FS-3, by iPort
With the immense popularity of the Apple iPod, iPod users everywhere are continuously looking for improved ways for using their iPods, whether it's music on-the-go using a portable or car stereo, or improved sound and control in the home. iPort adds a unique entry into the iPod market by way of Free-Standing (FS) in-wall systems that provide elegant iPod integration into home entertainment systems.
iPort makes 5 models of the FS series. All models provide drop-in charging of the iPod as well as one-touch syncing with iTunes, and include a connection box that connects the iPort with your stereo system and Mac (or PC). The FS-2 adds integrated IR remote control and push buttons on the iPort for next/previous track and volume control. The FS-3 includes an advanced connection box, supports balanced audio, and includes wall plates to support runs up to 500 feet. The FS-4 adds an RS-232 interface to support integration with media-system controllers. The FS-5 adds balanced video for runs up to 250 fee, with compatible wall-plates. The iPort FS systems are available in black and white.
This review is for the white FS-3.
NOTE: Since the publication of this review, iPort has condensed their FS series digital media systems down to two models, the FS-21 and FS-22, and apparently sold off the remaining models to Sonance (who offers the FS-3 in this review as FS-3W).
Out of the Box
When you first open the box to reveal all of the components to the FS-3, you may be a little overwhelmed. It's not like opening a box containing an iPod stereo system, where you simply plug the system into an AC jack, plop your iPod in the dock, and start listening to music.
When purchasing an iPort FS-3, you will want to go through an authorized dealer and have them install the system for you. I'm not aware of the installation charges, as I did a mock-install of the system for this review. There is a decent amount of in-wall wiring required, as well as mounting of the two wall plates. This is by no means a trivial installation. If you are proficient with in-house wiring, you may find the task to be a fun challenge.
The primary component of the FS-3 is the iPod docking station (pictured above). This is where you will plug in your iPod. For this review, I placed the docking station in my kitchen. The docking station is connected to the connection box (pictured below). Provided the connection box is properly powered (uses an AC adapter plug), it provides the docking station with the power to constantly charge your iPod.
The advanced connection box pictured above is the hub of the FS-3. This box connects to your home entertainment system via ethernet, to the iPod docking station via USB, and to AC power via a power adapter.
The ethernet wall switch pictured above would be located near where you will locate the iPod docking station. There is a behind-the-wall ethernet jack on the back of this switch that is used to connect this wall switch to the RCA wall switch (the latter which would be located near your home entertainment system).
Use RCA cables to connect the RCA wall switch to the RCA output on your home entertainment system. Once everything is installed and plugged in, you are ready to rock and roll.
I located the iPod docking station in my kitchen, and with my mock-install, I ran an ethernet cable from the kitchen to the stereo in my living room, along my floor (true installation would have the ethernet cable secluded behind your walls). I powered on the docking station, plugged in my iPod, turned on my stereo, and begin playing various songs. It was quite amazing to listen to my music through my entertainment system. From classical to Rock and Roll, I was extremely pleased with the quality of playback. Granted, your mileage will vary depending upon the quality of your home stereo system, but the FS-3 did a great job of piping the music across my house.
Controlling your iPod and controlling your home stereo are two separate tasks. The FS-3 does come with an infrared remote control input, so you could purchase a remote control to help ease the burden of walking to your docking station.
According to iPort, the FS-3 is primarily designed for installation in situations where you are using home audio systems installed by a professional custom installer. The FS-3 would generally feed into an audio distribution system and then be routed to different rooms via other audio systems (a distributed audio box with multiple zones, for instance) throughout the house and controlled locally with IR or control panels located in each room. The cost of wiring your home as such could be quite high.
If you happen to have a wireless Airport Extreme to Airport Express system, your music could be sent directly from the computer to the audio system connected to the Airport Express, and so you wouldn't really need something like the FS-3. Simularly, if you have a high-powered iPod stereo dock, such as the Klipsch iGroove, you may be perfectly satisfied with the sound quality, and therefore would not see a need for the expense of hooking up the FS-3. However, in an environment without wireless connectivity to the audio system, and if you are looking for a better solution than a single room iPod stereo system, the iPort FS-3 allows simple connections to a home entertainment/audio system to integrate the iPod (and all it's music). The FS-3 and higher represent ideal product solutions for large, custom installation solutions that are distributing audio throughout the house, enabling long runs between the iPod docked in an iPort and the audio equipment where the connections are made from wallplate to amplifiers and such.
Overall, although at first overwhelmed with the set up of the system, I was quite pleased with the final results, and can imagine this solution being the pinnacle of a music lover's dream. Had I arranged for professional installation from the get-go, I would have never been bothered with the set up issues, and would simply be sinking back in my easy chair enjoying my iPod music through my home entertainment system.
The iPort FS-3 is a free-standing (FS) digital media system that provides audio connections between your iPod and your home entertainment system. The FS-3 is an elegant, albeit a bit expensive, integrated solution that let's you distribute playback of your iTunes library throughout your house. Installation is not trivial, and likely requires hiring a pro, which increases the cost of this solution. If you have the funds to spend, and don't already have an Aiport Extreme to Airport Extreme system that you use to play your iTunes library, the FS-3 is an incredible way to maximize your iTunes music listening pleasure.