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When XtermeMac announced the Luna iPod alarm clock ($149) in November, it really grabbed my attention. I’m not the kind of person who drools over every shiny new iPod gadget that comes along, and I’ve never given more than a passing thought to buying an iPod alarm clock, but the Luna’s combination of features and design was pretty irresistible. I finally broke down and bought one from XtremeMac’s booth at Macworld last week. After sleeping with Luna for a few nights, I’ve found it to be an attractive bedside companion… with a few annoying quirks.

XtremeMac Luna iPod Alarm Clock

The Luna is a Kleenex box sized dual-alarm clock stereo with a built in iPod dock, AM/FM tuner, and AUX audio input. Four large circular buttons on the top of the unit control the alarms, volume, brightness, and menu settings. A small remote controls play/pause, track select, volume, bass/treble, and several other functions.

XtremeMac Luna iPod Clock Radio

Sound quality is reasonably good for a bedside stereo. Don’t expect the rich, room-filling sound of the Bose SoundDock or Apple’s iPod Hi-Fi. Instead, the Luna features clean, if not somewhat thin, sound reproduction that is better at lower volumes. Forget about hearing any trunk-shaking sub-bass, it’s well outside of the small speakers’ dynamic range. The bass and treble controls don’t seem to help; they just make things more or less ‘muddy’ and ‘tinny,’ respectively. The best way to tweak the sound is with your iPod’s EQ controls, though there’s only so much you can do. I have to admit that I was initially disappointed with the Luna’s sound quality, but my expectations may have been too high. I’ve since listened to several other popular iPod alarm clocks, and the Luna compares quite favorably.

One major selling point for me was the two independent alarms featured on the Luna. Each can be set to a different time and sound source. You can wake to iPod, radio, or alarm buzzer. For example, you can go to sleep listening to the iPod and wake up to the radio. Unfortunately, you can’t go to sleep listening to one playlist and wake up to another. The alarms are easy to set via the menu system, and easy to turn on/off via the two large silver buttons toward the rear of the unit. Another nice touch is that the display clearly indicates which alarm is engaged.

XtremeMac Luna iPod Radio

Another selling point for me was the display. I can’t sleep with a blue backlight next to my bed, no matter how dim it may be. The Luna features a large grey on black LCD display with a fully dim-able white backlight. I find the display easy to read when set to a very low backlight level, and it doesn’t bother me at all in a completely darkened room. Another help is that the contrast level can be adjusted to make the display easier to see under low lighting conditions. One gripe about the display is that it may be too customizable. You can set the default backlight level, as well as a separate alarm backlight level, and a separate sleep backlight level. It took me a little while to get my head around all of these different levels. Also, whenever you use the remote, the backlight brightens temporarily. This is annoying in a darkened room. The backlight can be quickly adjusted by turning one of the silver buttons on top of the unit.

XtremeMac Luna iPod Radio

A feature I was looking forward to trying was the sleep timer with gradually decreasing volume. I’m usually able to fall asleep pretty quickly, and the idea of twenty minutes of gradually fading music sounded like a nice way to avoid being startled by my music suddenly stopping. I’m sorry to report that this feature is a disaster. The problem is that the volume control on the Luna does not decrease smoothly, but incrementally, in very noticeable “steps.” Just turning on the sleep feature causes the music to fade by one step. Then, every two minutes, the music fades another step. I initially set my volume at a comfortable bedtime listening level, and not only could I hear the volume drop every two minutes, but after six minutes, I could no longer hear the music at all. XtremeMac needs to subdivide Luna’s volume steps into much smaller increments. Luckily, you can use the sleep timer with the decreasing volume feature turned off.

XtremeMac Luna iPod Radio

The Luna’s primary controls are the four dollar-sized silver buttons on the top of the unit. The two rear buttons switch the two alarms on and off, and the two front buttons control volume, display brightness, and menu navigation. You can turn the two front buttons, as well as click them, providing a lot of easy to use functionality. In fact, almost too much. While the buttons are easy to use, remembering which button does what can be a challenge (especially when you’re half asleep). Luckily, the Luna comes with an overlay that fits on top of the unit and lists the functions of each button. This was a very clever idea, and after five nights, I’m sill using mine. However, one of my biggest Luna complaints has to do with the buttons: They make a ridiculously loud “click” when you press them. If you sleep in the same room with someone else, good luck setting your alarm or turning on the sleep timer without waking them up. They’re the loudest alarm clock buttons I think I’ve ever heard. It was the first thing I noticed when I set the Luna up at home, and can’t imagine how the designers didn’t think it was an issue.

The remote is another odd thing. It has the full compliment of buttons: play/pause, skip forward and back, volume up and down, source, shuffle, skip between playlists, alarm on/off, snooze. Those are all handy. But about 20% of the remote is taken up by bass and treble controls. Not only do they not work very well (see above), but how often do you adjust bass and treble? Much more useful (and oddly missing) are buttons to control display brightness and set the sleep timer. For people who like to keep their alarm clocks across the room, I can see these two functions being sorely missed. Another issue is that the remote is all white with slightly raised buttons, making it very difficult to quickly see or feel what you’re pressing in the dark. More contrast between the buttons and the face of the remote would be a big help. Lastly, the remote functions reliably for all functions but one: play/pause. Pressing the play/pause button is a crap-shoot. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I often just end up reaching over and pressing the play button on the iPod, which usually works. The person demonstrating the Luna to me at Macworld had the same problem, though at the time I chalked it up to all of the wireless interference in the hall. That was clearly not the issue.

XtremeMac Luna iPod Radio

I realized I’ve picked on a lot of things that I think could be done better on the Luna, but overall I’m pretty happy with it. It has a lot of features (most of which I can use), sound quality comparable to similarly priced iPod speakers, and an attractive design that looks great on my night stand. No, it doesn’t live up to my wildly inflated expectations, but I’m not planning to return it either. If you’re interested in the Luna, I suggest that you make a date to try one out at your local Apple Store. Decide if it’s the right bedroom partner for you before bringing it home. You may find it too quirky for anything more than a one night stand.

See my Luna Flickr album here.

XtremeMac Luna at Amazon.com

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15 Responses to “Review: XtremeMac’s Luna iPod Alarm Clock”

  1. hessi says:

    Daniel, do you know why they limit the Luna to 4G and upward iPods?
    I can’t think of anything the 4G has which the 3G lacks…

  2. Podophile says:

    hessi: The 4G iPod can connect via USB 2.0 while the 3G only connects via FireWire. I tried my wife’s 3G iPod in the Luna dock and, sure enough, the iPod won’t charge and the Luna doesn’t control any of the iPod’s functions. I could only get a song to play by starting it on the iPod, placing it in the dock, and then pressing play on the Luna’s remote. Even then, at the end of the song, the iPod wouldn’t advance to the next track. Looks like 3G iPod owners are out of luck.

  3. hessi says:

    Thank you Daniel for solving that mystery.
    I would not have thought they use the USB protocol for managing the iPod, but I guess it makes sense…

    Well, 149.- + a new USB iPod seems to be a lot of money for an alarm clock…

  4. MWard says:

    I remember reading about an ipod alarm clock whose wake-up volume level could not be controlled. Can you control the wake-up volume with this one? Also, how many minutes in between alarms in the snooze mode? Can the interval be adjusted?

  5. Zach says:

    The 3g ipod could definitely use USB, it was sold seperately. This USB problem should be the reason why they don’t play nice.

  6. Zach says:

    correction: should not

  7. Podophile says:

    Zach: Ah yes, I had forgotten that there was an optional USB cable for the 3G iPod. However, it would still only charge via firewire. Apple sold a hybrid USB + Firewire cable at the time. Since then, the dock connector has been redesigned to allow charging via the single USB cable. This may be the reason that the 3G iPod doesn’t work with the more recent iPod cables and docks.

    Thanks for the correction.

  8. Podophile says:

    MWard: Yes, there is a separate setting for wake-up volume. There’s also an option to “ramp up” the wake-up volume from 0-60 seconds. I have it set at 30 seconds and it works very well.

    Snooze can be set between 1-60 minutes.

  9. alf says:

    I was considering getting a luna as a replacement for the cd player I currently have.
    Now considering that the cd player I have is virtually a piece of junk (it has horrible rado reception and I’ve had it for over a year and not even the manual can help me figure out how to set the stupid alarm!) Almost anything would be an improvement over what I have.

    But I must ask. What do you think of the Luna’s radio reception. Most of the reviews I have read say that it is deplorable.

    If you would recommend any iPod alarm or speaker set over Luna, which would it be? (And I’m looking at things under the $200 range.)


  10. Podophile says:

    I don’t listen to the radio very much, and hadn’t even hooked up the antenna to the Luna until I read your comment. My highly unscientific testing confirms what you’ve read… the radio reception is pretty weak out of the box.

    I live just across the Bay from San Francisco, so I should be able to pick up many strong radio signals. Using the supplied antennas, and after adjusting the placement as best I could, I was only able to get a clear, strong reception on 4 FM stations. Another 5 stations came in strong, but with a bit of hiss or static, and the rest were unlistenable. Compare that to the Onkyo stereo in my living room which picks up 11 clear FM radio stations with no static. Luna’s AM reception was equally unimpressive.

    This was just a quick test. Both units were using different antennas and are in different locations. I may try again later this week using different antennas to see if that helps at all.

    As for recommendations, I’m still searching for the perfect iPod alarm clock myself. I’ve never been impressed with the iHome line, and Luna has never really grown on me (watch for it on eBay soon). Stay tuned to this site as my journey continues.

  11. blackfox says:

    I have tested on of these recently. The AM Tuner is weak, changing the antennas will make no difference as the AM antenna is internal (only the fm relies on the external antenna).
    As in comparison with an onkyo High Fidelity tuner, of course it isn’t going to match, as this is just an ipod enabled alarm clock not a high end piece of audio equipment.

    I think it looks highly audiophile, minimalistic, sexy and sleek piece of furniture on a chest of draws. Any person who comes into the room automatically are drawn towards it and all want to look at it.

    So even though the sound is nothing compaired to the hi end stereo system made up of morel, dynaudio, rotel, onkyo and neotech that i have for my main listening of music. This was a well worth by, looks superb and I will activly recommend to other ipodophiles

  12. Eidn says:

    does this thing charge your ipod when it’s connected? i’ve read loads about it but can’t find it mentioned anywhere

  13. Podophile says:

    Eidn – Yes it does charge your iPod. So one of the side benefits of a clock like this is that you always have a fully charged iPod when you wake up in the morning.

  14. Jessica says:

    So now that it is December, how are you feeling about your Luna? Did it ever make it to e-bay? Are you continuing in your pursuit of the perfect ipod alarm clock?

  15. Elliot G says:

    Ok. This thing is really annoying me. Was given to me as a gift – and while the alarm would come on – the Ipod would not actually come off pause!!!… so NOO music!!

    I’ve since returned it, and same thing!!

    WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?!?!?!??!