I have a new favorite Mp3 speaker for my bike, and I’m surprised that I like it. The funny-looking BoomBotix does a good job at a reasonable price. (Click on any photo to make it larger.)
Christmas season is coming up, so here’s where you can get your BoomBotix BB1 Portable Speaker for your favorite cyclist (even it that’s you). If you click on that Amazon link, you’ll get it quickly and I’ll get a tiny piece of the action at no additional cost to you. Commercial’s over. I wouldn’t link to it if I didn’t like it.
i-Ride Pro isn’t an option
When the BoomBotix people contacted me, I said, sure, send me one. [Full Disclosure: the unit I reviewed was provided at no cost to me, not that it would have made any difference.]
My old favorite – the Active Tunes i-Ride Pro – has had customer service problems and may even be out of business. Their website appears to be down. Based on my last experience and customer complaints I’ve received, I can see why. The vendor had problems with his Chinese suppliers, then he had serious family health issues that took priority. I guess it got too be much for him.
Funky design was off-putting
Right after I unpacked it, I send several questions to the supplier, along with a first impression: “Gut reaction right out of the box: it’s ‘cute’ and perfect for the young, ‘edgy’ demographic. Less perfect for the long distance tourist, who is generally older and more interested in performance than appearance.”
“It’s a lifestyle device”
BoomBotixer Lief Storer responded, “I like your ‘gut reaction’…. that’s exactly what we’re going for. I suppose its also worth noting that this product isn’t really restricted to just biking. It’s more of a lifestyle device. Surprisingly, we get a lot of older users that just like the look and use it for simple tasks like gardening, working out in the garage, hiking, or general travel. It’s not who we market to, but its sometimes who buys them and loves them.”
I’m won over by the BoomBotix BB1
My next email to Lief was a little more positive: “Second gut reaction: I’m more impressed than I was when I opened the box. My kid came over tonight and I was showing it to him, saying that I thought I was going to have a tough time writing a favorable review.
Then we plugged it in. Very acceptable sound. Better sound than the Active Tunes speaker. In fact, I had to frisk him when he left to make sure it stayed here.
On second look, it’s also less offensive than I thought it was originally. The clip looks sturdy enough to stay on my Camelbak strap.”
BB1 easy to use
The power switch and and Up and Down volume control buttons are located on top of the unit. There’s an LED on it to let you know that it’s on. It blinks when charging and is steady when it’s topped off.
The back has a very sturdy metal clip. There are two rubber-covered jacks under the clip. One accepts a standard 1/8″ audio plug; the other is to plug in a USB cable to charge the battery. It’s claimed to be water resistant (and I believe them). Recharge time is supposed to be about 45 minutes. I didn’t put a stopwatch on it, but that felt about right.
Battery life better than expected
When I read the specs, it said battery life was four hours at full volume (3 watts rated / 5 watts max). That was a major drawback to my iPod Classic. Until I got an external battery, the unit would die before I did. Lief told me that four hours was a conservative estimate.
Being a “trust, but verify” kind of guy, I wanted to see if that was true. Unfortunately, the next few rides I did were with a partner and I generally don’t play music when I’m riding with someone. I DID go on a Tuesday night ride and played it for about 30 minutes when I was by myself. On Thursday night, I decided to ride again. When I grabbed my Camelbak, where I have it clipped, I noticed that the power LED was glowing. Bleep, I thought. It’s gonna be dead. To my surprise, it was still going strong at the end of the evening.
Does it hibernate?
I sent Lief another message: ” Does the unit hibernate or otherwise not draw power when it’s not playing (except to keep the LED lit)?”
His answer: “When the unit is on, it powers the amp and the LED, but the amp will not draw much current if there is no voltage running to the signal input…so you’re basically running the LED and the amp at a really low wattage.”
BB1 battery doesn’t taper off
Another battery question for Lief: “When the battery starts getting low, does the volume start to drop or does the sound quit abruptly?
“The reason I ask is that I wanted to give battery life a test, so I hooked it up to my computer and played it most of the day. It felt like I had to crank up the volume toward the end of the day, but it never went completely dead.”
Leif’s quick response: “As battery gets low, you’ll just get an abrupt stop. Basically as long as you can power the amp up to around 3.5V, then you’ll get full performance. Once you drop below a certain voltage, the battery shuts off completely. If you didn’t do this, it would potentially damage the battery because it would try to push more current, but not have enough voltage.”
First try on the Camelbak
I almost always ride with a Camelbak M.U.L.E. I’m not entirely sure if I buy all that “Hydrate or Die” hoopla, but, after a couple of bouts with kidney stones, I DO believe in “Hydrate or you’ll be wishing those pain pills were stronger.” It’s also a good place to hang stuff like the BoomBotix BB1. I thought this mounting position would work great, but it turned out that it put the speaker behind me and was just tall enough that it blocked my Hubbub helmet-mounted mirror.
The BB1 is happy here
There’s a place on the Camelbak strap that holds the speaker where it is close enough to my ear that I don’t have to have the volume turned up too loud and it doesn’t interfere with my view to the rear. I wasn’t happy with the MP3 player just clipped on to the side of the strap, so I took a piece of Velcro strap and put it around the backpack strap so that the Sansa Clip would mount vertically and more securely. (This photo shows the Clip before I used the Velcro strap.) This position would allow me to adjust the volume on the BB1 easily, but I tend to do that directly on the MP3 player.
Is there a bike mount?
What if I don’t ride with a hydration pack? Is there a bike mount for it?
Well, there has been one promised for a long time, but this blog post from the BoomBotix folks explains they’re having trouble getting one they want to sell. I’m pretty sure I could rig a way to hold it on my bike using that nifty Velcro strapping mentioned above.
I like their approach to customer service. They’ve been very responsive to me and they seem to be on the ball in talking about their product and stumbling blocks encountered along the way. I don’t find their website the easiest to navigate, but sometimes I’m flying in the fog with all the instruments spinning, so I hesitate to put all the blame on them.
What’s the bottom line?
If you want to listen to music without earbuds and you want something that’s not TOO big but has decent sound for what it is, and you are looking for reasonable battery life without breaking the bank (roughly 40 bucks), then the BoomBotix BB1 is a good buy. It has a bigger brother (sister), the BB2 that will connect wirelessly using Bluetooth. Blogger Justin does a much better job than I do talking about things audio. I’m a guy who thinks a speaker is what you use to hear a dispatcher intoning “One Adam Twelve, see the woman…”
Again, here’s the Amazon link for the Boombotix BB1 Portable Speaker.
What are those other things hanging off you?
I’m a gadget freak. Hold on a day or so and I’ll post a list of some of the stuff you see in the photo, where you can get it, and any reviews I’ve done.