HouseParty 24/7 [Mac] full review

Are you a morning person? Does the sound of your alarm clock’s call to consciousness cause you to open your sleepy eyes and smile? Or do you reach for a hammer to slam down hard on the snooze button?

Many of us these days use the alarm function on our mobile phones, iPods or PDAs, but there’s nothing like a random sequence of annoying buzzing sounds to start your day off with a grimace, not a grin. Gear4’s new HouseParty 24/7 2:1 stereo system for iPods looks a little like a cassette deck, but improves your morning routine – it wakes you with your choice of track or playlist on your iPod. It’s a nicer way to rise (and there’s even a snooze button, to give you an extra five to 20 minutes kip). The product also integrates an AM/FM radio (which offers excellent reception), and has a 3.5mm line-in port. It’s designed to work with all iPods since the third generation, but not the iPod shuffle. iPod shuffle owners can connect their music player to the HouseParty using the line-in jack, but the remote control and other features will not function.

Rise and shine
Out of the box, the HouseParty 24/7 (available in black or white) is a small, lightweight unit, slightly larger than a digital alarm. You could take it travelling with you, though it is a little bulky. Manufactured in a shiny, high-gloss plastic, the unit seems to offer a good build quality. It has a clear, legible LCD display, which shows the time and enabled functions. In a nice touch of detail, the LCD display has three levels of brightness, cycling from full on to ambient lighting automatically, so as not to disturb your sleep. The product ships with an AC power adaptor, a set of international plugs, and both AM and FM radio aerials. Also in the box you’ll find six iPod docking adaptors and a 16-function remote control. The device also requires two batteries to store settings in the event of a power cut.

The unit itself offers two alarms, a snooze and a mute function. For radio listening, it boasts five user-configurable channel pre-sets, which you can set to your favourite stations. It also hosts an iPod dock, which is located at the top and middle of the box. A docked iPod is charged while in use, as long as the HouseParty is switched on.

Sound output is handled by a pair of 2in 6W magnetic-shielded speakers and an ActiveBass 2.1 12W sub-woofer. ActiveBass technology is also used in digital speaker systems from the likes of Sony. That means you can get a respectable 24W of sound. In use, that’s loud enough to wake even the soundest sleeper, and fine for playing music or radio whenever you like.

Sound is remarkably well balanced and packs plenty of punch. Bass, treble and mid-notes come across well, and while the stereo sound is not as finely balanced as a pair of separately situated speakers can deliver, the sound stage is wide enough that you can still get a good quality playback.

The unit can be controlled by a series of buttons on the top of the system, just in front of the iPod dock. It can also be controlled using the supplied 16-function remote control. The credit card-sized remote is 5mm thick. Its functions include: volume up/down, select, sleep, mute, power on/off, menu, enter, playlist navigation, chapter navigation (for audio books) and alarm and setting controls. Like many of those reaching market in the latest-generation of iPod products, the remote is capable of navigating your playlists and song collections. However, in use the many buttons are quite small, so it’s easy to make the wrong selection.

Setup is no more complex than any other clock/radio alarm, requiring that you input the time and the alarm time through a sequence of button presses. You also need to set up the system for your choice of wake up call – the iPod, the radio or a simple buzzer. While the modus operandi for this setup is fairly straightforward, the supplied instruction manual lacks depth and clarity. But anyone who has ever used a clock/radio should be able to figure their way through setup, eventually. Once you get it right, the iPod music playback works very well, and the product does a good job of waking you up with your requested song.

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