Cambridge SoundWorks i525 iPod/AM/FM Clock Radio System – Review

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If you’re an audiophile you still want to have a fancy powerful stereo system home. But for many of us the sound coming out of our iPhones, iPods or iPads is good enough when they’re connected to some sort of a speaker system. Since I am not an audiophile I’m perfectly happy having a dock in my home office, in the bedroom, and in my study at work so I can listen to music whenever I want. Over the next few days I’m going to take a look at a number of different docks that are currently available. Some have more bells and whistles than others but all of them are reasonably priced and currently available.

First up let’s take a look at the SoundWorks i525 from Cambridge sound works. The company advertises the clock radio system as being, “better than any $300 iPod clock radio system at only half the price!”. Let’s take a look at whether or not there’s truth in advertising.

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From The Company-

Better Than Any $300 iPod Clock Radio System at Only Half the Price!

Our SoundWorks i525 is not another of the countless clock radios with iPod docking. It combines our key fundamentals of audio excellence – with tons of bonus features – to offer you a solution that goes beyond what you think an iPod clock radio could deliver.

Simply put – you won’t find another system this small that delivers this level of audio performance, period. If you’re looking for an all-in-one iPod/Clock Radio solution, why sacrifice great sound and great features if you don’t have to – our SoundWorks i525 is the clear choice.

Our i525 is our greatest design accomplishment. We have used only the finest materials, state-of-the-art digital technology and incredibly sophisticated physics. The result of these design considerations allows for high output and richer, cleaner sound. All of these technology considerations – coupled with industrial design – not only makes the i525 a standalone in performance, but also in shear beauty.

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Features-

Cambridge SoundWorks’ proprietary “Smart Volume” technology automatically levels the volume relative to broadcast program signals; volume adjustments unnecessary when you change from station to station.

Integrated universal dock charges iPod so it’s always ready to go.

Intuitive spin dial, located at the top, makes switching from different modes easy.

Dual alarms wake to user’s choice of iPod, AM/FM radio or buzzer. Alarms can also be adjusted for single day, 2 day or 5 day intervals –no adjustments for weekends necessary.

Convenient Snooze/Mute bar, adjustable from 5 to 30 minutes, Sleep Mode, adjustable from 15 to 120 minutes, Nap Mode turns system on from an adjustable 15 minutes to 4 hours.

System’s amber display chosen specifically for bedroom usage, and can be adjusted to suite ambient light.

High-precision, all digital AM/FM stereo tuner with 8 FM/8 AM presets.

Auxiliary input allows connection to other audio sources.

Stereo headphone jack also offers a private listening option.

Full-featured remote adjusts all iPod and radio functions.

Specs-

Product Length: 14.57 inches

Product Width: 8.54 inches

Product Height: 5.91 inches

Product Weight: 4.49 pounds

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My Impressions-

The first thing you notice about the system when you first open it is that it is substantive. It weighs a fair bit, over 4 pounds, and has a solid feel to go along with the weight. I mentioned this primarily because many of the iPod docks that I have seen or used over the last few years feel relatively light, which is a polite way for me to say they feel cheap. That certainly isn’t the case here so one mark in the “plus” column for the unit in its attempt to prove that it is “Better than any $300 iPod clock radio system at only half the price!”.

The front of the unit has a bright LED screen flanked by two speakers. It is a setup that any of us who had clock radios 20 or 30 years ago are immediately familiar with. The left side when facing the unit is blank while the right side has a 3.5 mm headphone jack. On the back you’ll find the power input, and auxiliary in plug so that the clock radio can be used with something other than an iPhone or iPod, a connection for the included AM radio antenna, a thin permanently connected antenna and a hole that runs the length of the clock radio–I suspect for providing a deeper, richer sound.

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The top of the clock radio is rather busy. In the front there’s a nicely sized snooze/mute button. It’s positioned perfectly and sized properly so that someone who is 90% asleep can whack the top of the device in order to get a few more minutes of sleep. On the left side facing the unit there’s a button for selecting the source, there is a button that can be used to set eight different preset stations, and there are separate buttons for two different alarms. This is great if you want to guarantee that you won’t sleep through your alarm or if two individuals are using the unit at the same time. On the right-hand side you’ll find tuning buttons that can be used to change the radio station or can be used to advance or repeat a song on your iPod. In front of those buttons there is a Sleep/Nap button and the power on-off button.

In the middle of the top there is a large circle for raising or lowering the volume. It moves with a satisfying click sound to it that lets you know that you have increased or decreased volume. In the center of the volume ring there is a menu select button and behind the volume ring is in the dock connector for an iPod.

In other words, there are a variety of buttons on top of the device and it makes sense to familiarize yourself with them before you start using the clock radio.

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Speaking of buttons the i525 includes a remote control. It’s nicely sized so that it’s large enough to not misplace but small enough to fit comfortably in a medium to large sized hand. And it has a lot of buttons. It has a volume up and down buttons, a full array of buttons to control the iPod, precepts, buttons for the sleep and in that mode, buttons for the two alarms, a mute button that also serves as your snooze button and four buttons for adjusting the sound using Cambridge’s own equalizer system.

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There aren’t a great number of choices with regard to adjusting the sound but anyone who owns an iPod is used to that. I should note however that when you activate the sound enhancing system it does improve the sound quality substantially.

So how does it sound? Pretty good. Especially for a unit that you can pick up currently for just $149.

The company explains-

Using our more than 50-years of audio design expertise, our SoundWorks i525 combines fantastic acoustic and award-winning design fundamentals with cutting edge technologies to deliver the best sounding system in its size and price class.

Cambridge SoundWorks’ award-winning speaker design means you’ll be amazed at the high output sound from this small system.
A pair of specially designed precision loudspeakers coupled with an extremely efficient, state-of-the-art amplifier, means the i525 will deliver deep bass and full, rich sound with large output that defies its size.

Before I continue I should note that this is a unit for use with an iPod. You can use it with an iPod nano, and iPod touch or an iPod classic. That’s right it works with any iPod that has a dock connector. Do not, however, try to use it with an iPhone unless you’re prepared to put your iPhone into airplane mode. Yes, sadly the unit does not have the shielding necessary to eliminate or reduce GSM buzz. To my mind this is a huge strike against the unit but in fairness, looking through the literature it says nothing about using the clock radio with an iPhone.

At the same time, with so many people already carrying the iPhone’s, I mean 1.7 million units were sold last weekend alone, I don’t understand why a company would eliminate that entire market when so many other companies are able to give the proper shielding so that an iPhone can also be used. Again I’ll point out that the company says nothing about it working with iPhone’s and so I can’t hold that against them… much.

Using the clock radio with my iPod touch is another story. It sounds good, gets plenty loud, and the remote control makes it simple to do pretty much anything I want to with my iPod when it’s connected to the clock radio.

Initially I was unimpressed by the quality of the sound coming out of the unit. It was only after I discovered the various equalizer functions built into the system that the sound began to impress me. The company explains the sound technology they employ in this way–

One of the essential features contributing to the SoundWorks i525’s detailed sound reproduction is the use of Creative Technology’s industry-leading X-Fi digital processing technology. With X-Fi, the SoundWorks i525 restores detail and vibrancy to your music. It will also create a true digital surround sound effect. Whether listening to your iPod, the radio, or other audio sources via its AUX input, the X-Fi processor will significantly enhance your musical experience.

Cambridge SoundWorks audio designers also introduced “Smart Volume” technology for better performance of AM/FM station signals. When listening to radio broadcasts, “Smart Volume” automatically levels the volume relative to the program signal, making volume adjustments unnecessary when you change the station.

Here… listen for yourself…       i525 Sound Test

Having listened to a variety of different styles of music with the enhancement turn on and turn off I can absolutely say it makes a huge difference and, when used properly, the system of pumps out excellent sound.

In all, this is a nice unit to use in your bedroom or in the kitchen. It’s looks are rather unassuming, the selection of functions that are available with it are impressive, and the sound, once you tweak it properly, is quite good. The inclusion of a large, easy to use remote control only serves to add to a package which is already quite good.

So does the unit sound, “Better than any $300 iPod clock radio system at only half the price”?

I don’t have a $300 unit to compare the i525 against but having used it for a few days I can say this–it certainly doesn’t feel or sound like something you can purchase for $150. In fact, if you showed me the unit and let me listen to it for a while without knowing the price I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that it could cost $300 or more. In other words, in this case I think there probably is truth in advertising.

The Cambridge SoundWorks – SoundWorks i525 iPod/AM/FM Clock Radio System has an MSRP of $199.00 but is currently available through the Cambridge website for $149.99 via Amazon. That price includes shipping.

What I like–

Unassuming style, feels well built, full controls on the top advice and through the included remote control, easy-to-read LED display, good, loud sound

What needs improvement–

I like the unit a lot and I’m disappointed that it won’t work with iPhone


About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.