We're addicted to music.
You see evidence of this wherever you go: on the street, on the bus or subway, even while standing in line waiting to buy an Xbox One. But, for REAL sound, you need to toss away those headphones and hook that phone or MP3 player into a portable speaker system.
To feed this addiction, we need to acquire ways to surround ourselves with sound wherever we go -- and the louder, the better. Why shouldn't everyone around us also be able to enjoy it?
With that in mind, we played with three portable speaker systems that not only break the sound barrier between you and your neighbors, but deliver superior sound quality. Plus, all of these systems are designed to be used outdoors on the deck, patio or at the beach.
Let's begin with the "elephant in the room."
The Soundcast Melody portable speaker system ($449) not only outweighs the competition, it also outplays them. From treble to bass, this Bluetooth system reproduced sounds that were clean and crisp with no dropouts (where the speaker has a problem communicating with the mobile device) and no traces of static.
Weighing in at a hefty nine pounds, the Melody system was able to handle whatever we threw at it, ranging from jazz to classical to rock, and its attributes far outweigh its deficiencies.
It's key features include:
- A built-in handle.
- Four High-Q speakers and four bass radiators.
- A built-in lithium-ion battery.
- Bluetooth range of up to 33 feet.
- Rapid battery charging.
- A weatherproof enclosure.
- A built-in keypad to control the device allowing you to leave your phone, etc. in your pocket.
- It's omnidirectional with four speakers in the front and four speakers in the back.
- This baby's heavy.
- There's no dock for either an Apple or Android device. Instead you need to use Bluetooth or plug it into the system's auxiliary port.
Next we have the iLuv MobiAria ($149), which features Bluetooth and NFC technology, making it compatible with any portable device.
This is the first NFC-enabled device we've played with and the process can take a bit of practice. NFC stands for Near Field Communication, which means it can connect to any NFC-enabled device without any input from you. This can lead to many family spats, especially if your wife or girlfriend is listening to music using Bluetooth and you pass near the speaker with an NFC enabled phone or tablet and "steal" the speaker away from her.
The system's two speakers and bass radiator deliver great sound for a system that is about half the size of the Melody. The only problem we had was that it would drop connection or pick up a bit of static if the mobile device was in another room.
The MobiAria's key features include:
- A slim and light design.
- Full 3D sound using jAura Technology
- Touch-sensitive controls.
- A built-in USB charging port for your mobile device.
- Voice prompts tell you when it's ready to be paired with your device and when the pairing is complete.
- There's no dock for your portable device.
- Frequent dropouts or static.
Lastly is the rukus XL from Eton ($199.99), which is a bit different from any other speaker system we've used. It's solar powered.
The first thing you notice when you take it out of the box is the fold-down solar panel that can be used to power the system when you use the ruckus XL outdoors. What we didn't realize, though, was the fact you need to fully charge the battery the old fashioned way before using the panel -- a real bummer if your first experience with it is outside and there's no electrical outlet in sight.
But, when it's fully charged, the solar panel works beautifully.
Sound quality is a bit better than the MobiAria, with great bass and treble.
It's key features include:
- You can stream music from any Bluetooth-enabled device.
- It has two tweeters, two woofers and four (passive) bass radiators delivering 22 watts of power.
- It can be powered directly from the solar panels, without using the battery.
- It has an USB port to charge mobile devices.
- You can store your iPhone 5 device inside the system by closing the dock door.
- It can take five hours to fully charge using the solar panels.
- Frequent dropouts, especially if the mobile device is in another room.
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