It's hard to find a great set of speakers in a portable device, be it a notebook, PDA, Smartphone or MP3 player. And by hard, I mean nearly impossible. Outside of headphones, if you want great sound on the run, it's time for a set of portable speakers. There are tons of options in the market, but none with quite the style or oomph of the Boomtube, recently revitalized by ThinkOutside.
Boomtube assembled (view larger)
The Boomtube is a long 3-piece cylinder, with the center piece being the sub-woofer, flanked by two twist-off satellite speakers. Cables to connect the speakers together are included, along with a source cable and a 2.5mm to 3.5 mm adaptor, which comes in handy for Smartphones like the Palm Treo family. The tube even comes with a carry case sling, which makes it easy to keep all the parts together.
Boomtube with the satellite speakers off (view larger)
The Boomtube is made out of anodized aluminum. This hard shell not only makes the tube sturdy, it's also resistant to scratches and stains. The speaker cones are aluminum too, providing better quality and bonus style points. The system feels extremely solid, at a touch over 3 pounds I guess it should.
While many portable speaker systems run on batteries or are limited by power over USB, the Boomtube is completely flexible with its lithium-ion battery back that runs about 5 hours per charge. While that's appreciated, we'd like to see a little more battery life, as competing products offer more. With the rechargeable battery and stereo connector, the Boomtube will work with any device, making it the ultimate in flexibility.
Connectors on the Boomtube (view larger)
Setting up the Boomtube is fairly simple. After it's charged, twist off the satellite speakers, connecting them to the base with the included cables. It's best to space the satellites out a little bit, the manual recommends at least 3 feet apart. Connect your source and it's time to rock out. Once you're done, just remove all the plugs, re-attach the satellite speakers and slide it back in the bag; nice and clean.
As great as it's made and as good as it looks, in the end it comes down to performance. The system cranks out a total of 40 watts, not bad for something of this size. Volume and bass are controlled with two dial on top, the volume going up to 11 on a 1 to 10 scale. Yeah, mostly marketing gimmick, it also is consistent with the overall image of the speakers, so instead of the extra notch being corny, we think it's fun.
Boomtube volume and bass control (view larger)
We tested with various types of audio tracks on notebooks with sub-par sound and a Treo 700w with a notch below sub-par sound. We found the quality of the audio, even at higher volumes to be very good. The notebook though was able to drive much louder volumes than the Treo, but that's to be expected. 11 on the Treo was good enough to fill our office with sound, 11 on the notebook was loud, enough to prompt people outside of the office to take notice.
Boomtube in action with the Treo 700w (view larger)
At the end of the day though, the sound wasn't as rich as we hoped for. With a name like Boomtube, you're going to expect heavy bass, and that's not going to happen here. The bass isn't terrible, and it's better than what almost any mobile device can generate on its own, but it's not that impressive either. So what happens is the highs sound impressive, but the lackluster bass makes most tracks sound a little flat. I think the marking and product name are great, but they also might inflate expectations too high for a mobile setup.
It's great that ThinkOutside revived this product design from now defunct Virgin Electronics. They didn't do much to innovate though, something I suspect they'll do more of the next time around. While the design is fun, little touches like retractable speaker cables for the satellites would be great. I'd also like to see more juice on the low-end and a little more battery life would be icing on top.
The design of the Boomtube is great though and it's easy to toss in a backpack, even though it is a little heavy. In goes down in my book as one of those unique techy gadgets that I want to have and that would make a great gift for the fellow geek who has it all. At a street price of $160 or so, they're not cheap, but there's a price to be a little different.
The sound is a little flat, but the funky design and fun image make it a worthy gift or purchase for the geek who has it all, or almost all.
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