I have a 20 year old campervan which is pretty cool, but very, very noisy on the motorway. Couple that with the fact that the CD player eats CDs with more ferocity than a hungry fat lad in a biscuit factory, and the fact that the aerial only picks up radio stations which are broadcasting from the other side of the street and you can feel a little bored from time to time. We’ve tried playing music from a phone and an iPad and neither can be heard above the engine noise, so we were delighted to be send Goal Zero’s Rock Out Speaker, which is a loud (70db) little portable speaker that plugs straight in to a phone, iPod or in fact anything with a 3.5mm jack.
At a similar size to a Pot Noodle, the Rock Out Speaker is a bit of a strange looking thing. It’s been styled in a spacer fabric and mesh so that it’s reminiscent of a sporty backpack crossed with a 1980’s HiFi speaker grille. And despite the fact that it looks soft and squishy it isn’t. It’s comprised of a hard box covered in a thin layer of protective foam (to absorb impacts) in order that the 2 x 40mm speakers can conjour up a sound that is remarkably clear, loud and of decent quality.
The company Goal Zero is better known for its battery and charger products, and this is where the Rock Out Speaker shows its heritage. The battery life from a single 2-hour charge (via 5W USB) is 20 hours. My iPod Nano died before the speaker did on one occassion! Charging the speaker is done via a mini USB cable (supplied) from any 5v charger, including Goal Zero’s solar products, or your Apple charger will work too.
The Rock Out is also a case for whatever portable device you choose to connect it to. It’s large enough to house a phone or iPod in an internal zippered pocket, and once in there the device is protected from impact and water spray.
The Rock Out has a single control – on and off – and everything else is left to the device itself. I quite like this as an idea – why reinvent the wheel when most devices have volume and equaliser functions inbuilt. The connection is via a simple 20cm long headphone-type lead and it’s internal battery means it won’t sap your device’s battery.
Sound quality is pretty good for the size and price of the unit. Connected to a laptop you can get pretty loud and clear movie soundtracks with more full and deep sound than most laptop speakers. It won’t handle the deep bass of something like Portishead – where it goes muffly – but if you have it loud enough to entertain a garden of friends at a barbeque then it handles most things very well.
And now for the Rock Out’s party trick… you can daisy chain them for bigger, ballsier sound. Each one comes with an ‘audio-out’ port which means you can piggyback them to your heart’s desire. If a few friends have one to connect up, you have an instant festival to annoy your campsite neighbours. Marvellous.
The only sticking point I have with the Rock Out is the bemusing shock-cord attachment on the rear. I don’t really understand what it’s designed for and it feels over (or perhaps under) engineered. A simple velcro strap or carabiner loop might be more usable and less fussy.
SUMMARY: Great sound from a rufty-tufty little speaker built for the trail. A peculiar attachment mechanism doesn’t detract from the great sound and simplicity of the thing. And a 20-hour battery life is just absolutely stonkingly good.
More: Goal Zero