High Fidelity: Eos puts iPod playlist in many rooms

By  Susan Sliwicki

The Eos Digital Wireless Multi-Room Audio System’s heart is in the right place, but it just doesn’t deliver what it should for the price tag.

A real-world test revealed some great pros for this product, including its compact size; awesome range on the remote speakers; easy “plug-and-play” installation and easy operation.

But the product’s potential uses and ease of operation aren’t strong enough to overpower its myriad weaknesses, especially when you consider that the core system of one base station plus one speaker retails at $249.

It’s easy to see potential in this product. Say you’ve got a small business or office area and you want to make your own modern-day Muzak system that multiple users can enjoy — easy peasy. If you’ve got MP3 files languishing on your computer, but you don’t have an iPod (there are still a few of you out there), you hate being leashed to your laptop with a pair of headphones or you’re sick of the anemic sound that comes out of your computer’s sad little factory-issued speakers, the EOS system can provide an upgrade, as you can plug a computer right into the base station.

If you throw a ton of parties — even backyard barbecues, as the Eos’ powerful range for its speakers can make the leap beyond the back door without breaking a sweat — but you don’t want to go deaf from standing in the room where the sound system is headquartered or spend your life stringing miles of speaker wire to get the sound all over the party, the Eos could do the trick just fine. Then again, you’d probably have to invest in more speakers, because the core package only comes with the base station and one remote speaker.

The system’s remote speaker comes with an integrated power adapter positioned so you can literally plug the entire speaker right into the wall if you have a well-positioned outlet — and that’s a pretty big if, considering that the AC adapters for these speakers are huge. If ideal outlet placement isn’t in the cards for you, the plug can be removed from the speaker unit, and the speaker can be placed on a table, shelf or countertop. However, the speaker’s power cord is pretty short, so chances are good you’ll need an extension cord to get the speakers placed where you want them (which brings cords and wires back into the equation of what should be a wireless system), and you’ve still got that enormous plug to deal with.

Sadly, if you’re looking for top-shelf sound quality with the Eos, you’re going to be looking for a long time. We tried a lot of different music (and selected the coordinating iPod equalizer pre-sets accordingly, as the manual recommended), but the speakers lost a lot in translation, producing muddy bass, tinny treble and just plain flat tones (depending on the setting). There wasn’t a point where we felt like there was any knock-your-socks-off sound quality. We even tried the equalizer’s “small speakers” option, but Eos just couldn’t deliver the kind of sound we felt that a system in this price range should give.

The core package does include five universal docking adapters that work for several models, but adapters for newer-model iPods (Nano and 5th generation video iPods) and older ones (second-generation iPods) were excluded from Eos’ core package. The manual  offers a toll-free number users can call to get the second-generation adapter but states that it chose not to include newer-model adapters because those come with the original iPod. That’s fine if you only ever want to use your iPod and your Eos. But it doesn’t do you much good if your buddy wants to share his smokin’-hot playlist but forgets to bring his factory-issued docking adapter along. We tested the Eos with both a 160 GB iPod Classic and a 32-gig iPod Touch; the Classic stayed put OK, but the Touch never really felt like it was securely seated in the dock.

The remote control was a definite head-scratcher. Yup, it’s compact. It’s also simple to operate: just six buttons: basically, an articulated iPod click wheel plus a mute button. But the remote’s range is poor  — we couldn’t get it to work reliably beyond five or six feet away — and you can only use it to adjust the volume up or down or go forward or backward in the playlist. If you want to switch up the tone and try a different playlist, you’ve gotta go back to the base station to do it.

Worst of all, there was a notable crackling noise we heard each time we adjusted volume control using the remote. The manual advises users to aim the remote toward the lower right corner of the grille area for best results, so it may have been the positioning of the remote, but again, why bother with a remote if the results just aren’t that great?

If having so-so music available in multiple locations is more important to you than having top-notch sound in one, you might want to give the EOS a try. But if sound quality tops your “most important” list, you’ll be happier if you spend a little bit more money for a docking-station system that will catch all of the music’s nuances (and they are out there) or if you grab your favorite earbuds and enjoy the music on your iPod in its more traditional habitat — for an audience of one.

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