I've reviewed my share of neat portable electronic devices while covering technology. But for my inner geek, OrigAudio's Rock-It portable vibration speaker has got to be one of the coolest devices I've ever tried out. Any device that lets you use tissue boxes and dictionaries as speakers is pretty cool in my book. But does the Rock-It's MacGyver cool translate to real world usability? Let's take a closer look shall we?
Turns almost anything into a speaker: The Rock-It uses vibration to transmit and generate sound from objects. It basically works the same way your ears do. All you need to do is connect it to your music player's headphone slot and voila — you got a portable speaker.
Just playing around with the objects near my laptop, I was able to get pretty good results from my "Compact Nelson" Japanese-English Kanji dictionary, the sides of two cardboard boxes, a container of blank DVDs, my laptop stand, and, um, two dollhouses (don't even ask). You can even use the packaging that the Rock-It comes in as makeshift speakers.
Even more interesting is how the sound changes depending on the object you attach it to. Cardboard boxes sound quite airy and a bit blown out while my niece's plastic dollhouses also sounded airy but had a more high-toned and almost techno quality to their sound. Meanwhile, my thick Japanese-English dictionary had a solid sound that struck a nice balance between bass and treble. Just in case you get any funny ideas, a person's posterior doesn't serve as a good medium for vibrating speakers.
Compact and portable: The Rock-It's compact nature makes it easy to move around in your house or take it with you while traveling. You can stick the speaker module to a box of cereal while you have breakfast, stick it to a picture frame while reading in your room, or even stick it to a dollhouse that most certainly does not belong to you, if you so choose. The wires can also be wound up neatly within the case when not in use, making it easy to pack or just put in your pockets if you're on a trip.
Battery and USB options: To power the Rock-It, you can plug the device to a laptop or even an Apple iPod/iPad power adapter (or any adapter with a USB slot, for that matter) via its USB connector. You can also use two AA batteries if you want extra portability.
Reusable sticky panels: The speaker module employs a sticky panel that can be re-used even when it gets dirty. All you need to do is dab your fingers with water and clean off any foreign particles. The Rock-It also comes with several spare stickies just in case you need them.
Wow factor: This thing is a veritable guy magnet. Within minutes of setting it up, I had my brother and my cousin visiting my makeshift home office and sticking the Rock-It to every object they could get their hands on. Even a female relative thought it was pretty neat and started sticking it to protein powder containers and all sorts of packages and appliances in my kitchen. It's definitely a neat thing to show off in parties and gatherings.
Limited sound options: While the device sounds fine, don't expect to get rich bass from the Rock-It. It usually sounds like one of those old portable radios, though you can still get some bass improvement depending on the equalizer settings of your music player or the item you're sticking the speaker module to. The fact that the sound changes depending on the item you stick it to can be both a blessing and curse. You also just get one speaker with the device.
No AC adapter: It would be nice to have an adapter included so you can just plug the device to an electrical outlet if you wanted to. Otherwise, you can use a portable power adapter with a USB slot as mentioned previously. I tried it with an iPod "brick" power adapter, the mini adapter that comes with an iPad, and a Technocel PowerPak portable backup battery/charger, and the Rock-It worked with all of them.
Price: At $49.99, the Rock-It is only $10 less than a Hercules XPS 2.1 40 system, which comes with two satellite speakers and a subwoofer, and sounds infinitely better (though isn't as portable). Obviously, Hercules maker Guillemot Corporation is a bigger global company that can reduce product costs via volume compared to the newer OrigAudio. But cost is still a key consideration for consumers when they're shopping around and comparing products. Basically, what you're paying for with the Rock-It is its excellent portability, along with its great concept.
Wiring: Some parts, particularly the wiring connections, feel a bit fragile. I haven't had any issues with them yet, but I'd be careful not to pull on them. Also, while the wires look quite neat when wound up inside the case, they can be quite a mess when they're unspooled, which you pretty much need to do in order to use it.
The Rock-It is a pretty cool portable speaker that lets you listen to your music anywhere without having to lug around huge speakers or use headphones.
You won't get the same detailed sound that you would from pure speakers or a good pair of earphones. But it certainly sounds good enough for folks who prize portability, including travelers who'd like the option of having a portable speaker in their hotel room or folks on the move who like to listen to music via their laptops.
Tech geeks who like to humor their inner MacGyver will definitely have fun with this device. But chances are, even your grandmother will think it's pretty nifty and useful as well.