Gear Test: Rock-It Portable Vibration Speaker System

This innovative device is a light-and-loud way to bring tunes out on the trail.
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This innovative device is a light-and-loud way to bring tunes out on the trail.

At the end of a hard day's backpack, it's natural to want to unwind around a fire with a cold drink and your favorite tune. But let's face it—your off-key rendition of "Born To Run" isn't going to cut it.

That's where the Rock-It Portable Vibration Speaker System comes in. This neat little device consists of a miniature amplifier, a cable to connect to your iPod or MP3 player, and a sticky "pod." This pod adheres to pretty much any surface and translates your music into vibrations. The vibrations transform whatever you've stuck it to into a booming speaker.

Of course, audio quality varies greatly depending on what you stick it to. Flat objects produce thin, tinny sounds, while deep objects saturate the signal with reverb and echo. We found the Rock-It works best when applied to objects that mimic the natural conical shape of a speaker—a large cooking pot or a bowl worked well. (The best overall sound we got came from sticking it in a nook between two cushions of a leather couch. Weird.)

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Committed audiophiles will find the sound isn't perfect: In a backcountry setting, it's hard to find a reverberant object that doesn't lose bass tone or distort the signal slightly, and the single speaker doesn't reflect true stereo. That means any instruments hard-panned left or right in a mix can get lost entirely.

That said, it's plenty loud and relatively clear, and easily beats passing earbuds or crowding around puny iPhone speakers. And at 4.2 oz., the Rock-It is light enough to toss in the lid of your pack without feeling it. Plastic construction was relatively durable, and withstood light rain in Redwoods National Park and the sand and humidity of beachside camping (there might've been a beer or two spilled on it, but I wouldn't know anything about that).

If you're already game to pack an iPod on your camping trip, the Rock-It is a must-bring to share your excellent taste in music with hiking companions. Ultralighters who wouldn't ever bring an iPod in the first place can just keep practicing their singing—and camp the hell away from me. Meanwhile, I'll be rocking' the Rock-It.

--Ted Alvarez

http://www.origaudio.com/products/rock-it

$49.99