iHome iHMP5 Headphone Speaker System

| iObserver

The iHome iHMP5 bills itself as "2-in-1 Portable Speakers with built-in Headphones." I'd never heard of or seen such a thing so when I was offered the opportunity to review the product I couldn't accept fast enough. I found the idea of headphones that turn into speakers (or speakers that turn into headphones) intriguing. Unfortunately, in spite of a clever design, the sound quality in both modes -- headphones and speakers -- was mediocre at best. 

Technically, the iHMP5s consist of a pair of 50mm drivers, soft vinyl noise isolation earcups, a volume control dongle with a clip, a battery-powered amplifier (used only for speaker mode), and a padded headband. They look pretty much like other inexpensive headphones:

iHome iHMP5 - 1

Unlike some inexpensive headphones, the iHMP5 is also available in your choice of black (above) blue or red (below).

iHome iHMP5 - 2

To use it as headphones, just put it on your head and plug it into your iPod, iPhone, or other sound source. To use it as speakers, however, you must first insert two AAA batteries in a compartment behind the left earcup, and then point the ear cups in the same direction and touch the square magnetic proximity switch on one cup to the square magnetic proximity switch socket on the other (as shown below). 

iHome iHMP5 - 5

And here's another view of the iHMP5 in speaker mode. 

iHome iHMP5 - 3

A nice touch is that when the proximity switch is activated a red LED lights up to alert you that the power amplifier is in use and the system is now in speaker mode and running on battery power. 

iHome iHMP5 - 4

When you pull the earcups apart the LED goes out so you know at a glance that the system is back in headphone mode and not using the batteries.

Another nice touch is that the in-line volume control dongle works in headphone mode regardless of whether batteries are installed.

Alas, a couple of nice touches aren't enough to convince me to recommend this product as headphones or as speakers. As headphones, the audio quality was poor -- muddy, dull, and flat-sounding. I did some A/B testing against several pairs of similarly-priced headphones and I was unable to find a single set that sounded as bad as these. They weren't any better as speakers, either. Not only was the sound muddy and dull, but they also exhibited annoying distortion when the volume was above around the 75% mark.

Finally, my wife and I both found the earcups somewhat uncomfortable. The foam isn't particularly soft and the curve of the headband made them press against the ear with more force than other headphones we tested. 

The Bottom Line

If you absolutely and positively need a single product that can serve as both speakers and headphones, the iHMP5 is the only product I know that fits the bill. Otherwise, you can probably find better sounding headphones and better sounding speakers for around the same price as the iHMP5.  

Product: iHMP5 Headphone Speaker System

Company: iHome

List Price: US$69.99

Pros:

Combines travel speakers and headphones in a single unit, clever proximity switch for speaker mode.

Cons:

Muddy audio in both modes, distortion in speaker mode, discomfort in headphone mode.

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