Thursday, 6 May 2010

Sound the Alarm

The is right for this blog to discuss the exotic subject of alarm clocks.
Yours truly has been enjoying the services of cheap digital alarm clocks for years now; almost since I can remember myself. Back in the Forgotten Ages I was using alarm clocks that would wake a dead elephant up whereas today I'm looking for one that would just politely tell me it's time to get up without harassing others, but the point's the same. Lately, though, we've been encountering issues with the less than $10 alarm clock from Aldi we have been using for the past two years: Dylan keeps de-tuning the dial so we wake up to the sound of nothing rather than the sound of stations, while radio reception is generally poor. So we thought we might get another one.
The first thing you notice today when you shop for an alarm clock is that the shops push ones with iPod docks at you. You quickly realize why: they sell for 10 times more than our Aldi one. A quick look at Amazon.com will reveal USA prices are about half of Aussie ones, indicating once again how us Aussies love getting shafted. Still, a person needs an alarm clock.
So, after looking around to see what's on offer, what am I looking for in my future alarm clock?
  1. Radio with digital tuning (as opposed to a dial): That would mean we can easily navigate between stations as opposed to being lazy and have the radio on just one station. It also means there's less room for our two year old to play with the tuning.
  2. Remote control: A remote means we can use the alarm clock as a proper music producing device while in bed. It also means we can stick the alarm clock far from the bed and save some bedside real estate as well as allow whoever wants to get up first with the alarm to run the alarm clock for the night.
  3. 24 hour mode: I hate AM/PM hour displays; as Seinfeld had already said, it's a good way to set your alarm clock to the wrong time. I much prefer a clock with 24 hour display option.
  4. iPod dock: Let me start by saying that I think iPod docks on these alarm clocks / music players are way overrated. For several reasons! First, let's be honest - none of these units has the sound quality to compete with a proper stereo, like the stereo I have in my living room. They all sound shrill and harsh; yes, those that boast the physically impossible quality bass are included in this category (the laws of physics are undeniable: for real bass you need real size).
    Second, there is the compatibility issue: most alarm clocks suit iPods but not iPhones. Check your player's box if you want to avoid like the iPhone not fitting the dock or various annoying sounds as the iPhone's cellular activity is not shielded. As a general rule of thumb, the cheaper players are cheap because they're incompatible with iPhones.
    And third, these docks permanently charge your iPod/iPhone's battery. Given that the iPhone's biggest problem is its miserable battery life, you should try and charge it when it really needs charging as opposed to every time you want to listen to music in your bedroom.
    After all is said and done, I think the iPod dock is a nice to have. It means that when you really want to charge your iPhone you can do it easily with no cable mess. But it's only a nice to have.
  5. Aux sound input: You may think your iPod will still be there through the next millenia but it probably won't. I remember the fate of the CD players that now gather dust or we've already got rid of. If I'm about to spend a three digit figure on a f*cking alarm clock, I want one I will be able to use still use in two years time.
After looking around at the shops we ended up getting a Jensen model for $80 (pictured). It featured everything I've listed above and we got it from Target for almost half the price of the main competition (for the record, JB sells a similar Sony model for $158, a TDK for $130, a Logitech for $140, and an iLuv for $200).
I hear you asking who's Jensen. My answer is that I couldn't care less; all these alarm clocks seem to have been made at the same Chinese factory. You can clearly see that many are very badly built; I haven't mentioned those. But I'm not about to pay Sony double the sum I can pay a brand I remember from car audio stuff that delivers a very similar product.
We used the Jensen for a couple of night, charged my iPhone with it (it's a slow charger, which is excellent for battery life), and we were happy. Until we woke up, that is: the radio alarm, described by the manual as "starting soft and growing gradually louder", scared us shitless. Who was the idiot to design this alarm? Why can't I adjust the alarm volume myself? Features or no features, the Jensen unit was re-packed and returned to Target (who, to their credit, gave me my money back with no questions asked).
We're back to our el-cheapo Aldi alarm clock, a model that will probably survive a full nuclear exchange. I'm still looking for a good deal, but I'll say this: I'd feel quite stupid spending north of a $100 on an alarm clock; $80 is already a gross waste. It's a pity Americans have weird electricity standards...

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