Boom, shake, shake, shake the room with a revival of the 80s boombox from TDK

First it was the clothes with big shoulders, playsuits and animal prints, then Sony brought out an updated version of the Walkman, and now it’s the turn of the boombox – yes it’s true. The eighties seems to be achieving cool status, and the latest item to be brought into the 21st century is the boombox. Audio expert TDK is behind this latest move with its Life on Record range.

TDK

You remember, those huge ‘portable’ sound systems that cool dudes would carry round on their shoulders (sometimes if they were ultra cool, they would be skating at the same time). Now they’re back (the boomboxes, not the skating cool dudes) – but these three-speaker boxes of tricks have an added bonus up their sleeve, because you can dock your iPod into them. The three-speaker boombox has 2 x 10-watt plus 1 x 15-watt Class D biamplification, two 6-inch coaxial speakers, and an active subwoofer for the third speaker.

There is also a two-speaker boombox, and both versions have inputs for USB, 3.5mm and auxiliary ports for connections to an iPod, iPhone, smartphone or USB flash drive. If you like to make music rather than just listen to it, you can also plug in a guitar or microphone and mix with other music sources.

“In designing our new line of TDK Life on Record audio products, we focused on what people love about analogue products – the warmth of sound – and merged that with modern digital technology. The result is a unique line that combines premium sound quality with bold designs and crafted finishes,” said Steve Swenson, global brand manager for TDK Life on Record.

The range also includes the Life on Record Sound Cube, which is pretty portable at 17lb and has a handle on top.  Its cube design enables the two powerful 5 1/4-inch coaxial drivers to point the sound to fill a room.

You can also connect your Cube to your portable audio player. It has USB, 3.5 mm, and auxiliary ports, so you can use your iPod, iPhone, smartphone, USB flash drive, and even an external drive.

And for a real blast from the past, TDK has also launched a belt turntable so you can play your old 45s and LPs. Its “floating” design isolates the platter and needle from external vibrations, and integrated optical feedback circuit ensures consistent playback by continually monitoring the speed and automatically adjusting for any variation. The USB Belt-Drive Turntable also has an integrated pre-amp, USB output and software that lets you import and convert tracks to a PC in MP3 format.

Prices are as follows: 3 Speaker Boombox – £499; 2 Speaker Boombox – £399; Sound Cube – £299; USB Belt-Drive Turntable – £349; Belt-Drive Turntable – £299

For more details head to www.tdk-media.com

Review: Soulra solar-powered sound system for iPod and iPhone

Our garden has been filled with the sound of music for the past couple of weeks while I’ve been trying out the Soulra solar-powered sound system for iPod and iPhone.

The first test for any gadget I try out is its ease of use out of the box. Like many of us, I simply don’t have the time or inclination to fiddle about with my new technology, spending a weekend reading the user manual before I get any joy. Happily, I had the unit out of its box and working within a couple of minutes, which gives it a big thumbs-up.

Soulra

My second bugbear is that every time I use a new piece of Apple-optimised gear, I find I haven’t got the most up to date gadget or piece of software and it’s suddenly not compatible. So I was delighted when I found my ancient iPod (circa 2006) was happily accepted by the sound system. So thumbs-up number two. The system is also compatible with iPhones.

Next, on to its solar charging abilities. The makers say that you’ll get four horurs of playback for every 10 hours of solar charging, or four hours of sounds for four hours of charging via the AC power cable supplied.

I tried it first on the AC power, just to check out the sound quality – which, with options to change the bass levels (although nothing else) – was excellent. A quick 10-minute solar charge got us up and running too, and I have spent the past couple of weeks with the unit on the garden table, providing non-stop tunes all day. The only caveat is that we have had an exceptionally sunny fortnight, so I have definitely benefited from the sun’s power. A simple display of lit icons give you info on whether it is being solar charged and how much juice is left in the battery.

Your tunes can be controlled either by rubberised buttons on the top or using the remote control, which we found worked from up to 20ft away.

The unit itself is good looking and has a rubberised body, which makes it feel a bit more durable for outside use – the solar panel flips up and does not benefit from the rubberised coating, so I’m not sure how it would stand up should it get knocked off a table while the panel was flipped up.

The body is also splashproof (if the panel is closed), so if it gets sprinkled during a rain shower it should be okay.

For anyone who spends a lot of time in the garden, goes camping or works on an allotment, this is an excellent choice of sound system to access all the sounds on your iPod or iPhone at a pretty reasonable £149.

Find out more at www.etoncorp.co.uk

Keep on walking and listening with Sony Walkman Music Clip

Who’d have thought all those years ago, when we were proudly lugging round our original Sony Walkmans, that the next generation would be sporting tiny 10cm widgets that could hold and play nearly 1,000 songs?

Sony is continuing its Walkman tradition with the new Walkman Music Clip, a wearable MP3 player that features bass boost, quick charge and a detachable strap.

Sony-Music-Clip

Weighing a featherlight 28g and measuring less than 10cm, the Music Clip comes in a two-tone finish in a variety of colour choices (red, green, blue, pink and black), with matching power illuminator. The power illuminator also pulses in time with the music, and if you need a fuller, deeper sound, push the Bass button for even more low-end power.

Battery life is a very decent 18 hours – and if you’re in a rush, plug it in for only three minutes to get a 90 minute playback charge – handy if you’re in a hurry on your way to work.

The detachable clip attaches the music player to a belt, bag or pocket, and music can be loaded using a USB connector from your PC – you can drag and drop files or transfer them via Windows Media Player 11/12.

You can browse quickly through your music using the ZAPPIN button, which plays a short snatch of each track. The 4GB player can hold 980 songs, the 2GB version, 470 tunes.

The Walkman Music Clip will be available from mid-May – find out more at www.sony.co.uk

Panasonic Hi-Fi HC15 review

Uh-oh. A new Hi-Fi without an iPod dock? What were the engineers behind the Panasonic SC-HC15 thinking? That people could live with MP3 CDs and USB sticks filled with tunes as long as the system looks good enough? We tested that theory out.

Panasonic-Hi-Fi

Sound

First of all – it sounds good. Whatever voodoo that goes on in the name of the Aero Stream Port, it works well. You get a rich, robust bass from the 10W speakers when the volume is at normal levels – and it really pounds as your crank it higher.

The sound distorts a bit at very low-levels – although that can only be expected. You should probably stop worrying about your neighbours and crank it up, anyway.

Design

It’s also pretty beautiful. It’s piano-black finish and slender design (just 69mm thick) make it an ideal shelf-sitter. The thin profile and sleek design mean that it’s really unobtrusive – unlike bigger CD systems.

The front even mechanically slides open in a very-futuristic-for-1990 kind of way. The display is equally bachelor-tastic – a white on black.

Connectivity

The device plays normal CDs, MP3 CDs and USB sticks – so it’s not totally old tech. We’re not entirely sure who still uses MP3 CDs, but it’ll be great for the less-tech savvy generation.

Plug an iPhone into the USB dock and it won’t work, however – a big disappointment for today’s Apple generation. We still can’t get past the question – who downloads music onto USB sticks to play? If you do, please write in. Our thoughts are that a dock with a built-in mini-jack cable would have been more useful.

Conclusion

The HC15 sounds good, and its bachelor-friendly 90’s design is still in style. Unfortunately, the technology also feels a bit 1990’s. This means that today’s tapping and sliding iOS generation may find it a bit retro, in the “oh wait, this Sega Megadrive isn’t very good anymore” kind of way. Tech-heads should move on.

If you’re looking for a device for a less tech-aware consumer, the Panasonic sounds good, and is so simple, elegant and small, it won’t look out of place anywhere.

MagicBox Ark iPod dock review

The MagicBox Ark floated into our offices this week, bringing with it two of every speaker (that’s bible-talk for stereo sound). This £40 iPhone/iPod dock pumps out eight watts, powered straight from the mains. It’s an incredibly affordable price, but does it sink or swim?

Let’s get the good out of the way first: it’s compact – its small footprint doesn’t take up much self-room at all. That may be a bad thing though, because if it were bigger more people would notice its beautiful piano black finish.

MagicBox-Ark

It’s also amazingly simple, with just two controls: volume up and volume down. It’ll charge your iPhone/iPod while it’s plugged in, and there’s a snazzy blue light that looks like a beacon mounted atop your Apple device. In fact, the blue light is our favourite bit about the whole device. In our opinion, all Apple products should have a shinning blue on their top.

The final two benefits are the auxiliary input, for playing other-brand MP3 players (cable not included) and the loud 8W output, which causes quite a din.

Unfortunately, by din, we mean the dictionary definition: “a jumble of loud, usually discordant sounds”. The problem with the Ark, you see, is that it just doesn’t produce a clear sound.

At low-levels, you’ll find the device passable. Take full advantage of the 8W output, however, and things go horribly wrong. You’ll get about as much bass as Justin Bieber pre-puberty, while higher sounds crackle and lose clarity.

We were so disappointed that we worried about being a little biased: after all, our computers boast Harman Kardon’s £140 SoundSticks, and when we were reviewing the Ark it was perched on top of a full £500+ hi-fi stereo. Perhaps we’ve been musically spoilt. After all, it does sound miles better than the iPhone’s built-in speaker – and goes much louder, too.

But then we compared it to the XMI X-II Speaker. The portable speaker is cheaper, battery-powered and sounds awesome. For quiet listening, the X-II is superior, more portable and costs less. Oh dear.

To be honest, we’ve got very mixed feelings. We knew that for £40, the Ark wasn’t going to sound brilliant. It looks nice though, and it really does pump out decibels if not clarity. If you’re looking for something to rock out to at parties – where freaking out to loud music is more important than fidelity – the simplistic and stylish MagicBox Ark is for you. But if you’re an audiophile, dance on by.

Breville toaster radio: Breakfast gets a musical accompaniment

Friends are often keen to hear about the latest gadgets I’m trying out, but all I seemed to get when I told them I was trying out a toaster/radio was a lot of smirks.

But it’s from Breville, and it looks really cool, I proclaimed. They still weren’t convinced. However, my first impressions out of the box were of a very solidly built good-looking piece of kit – with shiny steel body and glossy black sides. There’s a hint of retro about it, with the round speaker in the side and the silver knobs for on/off/volume and store/search.

Breville-Radio-Toaster

Turning it on revealed it to be even more stylish than I first thought – the digital display showing the radio stations glows bright green, while the on light when you’re toasting is a cool blue. More reminiscent of a stylish hi-fi than a kitchen gadget.

The toaster itself is well constructed and works well – the two adjustable toaster slots are wide enough to toast muffins (the English kind) and crumpets, as well as your average slide of daily bread. It also offers defrost and reheat settings. Those good looking glossy black sides do get rather warm when toasting though, so be aware if you have smaller children.

So, on to the radio. If you’re still not sure why you could want this multitasking gadget, the idea is to save on the number of plug sockets you use – a good idea when the average kitchen is crammed with electric gadgetry goodness.

So how effective is it? The built-in FM/AM radio has ten preset radio channels: for FM radio you’ll need to pull up the aerial – just make sure it doesn’t sit over the toaster slots then they’re on. You can set your favourite channels by turning the ‘store’ button quickly and it will search for the next strongest signal. Then simply hold in the store button until it beeps. FM stations were easy to find, which is more than I can say for AM stations, and the panel doesn’t tell you which station you’re on, which is a bit of a let down. But as an occasional radio for the kitchen it works okay. If you’d rather have your own tunes you can plug in an MP3 player (no lead supplied).

All in all, anyone who has digital radio might be a bit disappointed with the quality and functions available on the Breville toaster, but as it comes in at about the same price as any other upmarket toaster (£49.99) and looks so good, the radio could be viewed as an added bonus.

The Breville “2 Slice Radio Toaster” is £49.99 from the likes of Argos and Amazon.

For more information head to www.breville.co.uk

Flex those muscles with Radiopaq’s new Flex headsets

If you are looking to buy sports earphones that won’t fall out of your ears when you raise the tempo of your workout, then look no further than the new Flex headset, high-tech sports earphones, designed to deliver outstanding audio performance no matter how vigorous your activity.

Radiopaq

In boasting a unique over-the-ear design, users will be oblivious that they have these super lightweight, semi-flexible ear phones in their ears, although the high-quality music blasting into the ear drums may give it away. These ultra-comfortable ear phones are equipped with a gold-plated 3.5mm stereo jack plug, ensuring the optimum sound quality when connected to any Apple iPod or any MP3 player with a 3.5mm stereo Jacket Socket. The Flex headset is also compatible with MP4 players, portable DVD players and all netbooks, laptops, notebooks and computers, although taking the latter five on a run with you is not advisable.

Radiopaq’s mantra is to provide innovative, high quality portable audio products, and by incorporating a convenient touch-button remote control on the cable, which can control the volume, track selections and the on/off function, means that Flex can be operating easily whether you are out jogging, hurtling down a mountain on a snowboard, or pounding the treadmill at the gym.

Getting into a bit of a knot with your cable whilst you are exercising is an affliction many headset users are often subjected to. By featuring a soft rubber silicone cable finish, Flex’s cable is tangle-resistant, giving you the freedom to move unreservedly without the worry of knotting cables.
Greater freedom to make the most of your workout whilst listening to sound quality that rivals the more expensive headsets are not the only great qualities of Flex. Automatic call cut-in makes answering phone calls on an iPhone seamlessly hands-free using the built-in microphone on the remote control.

Music is immediately restored after the call is finished; bringing an end to desperately fumbling around to find the track you were on, whilst cursing the person who interrupted you!

This stylish, lightweight and ultra-robust headset is a fantastic sporting companion, and for just £24.99 is a preferable alternative to the more expensive action earphones, which offer little more in their design, comfort and functions.

Parrot Red Dragon speakers – better by design

Anyone who loves modern design will know the work of French product designer Philippe Starck. His modernist furniture is legendary and unusual in that he doesn’t produce one-off expensive pieces, but rather produces designs that are made for mass production.

Parrot-Zikmu

This time, he has turned his attention to the speaker – and teaming up with Parrot has produced this extraordinary pair of speakers in bright red and appropriately named Red Dragon.

The speakers – full name Parrot Zikmu by Philippe Starck – which will set you back the grand price of, well, a grand, are made by wireless peripherals maker Parrot. They are wireless (obviously) and also feature an iPod/Iphone docking station, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth audio streaming and a total power output of 100W RMS. As well as being compatible with all digital formats and PC audio players, they also offer an analogue Hi-Fi input for connecting CD players and TVs.

As Starck himself puts it:

“The aim wasn’t just to make another loudspeaker. It is clear that our design produces amazing sound, but what’s more, whether you use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, whether you put your mobile phone or your MP3 player next to it, it plays music as if by magic, and that’s incredible. But, and this is what got me interested, what we designed is not a loudspeaker. What we designed was vibrating air.”

The speaker has been designed to emit 360-degree sound (if you want to delve into all the technical explanations, which we don’t have space for here, head over to http://zikmu.parrot.com/en/360-sound).
Finally, if red is not your thing, they also come in black, grey, lime and white.