Wednesday, October 1, 2008

We review the i2i Stream wireless audio extender


By Heather Wardell

These days, people tend to listen to music just about everywhere. Aerielle Technologies' i2i Stream is intended to make it easy to share music with your friends and listen on the go.

The package contains two identical i2i Stream units, along with two sets of USB charging cables, two sets of neck lanyards and pocket clips, and two sets of audio cables in different lengths. Figure A shows the two i2i Stream units, with my first-generation iPod Shuffle for a size comparison. The i2i is about twice as thick as my old Shuffle, but the weight is comparable.


The i2i Stream unit is about the same weight as a first-gen iPod Shuffle, and fairly similar in size. (click for larger image)

To use the system, connect one i2i Stream to your audio source (MP3 player, computer, television, etc.) via an audio cable. This unit (which is called the broadcaster) sends a signal wirelessly. The other i2i Stream, the listener, receives the signal and outputs it through headphones or speakers.

For example, as I write this, I have an i2i Stream connected to my laptop via the headphone jack. I'm listening to the music via the headphones I've connected to the second i2i Stream.

Now, for my current situation, this is unnecessary, of course, as I could plug my headphones directly into the laptop and skip the i2i Stream entirely. However, the system really comes into its own when you want to share music.

If I were to plug my headphones into the top of the broadcasting unit, someone else could use the listening unit, thereby allowing us both to hear the same music. If you've ever shared headphones with someone, one ear-piece each, you can see how much better this would be. Multiple i2i Stream units can be used as simultaneous listeners, all picking up a broadcaster's signal.

The top button on the unit's face sets it to broadcast and the bottom to listen. I do wish the logos on those buttons had been something more obvious, perhaps arrows or sound waves moving into or out of the unit.

Sound quality, range, battery life, and volume

The sound quality is excellent as long as you're close to the broadcasting unit. I tried different kinds of music and didn't find the sound quality different from listening directly.

In my tests with my laptop and various MP3 players, I found that the system worked best when it has direct line-of-sight between the two units. I could leave my office and go into the next room of my apartment without trouble, but as soon as I went into the next room, the sound began cutting in and out and a bit of static crept in.

There are seven channels available, and of course the broadcaster and listener must be on the same channel. I didn't find any difference between them in terms of sound quality and range, but it's good that they're there in the event of interference from another wireless device. The system broadcasts at 2.4 Ghz, which is the same as my cordless phones, but I never had any difficulty with interference between them.