May 13, 2013 at 5:54 am #1302868
For some, music is deeply linked to memorable and momentous occasions in their lives. The sound of a specific song can bring with it vivid thoughts of a moment in the past, a place visited or a loved one. Whether you are seated in contemplation on top of a secluded peak, or drunkenly dancing around a campfire drinking your stove fuel with some friends, I feel that music can make a backpacking adventure all the more special. It is for this reason that I decided it was about time to get a portable speaker to take with me hiking.
My priorities were in no particular order: weight, sound quality, battery life and cost. I decided against those that use disposable batteries because it would be more expensive, wasteful and there wouldn't be much of a weight saving anyway. Two aa batteries weigh 1.62 oz which is almost as much as one of the lighter speakers. For greater battery life I would simply take two speakers. This would also mean greater versatility since they could also be used simultaneously or hooked up to provide stereo sound.
So, choices, choices. A search on amazon reveals that there is a bewildering array of options available. Many of which can be ignored due to their weight. Sifting through reviews and specs helped slightly, but in the end I decided to simply buy three of the lighter and most popular options in order to compare.
X-mini v1.1. 2.4oz, $19, 6 hour battery. The smallest and lightest of the three speakers. Good low end, mid is slightly lacking, high end is great. Sounds slightly more muffled compared to the other two. Has a plastic cover over the speaker which protects the speaker slightly. When flipped up, this cover directs the sound forwards slightly which in general I would see as an advantage. Could be removed to save weight. Begins to distort at 80% volume. Bass is not great at high volumes. Jumps and vibrates at 80% volume+
Kinovo ZX100. 3.4oz, $18.45, 6 hour battery. This speaker is the largest of the three. Most balanced overall sound with good treble, great mid and good low end. Where to begin on the negatives for this speaker. The treble does sound very slightly more tinny than the x-mini II. Only one of the three which had issues with that characteristic beeping noise from cellphone interference – this was a constant annoyance. Additionally, the moment the speaker is connected to any audio device there is a loud and unpleasant clicking noise caused by some peculiarity in the speaker's circuitry. There are further unpleasant noises occasionally if the speaker is moved slightly. The volume resets to 50% whenever the speaker is turned off and on again. The on button needs to be held down for 3 seconds to switch the device on which is irritating and unnecessary. The volume and power buttons are loud and uncomfortable to press. The slot which the wire fits into on the bottom of the speaker is square in shape. Won't explain why in detail, it takes 3 times as long to fit the wire back in place than with the other speakers. There is a stupendously bright blue led on all the time reminding you the speaker is switched on. I find this supremely annoying when listening in the dark. The other two speakers have led status lights, but they are cleverly placed on the underside of the speaker so they do not disturb you. Begins to distort at 80% volume.
X-mini II. 2.9oz, $21 and 12 hour battery. Middle in terms of weight and size. Very balanced sound overall with best low end, great high, but the mid is not as good as the kinovo. My only real complaint is that the speaker begins to jump around and vibrate at 80%+ volume. Begins to distort at 85% volume.
In conclusion the X-mini II is the clear winner for me with truly impressive volume, audio clarity and excellent battery life. If you want a lighter, smaller and more easily pocketable device then I would go for the x-mini I. I would not recommend the Kinivo by any means. It is the best sounding by a very small amount, but with noisy intermittent crackling sounds, cellphone interference and irritating features it is generally a very disappointing device.
Would be great to hear your opinions on music in general on the trail. Do you listen to music while hiking and what type of music? Also if you know of any better/lighter speaker options out there please share with us all.May 13, 2013 at 6:28 am #1985691
oh, one more thing. If you want stereo from two of these speakers as opposed to dual mono, then this is the kinda thing you need.May 13, 2013 at 6:32 am #1985692
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
What is the source of your music?
I usually take a radio, mostly listen to people talking but sometimes music. Some radios have speakers like C Crane has several, like the CC Pocket.
I've used several speakers that don't require batteries, but they're not very loud. Several called "pillow speakers"May 13, 2013 at 6:33 am #1985693
I have been using the Altec Lansing speaker as part of our group gear when I go with a few friends. I have tried various small speakers over the years and most are crap. The Altec sounds great for its size but at 6.6 oz it not in the same class as the X Mini. It takes 3 AAA batteries but I use Eneloop rechargables which probably only gives it 3 to 4 hours of play time. Sounds like it is time for me try the X Mini II. Thanks.May 13, 2013 at 7:25 am #1985706
I hope this doesn't come out wrong, but…what's wrong with headphones? They are lighter, usually don't require batteries, and those who don't want their remote wilderness spot to have someone else's music (or any music) playing don't have to listen to it.May 13, 2013 at 8:11 am #1985720
If you are anywhere but a noisy car camping campground, how about leaving your speakers at home and showing some respect for others rights to enjoy the wilderness.
If you absolutely need music, stick with headphones like suggested above.
And a question to you .. how can you truly immerse yourself in a wilderness experience if you won't listen to the music it has to offer ?May 13, 2013 at 8:12 am #1985722
I was given one of these as a gift. It has an internal USB rechargable battery. The battery life is not the greatest and the sound quality is just acceptable, but is incredibly small and lightweight. I have not weighed it yet, but can when I get home if anyone is interested.May 13, 2013 at 8:26 am #1985725
@creachenLocale: East Bay
Dream Gear Audio Bug (1.3oz) takes 2 AAA batteries at Go Fast and Light.ComMay 13, 2013 at 8:33 am #1985728
@cfrey-0Locale: US East Coast
editMay 13, 2013 at 8:34 am #1985729
What a horrible thread. Please don't take offence if you are playing music and I smash your source with a rock.
"To the self-important narccicists on this site, the question was not about you … it was about small portable speakers."
Look in the mirror. Anyone who wants the world to listen to their music is clearly a narccicist.
Regarding listening to headphones while hiking. In my parts, the mountain lions and bears call this easy prey.May 13, 2013 at 8:43 am #1985732
That is a very valid point Art and S. It would be extremely inconsiderate if someone were to carry around a 100w boombox in the middle of a popular hiking destination disturbing the silent wilderness. Certainly, it is very important to be considerate about disturbing wildlife or other hikers, but listening to some music or the radio at camp at a relatively low volume seems quite harmless to me. It really depends on where you are, how many other hikers (if any) are around you, how the sound carries in your environment.
Jerry: I use several sources. Most often a small mp3 player, or a small am/fm radio. Occasionally I'll bring a Tecsun shortwave radio. I've found the same with those battery-less speakers – you could try the old putting your speaker in a paper cup trick to make the output more directional.
Jeff: Altec lansing make some really good stuff. I think I know the model you mean since a friend has the same one. Nice sound, but a bit heavier is all. I doubt you will regret going for an x-mini II
For anyone who chooses to try out the x-mini II, some of the packaging can be reused and comes in very handy. There is a plastic insert (0.1oz) which can be used as an ultralight stand for the speaker. This is great if you would prefer more directional as opposed to 360 degree sound as it puts the speaker on its side with the speaker pointing directly at you. Additionally this prevents some of the vibrating/shaking problems when at high volume.May 13, 2013 at 9:01 am #1985740
Davey, I do not think that it is narcissistic to simply want to listen to music from a set of speakers. Listening to music through speakers on a subway on the other hand, perhaps could be interpreted that way, but when you are isolated in the wilderness with no one else around? Anyway, we all have different styles of hiking. Mine often involves a few things I enjoy which others may not such as talk radio and some music.
So has anyone else tried any alternatives to the speakers mentioned so far or have any comments on how they sound?
Tembo trunks . I have no idea if these work, but it's a nice idea. Seems like the perfect MYOG project to make an ultralight set of these.May 13, 2013 at 9:58 am #1985761
I heard an iHome mini speaker recently and was really impressed with the sound. I believe the unit weighs about 3 oz.May 13, 2013 at 10:05 am #1985764
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
Yeah – boom box in wilderness is obnoxious to other people
but a low volume speaker that no one else hears is not a problem
if you're camped right next to a bunch of other people that don't want to hear your speaker, then turn it down, but why would you want to camp right next to a bunch of other peopleMay 13, 2013 at 10:33 am #1985770
@mechrockLocale: Western NC Mtns
I'm surprised that no one has recommended it or from what I've seen.
I have it and is probably one of the best battery powered speakers I've seen if not the best. Can get really loud with minimal distortion.May 13, 2013 at 11:20 am #1985789
@woodenwizardLocale: Greater Mt Tabor
I have the Rock out, too. While it is a good speaker for listening to, I think its big and heavyish. I would bet that a lot of people would find it too big and heavy compared to other models.
As far as annoying other people with tunes, here's how I use speakers. (as if anyone cares)
First, I dont camp near other groups. If I have to be near other groups I'll adjust the volume so they wont be able to hear it, or not use it.
Second, I dont have it on but for maybe two hours tops: an hour of blues or jazz at night. James Brown or the Meters for breakfast. If Funk doesnt put you in a good mood… I don't know what to tell ya, homeboy.
Sometimes I carry it and don't use it at all! (gasp!!! The harra, the harra)
And I'm an only child from the country so I'm all about "the Sound of Silence" (the actual sound of silence, not the S&G song) but every now and then music is nice.
I hate headphones. For many reasons.
Now that you have all been educated on my opinion of music in the outdoors, you may now return to your normal lives, albeit forever changed by my philosophical musings.May 13, 2013 at 11:33 am #1985790
@djstwoLocale: Southern California
As you have discovered you can try to find a super efficient speaker that will use the little amplification of the device. Yesterday I caught up to a gentleman with a little speaker mounted to the top of his left pack strap. While the music was some terrible Asian pop variety, I heard it only when I was within 10ft of him and passing. I managed to survive this terrible affront to all things wilderness ;) .
Seemed like a nice solution, the music helped motivate him or otherwise make his day better (while allowing him to hear nature), and only affected me when I was within what I would consider his personal space.
PS I also spotted one of the notorious BPL trolls too ;)
May 13, 2013 at 11:43 am #1985791
I have used the Philips SBA1600 in camp with good success. Is good enough that the source doesn't need to be turned all the way on volume to hear. Provides nice background music albeit a tad tinny, but that is what I would expect out of such a device. I like that the cord is short and plugs into the device itself when stored. Uses 3x AAA batteries so that might work as a backup battery source to other devices (i.e. headlamp or small lantern) – especially if you are going to carry 3 spare AAA batteries anyway. I don't recall the actual weight, but it is the 3 oz. range I believe. $10-$15 @ Amazon, Target, Walmart. I can't speak to battery life, but I have used it several days when in camp (not hiking) and never had to change the batteries during a weekend trip.May 13, 2013 at 1:04 pm #1985812
I usually utilize a passive speaker to enhance my earbuds or iPHone speakers if it's a social trip. The quality can be surprising. My Ti SP 450 with the phone (speakers down)set inside (on it's side as it sounds better if its not against the bottom of the cup) works well. Headphones inside work well too. Also, I have a small waterproof pelican type case that holds a cell phone and cash for a neck lanyard, and that thing makes the best outdoor speaker ever. Sounds huge for two even over the breeze and waives at the beach. All of these are multiple use items, in line with the UL philosophies and far less invasive where there are neighbors. But, keep in mind people, sound travels well in the field, especially at night, in fog, or from up on hills.
Edit to Add – Fast and light also has this golf ball size speaker that's 1.6 oz. and USB chargeable with 8 hours battery life. http://www.gofastandlight.com/Manhattan-Mini-Mobile-Speaker/productinfo/E-P-MAN/May 13, 2013 at 4:38 pm #1985861
@davidlutzLocale: Bay Area
Backcountry HiFi.May 13, 2013 at 6:29 pm #1985895
David doesn't mention it, but the secret is in the tyvek…..May 13, 2013 at 6:47 pm #1985901
Here is the little speaker I've been carrying for the last year. I picked it up from Walmart for somewhere between $6-$10. It's called the Boom Cube, and is a rechargeable device via USB port. Sound is decent enough for what it cost and weighs. On my scale, with chain and carabiner removed, weighs 1.27oz.
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