I thought my on and off romance with wooden-cased electronics and space-saving multi-function devices was finally headed for consummation with a Vers 1.5R ipod dock clock radio. It had been backordered for months but was suddenly available again in walnut, my new favorite flavor of wood.
I hoped this one device would replace three of my favorite tools for living in the space of just one.
- My beloved Tivoli Model One radio. Wonderful sound, minimal design, but not an alarm clock and ipod compatible only via a 1/8" audio cable.
- My trusty Sony ICF-C253 Dream Machine clock radio. Well thought out dual alarm clock controls, properly annoying wake buzzer, but crap radio reception and no possibility of ipod connection. Also, not wood.
- My Vers 2x ipod speaker dock. Another great wood case and fine sound, but a one-trick object. Has one of the worst remote controls I've ever used.
I said it before and I'll say it again, I really wish Tivoli had made the right all-in-one radio-dock-alarm, but their Model 3 was an overpriced failure at being an alarm clock and their ipod dock solutions have lost the design plot for me. Tivoli did not do it, relative newcomer Vers did. The put an ipod dock, a wooden radio and an alarm clock together into a single stylish wooden case with deep sound and a shallow footprint.
Well, I thought they did anyway. The Vers 1.5R includes key features missing in the (nearly double-priced) Model Three and some innovations of its own, but it makes some unfortunately similar mistakes.
The 1.5R sounds great as a radio and an ipod player. It has vaguely Danish modern good looks with attractive wood and a mostly cloth face. The inevitable digital display has two brightness settings and well-styled numerals in a nice blue-white color. The interestingly concentric tuning and volume dials have some - but only some - of the solidity of the Tivoli controls, and occasionally you turn both together instead of just one or the other.
The digital tuning is solid and you can access much of your ipod controls with the remote control. External antennae are included. It comes with a nice assortment of ipod dock inserts, and you can if you must connect other MP3 players or devices through a 1/8" audio plug located oddly on the bottom of the unit. There's an option for battery backup, which I assume preserves the time and presets rather than allowing radio or ipod play sans wall current.
You get two separate alarms, each programmable to wake to buzzer, AM, FM, or ipod. The buzzer has a nice non-jarring gradual increase in volume, although some might wish its maximum to be louder. The sleep function gives a range of time spans in which to doze off, with a nice gradual volume "dimming" at the end rather than a harsh shutoff.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but at least for my sleep habits, this is a terrible alarm clock radio. I like to use both sleep and wake functions, so I want to listen to one thing as I doze off and a different thing when I wake up. And I do like at least the option of a snooze button. The Vers will let you doze off and wake to different things, sleep to FM and wake to AM for example, or sleep to ipod and wake to a buzzer. But if you want to sleep to one ipod playlist and wake to another, or sleep to one FM station and wake to another, you're out of luck. Furthermore, you'll only wake to whatever the ipod or radio band was last playing, so you have to cue that up each night before bed. The snooze function seems to have a bug where pressing snooze when the buzzer is going off causes the radio to turn on. I've had some good emails with the company about this, but I don't hold out much hope for it getting fixed. (Would they somehow send out a firmware upgrade? Would I have to ship it back for service?)
The included remote control is about the same as the one with my Vers 2x, crappy. It feels cheap and plasticky (ok, it is made of plastic, but remember that Vers' other product lines are wooden earbuds and ipod/ipad cases so I'm thinking they know a bit about making small wooden boxes), the buttons are oddly loose, too numerous, and too uniform in size and shape with no tactile guides to distinguish them. The icons on the buttons themselves are hard to read in low light, and whatever logic decided the position of the buttons and which ones are available only on the remote, only on the base unit, or both, just escapes me. It's even hard to figure out which end to point at the radio without looking. At least it came with the (odd sized probably hard to replace) battery included.
So, what now?
I'm making peace with my Vers 1.5R, loving it for what it does well - play music in the daytime and evening - and coping or going elsewhere for what it does poorly - waking me up in the morning. Vers has a great mission around sustainability and plants 100 tress for each one they use in production, and are located here in Massachusetts, so I'm happy to support them, but not happy enough to completely overlook what I think is missing in the product. I'm downsizing my Vers 2x and Sony Dream Machine, but I'm keeping the Tivoli Model One for the living room. The search goes on as I reluctantly join the ranks of cellphone alarm clock users.
I will one day find the perfect wooden-cased personal audio thing. Tivoli missed the mark by a mile, Vers is off by a lot less. Let's see who can go all the way.