sonic's four-speaker audio system utilizing two Polk technologies: I-Sonic ("delivers a rich, room-filling stereo soundstage 360 degrees around the entertainment center") and Power Port Venting ("belts out the kind of rich powerful bass you'd expect from much larger stereo speakers"). For many people, Polk optimistically points out, "the I-sonic is capable of being the primary home entertainment system." (We'll suspend judgement until we have a chance to listen to it.)
One reason why Polk feels comfortable making this "primary home entertainment system" claim is that they've included a single-disc DVD/CD player in the I-Sonic. After connecting the Composite or S-video outputs to a TV, the I-Sonic really could function as a complete sound entertainment system - albeit without discrete surround sound.
The I-Sonic measures 14.5" wide x 9.75" deep x 4.75" high, which means it's smaller than a breadbox but larger than a piece of toast. Auxiliary inputs can be used with any stereo device (think Apple iPod, Sony PSP, or that old 8-track deck you've been wanting to fire up again). The system can also be used as a full-function dual-alarm clock radio with the option of playing the radio or a CD/DVD as the alarm. Also included are a headphone jack and a wireless remote control. Since they know you're going to lose, misplace, or have your dog eat the remote, Polk wisely designed the I-Sonic so that all functions can be operated via the unit itself.
Polk's I-Sonic is scheduled to be available in September, 2005. MSRP is $599.