Jam-Pac Premium MP3 Player Handlebar Bag

When I was first approached with an offer to review Audible Rush’s Jam-Pac Premium handlebar bag and music dock, I turned the request down. I thought the product was overpriced for the casual user – $159.50 – and not something the serious bike tourist would be interested in. You can click on any photo to make it larger. For the record, the type in yellow in the photo above isn’t on the product. I added it as a title.

Marc Nussbaum, CEO of Audible Rush, made some compelling arguments:

  1. Our system has by far the best sound quality of any production bicycle music system. You will be very surprised when you hear it. We use a full digital 12 volt amplifier and a Lithium Ion rechargeable power source.
  2. It is hidden inside a handlebar bag and the bag can also carry your valuables.  Use the quick release to carry everything during your lunch break- it is virtually theft proof since you take it all with you.
  3. Jam-Pac is a full-featured smartphone dock. It works with all players; MP3 players, iPhones, Android phones, Etc.
  4. The player is held in front so the user has full access to all controls.
  5. Our high end model can recharge some model smartphones (iPhones and others) from its internal lithium ion rechargeable batteries. This allows users to stream internet radio (Pandora, Etc.) or use GPS navigation or bicycle computer/fitness applications without running out of phone battery time. This can be very handy in situations where the user needs to make an emergency call.

Despite my reservations, I told them to go ahead and send me one on a loaner basis to check out.

First reactions to Jam-Pac Premium?

It’s not really aimed at me. I already have a heavy-duty Arkel Small Handlebar Bag mounted on a second stem on my Surly Long Haul Trucker. It’s a perfect size to carry my camera gear without being so large I’d be tempted to overload it. The Jam-Pac is a nice size to hold a spare tube and a few tools, your wallet and cell phone, but it’s not big enough for my needs.

I like music for those days when I’m riding alone and I want something to take my mind off a boring stretch of road or the headwind that won’t let up. I don’t like earbuds (plus they are illegal) and I don’t necessarily want to rattle windows.

A good compromise for me has been the BoomBotix BB1 that I clip to the strap of my Camelbak hydration pack. Here’s my review of the BoomBotix.

I thought I’d stick the Jam-Pac Premium on riding partner Anne’s bike, but even her cockpit was too busy. I relocated a headlight, moved a front reflector and started to mount the bracket, but I was going to have to start cutting nylon ties to slide her bike computer out of the way and that was more trouble than I wanted to go through for a review. That’s not to say that it couldn’t have fit her bike and that she wouldn’t have been happy with it, it was just a hassle for a temporary installation.

I’m convinced that it will mount fine on most bikes if you don’t mind moving some things around (the same as you’d have to do for ANY handlebar bag. You can see some photos of the bag mounted on bicycles on the Audible Rush website.

Things I like

It has an quick release bracket that allows you to take it with you. I use that feature a lot with my Arkel bag. In fact, I use it as a camera bag when I’m not using my Domke shooting vest.

Will adapt to about anything

It has lots of different foam inserts that will adapt to just about any MP3 player or phone you might be carrying.

Handy storage space

Has room for wallet, cell phone, spare tube, small tools

Protects MP3 player

  • It produces lots of sound. (See below.) If you go on “party” rides where you want to entertain all your friends, it’ll do that.
  • MP3 player controls are accessible, but the unit is protected.

Price isn’t out of line

I figured Son Matt, a go-fast weight wienie like his Uncle Mark, would poo-poo all over it. Surprisingly, he thought some of his friends might be interested in it, particularly if you start adding up the costs of all the pieces.

Audible Rush Products

These are Amazon prices. (If you order through one of these links, I get a piece of the action without it costing you anything additional.)

Jam-Lite Essential: the minimalist lightweight stem or bar mount speaker system. Lists for $39.95; has 3 volt amplifier and runs up to 12 hours on two AA alkaline batteries. I find this the most tempting replacement for my BoomBotix BB1.

Jam-Pac Essential: described as the budget handlebar speaker system. Has a 3-volt amp that runs on two AA batteries and a quick-release weather resistant handlebar bag. It lists for $114.85.

Jam-Pac Premium: The big difference between the Premium and the Essential is that the former has a 12-volt amplifier and runs for up to six hours on a rechargeable lithium ion battery. It lists for $159.50.

Jam-Pac Premium Plus: has everything the Premium does, plus it has a USB connection to charge your phone or GPS. It costs $209.95.

You can get more information and find out about accessories from the Audible Rush website.

Watts the deal with volts?

I had a question about how the speakers were rated and sent CEO Marc Nussbaum a question on a Friday night. He responded Saturday morning. That’s pretty good. Here was my question:

“When I look at the comparisons of your various products, I see that some amps are 3 volt and others are 12-volt. Speakers are usually rated in watts. Did you really mean “volts” on your website?”

Marc’s explanation:

The quick answer: The amp in the Jam-Pac is specified to deliver 6 watts per channel, as compared to the amp used in the Jam-Lite and most other bicycle stereo speaker systems we’ve seen which are specified to deliver 2.0 or 2.2 watts per channel, however, watt rating of amplifiers don’t tell the whole story.

What’s important to the sound quality as far as the amplifier goes, is its ability to drive dynamic changes in the music and especially to be able to do this at the lower mid-range and bass frequencies where it takes the most power. 3 volt amplifiers don’t have nearly the dynamic range to drive a decent pair of speakers fast enough and far enough to reproduce high quality. So this is no mistake on our part as far as the spec goes. The voltage is more important in this application and adds both design complexity and cost to the product.

The amplifier in the Jam-Pac is very sophisticated and runs on 12 volts like the stereo in your car. If you only had a 3 volt battery in your car, even if your speakers in the car were as large as they are now, it would still sound pretty bad, muddy, without punch. This is the ‘secret’ behind the great sound of the Jam-Pac… Good quality speakers (that cost about 15 times as much as the standard portable speakers used in most products) and the full voltage swing of a 12 volt amplifier to more accurately reproduce music dynamics.

 Also, let’s talk speakers. Speakers are usually rated at the max wattage they can be driven before distortion and/or damage. The Jam-Pac speakers are specified at 6 watts maximum (that’s for each speaker) and are quite large for this type of product; 2″ (51mm) in diameter. Our smaller product, the Jam-Lite (similar to most other competitors) use speakers rated at 2 watts each and are 1.4 inches (36mm) in diameter.

By the way, the kid on the trike can rock the road, even if he’s not using a Jam-Pac. I hate to think how many batteries THAT puppy takes.

BoomBotix: New Favorite MP3 Speaker

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.

 

Bicycle Speakers: Active Tunes i-RIDE Pro Review

Carven's Bike with Pimped-Out Audio System
Carven's Bike with Pimped-Out Audio System

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE ON i-Ride Pro

As far as I can tell, the i-Ride Pro is no longer available. Based on the number of complaints I’ve received and from my own experience, I have to withdraw my endorsement of the product. The Active Tunes website is down, so they may be out of business.

Good news: I have a NEW favorite MP3 speaker

You can read my review of the BoomBotix BB1 here.

I’ll leave all the other info in place for historical purposes. I still LIKE the i-Ride Pro, I just can’t recommend that you try to buy one. Too bad.

I finally found an MP3 speaker that works well on my bike.

No, it’s not the one Son Matt saw on the way to work a few years back. Even I’M not prepared to carry a boom box so big it has to have its own trailer.

The Active Tunes i-RIDE Pro is a winner

I’m going to award the It Really Works Trophy to the i-RIDE Pro from Active Tunes.

I’ll detail the als0-rans tomorrow and the next day.

I’m going to have to set expectations here. I’m not an audiophile. Most of my life has been spent with multiple police scanners blaring stuff like, “One Adam 12, see the woman…” into my ears.

That means the speaker has to be just good enough for me to recognize the song over wind and traffic sounds.

Why Do I like the i-RIDE Pro?

Active Tune i-RIDE Pro MP3 speaker

  • It’s small, 4″ x 1.75″.
  • It’s lightweight.
  • It produces acceptable quality sound with 4 watts output.
  • The built-in rechargeable Lithium Ion battery has long life and recharges from a USB port. If you don’t have a computer with you, you could use a USB adapter (not included) to charge it from AC. Active Tunes says it’ll play for eight hours on a charge. I went for a four-hour ride on a Sunday and forgot to turn it off. On the next Wednesday, I noticed the LED was lit and turned the MP3 player on. Much to my surprise, the speakers still worked.
  • Mick from Active Tunes says the battery should last for about 3,500 hours. If it fails within the first two years, Active Tunes will replace it free. If you play it while riding four hours a day, 365 days a year, then it should last 2.57 years. I think something better will come along before I need to replace the battery.
  • It comes with a carrying case that uses Velcro straps for multiple mounting possibilities. The case has a built-in MP3 player holder with a transparent front so you can manipulate the controls.

What nits can I pick about the i-RIDE Pro?

  • It’s a little expensive at $59.99. (Although it’s cheaper than the junk box full of others I’ve bought one at a time.)
  • It uses a Lithium Ion battery that’s not removable. If it dies while you’re out on the road, then you’re out of luck until you can charge it again.
  • It’s not waterproof. (Mick says they’ve had reports from riders who were caught in the rain and didn’t encounter any failures. The neoprene pouch is water resistant, but neither it nor the speaker should be considered waterproof, he warns.)
  • The case’s MP3 player holder is designed for the newer, smaller players. My Classic is too big to fit it, so I cut it off.

active-tune-pro-on-camelbakHow do I mount my i-RIDE Pro?

My Surly Long Haul Trucker’s cockpit is a bit busy, so I attach the speaker to my Camelbak MULE strap and put the iPod in a special pocket made for it. I use the iPod’s remote control to skip tracks, pause and adjust the volume.

Since the speaker is right under my ear, I don’t have to turn the volume up very high, which probably gives me longer battery life on both the player and the speaker.

The flap-looking thing at the left of the holder is for the smaller version of MP3 players. I cut it off after the first ride.

MP3 player video shoot-out

You can listen to all of the speakers here, including on the road.

The Active Tunes folks respond quickly

They’re nice folks who have always been responsive to my email. You can find them here.

[Disclaimer: Mick at Active Tunes sent me a free speaker to review. I’ve been a satisfied customer and a past winner of an i-Ride Classic in the company’s monthly giveaway contest.]

Tomorrow I’ll review my second and third-place speakers choices, the Byco WRX1 and the Active Tunes i-RIDE Classic.