By Grant McKenzie
Music has never been so portable — with a lifetime’s collection able to fit in your pocket or on your phone — and yet this same portability has created a new challenge: When you’re moving from room to room, and don’t feel like wearing headphones, how do you play your music?
The choices are vast, but I’ve been playing with a few geekalicious gadgets that are neatly filling the bill.
In my writing room, where I tend to play a lot of instrumental jazz and classical (lyrics distract me from my own dialogue), I’ve set up the SuperTooth DISCO ($149 US; supertooth.net), which can connect to any device over Bluetooth A2DP. This compact but hefty wireless sound bar delivers a room-filling 28 Watts of sound through a 12 Watt subwoofer and two 8 Watt stereo drivers. I tend to connect it via Bluetooth to my laptop when I’m writing, but because it’s portable (with an integrated rechargeable battery for up to ten hours of music) and loud enough to take outside, I also find it handy to stream music off my iPhone when I’m in the garden. In fact, the DISCO is portable enough that I often use it for longer road trips when I don’t want to fuss with constantly finding a clear FM frequency on my third-party iPod dock. (Yes, it may be time for an upgrade to the Jeep’s 12-year-old CD deck.) Pop the Disco on the back seat and I can enjoy enjoy that pleasant thump of bass.
When I’m in the kitchen, I connect my iPhone (with a rockier playlist) to the iHome iD50 ($170 US; ihomeaudio.com). This multi-functioning device allows me to use Bluetooth again (to keep the phone with me) or if I’m need of a battery recharge, a dock is available to keep the music playing and charge at the same time. The one thing I really enjoy about iHome’s products is how easy it is to set alarms using their free downloadable apps. With its bright LCD clock, time sync with your phone (no fiddling with buttons) and its ability to set two separate alarms with different times on different days, you may prefer it in the bedroom. But with 12 AM/FM presets, EQ controls and SRS WOW, I find it’s a great all-in-one system for the kitchen or den. And as an added bonus, you can also use it as a speakerphone to talk hands-free with friends while doing the dishes.
For the bedroom, my wife wanted a new alarm clock that would play music rather than our current jarring alarm. I thought I found the perfect solution with the TickTock ($50; edifier.ca) because it just looks so darn cool. Designed like an old-fashioned alarm clock, the TickTock swaps an analog face for a digital one and replaces the twin bells with speakers. Along with an FM tuner, it also reveals a hidden iPod dock at the touch of a button. It seemed cute and perfect until it came time to set the actual alarm. All the buttons are on the far back of the unit, but the LCD display is on the front — and, quite frankly, it was just too awkward. Now, if you wake up at the same time every day, then this might only be an occasional problem, but if you work shifts, it’s far too frustrating. Pity.
Stepping slightly away from music, I’ve been quite fascinated by Apple’s new iPad. (I know, shocking right?) I haven’t had a chance to spend much time with one yet, but the most interesting aspect I found was that for the majority of buyers, it was their first iPad. For those new geeks who have joined the fold, I wanted to mention a few cool accessories that I’ve been enjoying lately on my original tablet.
Thinking down the road towards Christmas (or a birthday), a fun stocking stuffer for the iPod owner is the Compass ($39.99 US; twelvesouth.com) mobile stand. Similar to its namesake, this slim, heavy gauge steel stand unfolds to work as either an easel or typing stand with all iPad models. It’s light, portable and cool. My only regret is that it wasn’t available in the new Candy Apple Red colour until after I received mine.
Another fun and practical accessory is the PlugBug ($34.99; twelvesouth.com) that adds a USB charging slot to your MacBook’s portable charger. In other words, it allows you to charge your iPhone, iPad or iPod at the same time you’re charging your laptop. Perfect for travelling.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my favourite TwelveSouth product, which is its always-makes-me-smile BookBook ($69.99; twelvesouth.com) hardback leather case that makes your iPad look like a vintage book. Offering great protection and a fantastic look, the BookBook is a great icebreaker for that awkward “I’m not really a stalker” coffee shop conversation.
If you prefer something a bit more modern, the soft iPad Sleeves ($69.90 US; caseable.com) from Caseable offer a ton of options. Custom designed, you can choose from their artist collection or even design one from scratch using your own graphics or photos. The neat part of this is that you get to choose everything from handles to straps and even down to the colour of the zipper. Definitely worth a look.
If you have one of the newer iPads and want to take advantage of its smart wake feature, you may prefer one of the equally smart cases, such as Griffin’s elegant Elan Folio ($49.99 US; griffintechnology.com) cases. With a microsuede lining and sturdy, book-like outer protection, this versatile case is a classy addition to your geek wardrobe. M