There are many benefits to living in Central Florida, one of them is my proximity to good beaches.
If I drive 40 minutes due east I’d find myself staring at the Blue Atlantic. If I drive an hour and forty minutes towards the setting sun I could catch the waning light reflecting off the oil stained waters of the Gulf of Mexico (pronounced “meh-HE-co”). Both shores have drop-dead gorgeous beaches that make you want to forget about the world and soak in as much sun, surf, and salt air as your body can take.
Seems my body can take a lot of that kind of punishment because I find myself being lulled by the minimalistic melody of the Atlantic at the slightest suggestion or provocation.
“Hey Vern, wanna take a walk?”
“Yep! Just make sure you get don’t get wet sand in my car on the way back.”
“Darn! We’ve run out of mayonnaise!”
“I’ll run out and get some. I think it’s still low tide…”
Beaches are my favorite landforms, and I could spend far more time on them than I currently do, and when I do I like to take some tunes with me. Of course, salt water and electronics don’t always play well together, so, like quarreling kids on a long drive, it’s a good idea to keep them separated as much as possible. Such is the concept behind the Etón Corporation’s Soulra iPod/iPhone portable speaker system.
Soulra with remote
Speakers and rechargeable batteries are housed in a rubberized aluminum case making this system relatively lightweight, yet rugged. Etón added rubber seals in strategic places to keep moisture and dust out. There’s even a shield that fits snuggly into a rubberized groove around the dock area which, in effect, seals you iPhone or iPod in a moisture tight enclosure. While the rubber seals and exterior, and shield does not make the Soulra waterproof, it does make it “splash-proof” with the solar panel closed. In fact, Soulra sports an IPX-4 Splash Proof rating, meaning that you shouldn’t be overly concerned if it’s left out in a brief summer shower. I’ve tested this feature and the Soulra does a good job of ignoring rain, a tumble in wet beach sand, even a few days spent poolside getting splashed. My iPod (I used an older nano to test with. I’m not stupid.) emerged no wetter or sandier.
Soulra after a splash
Soulra is a speaker system, and in intimate settings, it works great. The sound Soulra produces won’t win over any audiophiles, but if you’re chilling in a hammock on a lazy afternoon or polishing off a novel while catching some morning beach sun, Soulra is sufficient for providing a pleasant soundtrack, as long as you don’t want it loud. Soulra is not a boombox. Cranking the volume to maximum never strained the speakers, but there is no way Soulra can compete with the thumping monster pumping out gangsta rap two beach towels away.
Chilling is all about being lazy, and Soulra’s IR remote aids in your quest to relax admirably. While the remote may appear as ruggedized as the main unit, don’t believe it. The battery compartment isn’t sealed, a necessity in my opinion, even for splash resistance. Still, the remote is easy to understand and use. It’s big enough not to be misplaced easily, yet small and light enough to carry in pocket or purse.
Back to the rechargeable batteries for a moment: Soulra’s batteries can keep your docked iPhone or iPod topped off even while playing music, and it can do this for four hours on a full charge. The outdoorsy speakers can keep its batteries full via the included AC adapter or by flipping open the solar panel that also acts an extra protective cover over the dock area. It takes four hours to recharge Soulra batteries on AC power, ten hours to a full charge by sunlight alone.
That solar recharge time may raise a few eyebrows since finding ten hours of bright sunlight may be a challenge for more than a few, but I don’t think the solar panel is meant to be used as a primary source of Soulra power, it’s more of a way to extend the charge you have. If there’s little chance of a torrential downpour, flip up the solar panel and let the sun extend your music enjoyment.
Then there’s the price. Soulra lists for US$299, but street prices are two-thirds that. Soulra is built well, and in my opinion, worth at least the street price. Even so, some may want more sound for their two hundred bucks. If you can, take a listen before you buy.
Bottom line: Soulra is a cool take along on a warm day at the beach, mountain meadow, or hammock. It’s rugged, shrugs off splashes, and can keep your iPod or iPhone charged while pushing out the tunes. The sound being pushed out is a bit anemic, however, and is better suited for quieter, personal sessions than beach parties. Controls are easy and the basic remote works though it’s not as environment-proof as the box it controls. The four-hour play time includes keeping your device topped off, and, while not stella, is just enough for your average repose. The solar panel may help extend play time, but don’t count on it for a full recharge.
A rugged, solar-charging speaker unit for iPod/iPhones is a good idea that’s been executed well, with noted exceptions, in Soulra, and I Highly Recommend* it.
Any iPod except shuffle,
* Note: My rating system goes like this;
- Get it Now! - Highest rating and an absolute must-have
- Highly recommend - Minor flaws, but a great product
- Recommend - Flawed, but still a solid product
- So-so - Problem product that may find a niche market
- Avoid - Why did they bother making it? A money waster.