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iHome ZN9 Clock Radio and Audio System

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The ZN9 is the world's first Zune clock radio, scheduled to be released July 2008. iHome, the venerable maker of iPod and other audio accessories, sent Zunerama a review unit to test out this week.

With a boatload of features - including Zune adapter plates, gradual wake and sleep settings, separate weekday/weekend alarm times, multiple dimmer settings - we found a lot to like in the ZN9. And its $99 price tag doesn't hurt the wallet much either.

Read on for our video and photo review.

Packaging. Our review unit arrived in the compact box shown below. Box dimensions are about 20 x 11 x 12 inches.

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What you get. Included with the ZN9 (clockwise from left): a product manual, adapter plate instructions, the ZN9, remote control offer, registration card, FM antenna, and AC adapter. Retail units will also include three adapter plates to accommodate all Zune player models - they were not included in the sample we received.

The ZN9 comes with two pre-installed AA batteries, which keep the clock running in the event of power failure.

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One mild disappointment: no remote control. You can order one separately from iHome for $19.99, which includes shipping and handling. It lets you control the ZN9 and basic Zune functions, such as play/pause, next/previous, scan forward/backwards, and volume.

The ZN9's cabinet is attractive and compact, with its various buttons and controls pleasingly flush to its surface lines. The cabinet is 10 inches wide by 3 inches high, and 6 inches deep. A metal speaker grille dominates the front, and the white-on-blue LCD display is not offensive. The cabinet is available in black or pink.

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The buttons and controls are lighted, and have multi-level dimming that allow the display to be adjusted for evening or darkened room conditions.

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All common controls are on the top of the cabinet in a symmetrical configuration.

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The left circular button is an on-off toggle, and is surrounded by a rotating dial which spins the volume up and down.

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The right button serves as a Play/Pause control. Its rotating dial lets you spin through feature options and menu settings.

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The ZN9 provides dual alarms, which can be independently set using two of the smaller buttons on the top of the cabinet. You can choose to be awakened to your Zune, your radio, or a buzzer. A "Gentle Wake" option causes the alarm volume to gradually increase - nice!

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If you have your alarm set to "Zune", and forget to dock your player, the ZN9 will still wake you up with its alarm buzzer.

A sleep feature lets you listen to Zune or AM/FM radio, with a scheduled shutdown in 15, 30, 60, 90, or 120 minutes. That shutdown can also be set to a gradual fade-away. A different volume can be set for "sleep" mode, distinct from the "wake to" volume.

Alarms have a 7-5-2 feature which allows separate alarm times to be set for weekdays and weekends.

Three other buttons provide access to six preset AM, FM1, and FM2 radio stations.

A radio/line-in button switches the audio mode from Zune to radio to Line-In. (In Line-In mode, you can connect another music player or other audio source to the ZN9, through a 1/8-inch line-in connector.)

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Finally, an EQ button brings up menu options for Bass, Treble, and Balance, as well as a "3D" effect.

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The three dock adapters handle every Zune player: Zune 80GB, 30GB, and 8GB/4GB models. (They were omitted from our review unit so we don't have any pictures yet.) One clever feature: the ZN9's Zune connector slides left and right, to line up with the adapter plates. The result is that your Zune stays centered in the player, even for the player models (like the flash Zunes) that have off-center sync cable ports.

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The rear of the cabinet provides connectors for FM antenna, AM Loop antenna, AC adapter jack, line-out, and line-in.

The ZN9's time and date is factory pre-set, so mine came out of the box with the right time and date. Buttons on the rear make it easy to adjust the ZN9's time zone, and there's even a dedicated button to adjust the hour up and down for daylight savings time.

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Sound quality is a more than adequate for a clock radio. While you can't expect to fill a gymnasium with the ZN9's 5 watts of power, its audio output seems well-suited for its intended purpose in a bedroom, dorm, or office. You may find, as we did, that the equalizer settings are effective for bringing out the best of certain tracks. Volume controls go up to 40 and, unsurprisingly, we found some bass distortion at the higher levels. iHome's similar products for iPod have been praised for providing decent quality sound in a compact, low-cost unit - and the ZN9 seems to follow in that tradition.

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Here are some shots of the ZN9 with a Zune 8GB and a Zune 30GB. Again, that top surface will look cleaner with an adapter plate.

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With its thoughtful controls, full feature set, and good sound quality, the ZN9 is an impressive addition to the growing selection of Zune accessories. Its attractive price, and distinction as the only Zune clock radio available to date, seem to make the ZN9 a sure thing for many Zune owners' must-have accessory lists.

We'd like to see more home audio accessories for Zune, including a wider range of Zune docks. I'd like to work more of those into my home audio system plans, along with my home theatre system, and the more compact and high quality soundbar speakers from Boston Acoustics.

We're pleased to see iHome enter the Zune accesory market with the ZN9. We're awarding the ZN9 our "Recommended by Zunerama" rating.

Summary.
  Company:iHome
  Link: www.ihomeaudio.com
  Model: iHome ZN9 Clock Radio and Audio System for Zune
  Price: $99.99 (or less on Amazon)

Zune accessory - Recommended by Zunerama

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