Carbon Audio Zooka

Last week I talked a little about the Carbon Audio “Zooka”. I wanted to take a closer look at this funky piece of tech so this last weekend I pilfered our store for a funky red model to review. I am impressed with what you get for under $100.

First, let’s review what I said last week about the attachment point on the Zooka. “It grips like a mountain climber.” The Zooka is specifically designed to attach to an iPad or a MacBook. It uses a medical grade silicone slot to grip your chosen device without damaging that sexy Apple finish. The grip is impressive enough you will confidently use the Zooka as a comfortable handle for the device. Any tablet with similar dimensions to an Apple product will be completely compatible with the Zooka grip. With no hinge or spring the Zooka grip system is going to far outlast whatever devices you will be clipping it to.

The entire Zooka, apart from the metal speaker grills, is wrapped in a silicone sleeve that eats up any bumps and bangs. The weight and the build of the device is pleasing; I am not in the habit of dropping my tablet, but if I did, I would want it to land Zooka side down because I suspect that the Zooka could easily take the knock and would probably save my device from serious harm.

The Zooka has all the connectivity you could possibly need. With Bluetooth, a mini jack and a micro USB there won’t be much that you can’t connect to the Zooka. Connectivity is as easy as holding a button down for 3 seconds or plugging it in. It’s simple, it’s easy, and they know it; the entire operational manual for the Zooka is printed on one side of a small card included in the box.

Controlling the Zooka is easy once you figure out that the buttons are setup to be pushed then held. Push and hold three seconds to turn on, three seconds again on the Bluetooth button to pair, push and hold the plus or minus buttons to increase or decrease the volume. It took me a moment to realize that my frantic clicking on the volume button wasn’t achieving anything. I think that they may have implemented the push and hold system so that you wouldn’t accidentally adjust things while you are holding the speaker bar. It’s a simple clever solution and it works great.

The good and the bad of the funky features: The Zooka is very simple and high concept in its design. I like the little kickstand that pops out of the end so you can tip your tablet up like a TV to sit back and watch. I think it’s cool that you pop it out and screw it in, but I also worry that I will eventually lose the cool little steel screw. I have a bad habit of dropping little fiddly pieces and having them zip down a vent or under a couch. The manual controls could be improved upon. The charging port, and the mini jack, end up on the bottom in kickstand mode; you better have a full battery and a Bluetooth connection running, because the ports are off limits while the Zooka is being used as a stand. I like the clever cutout for your MacBook camera and an incorporated microphone that you can use for Skype or as a speakerphone.

How’s the sound? It’s surprisingly good. I would say Carbon Audio focused on giving the Zooka a nice full middle with a little treble. There isn’t space for a rumbling bass on a compact device. Overall I found the sound pleasing and well balanced. Certainly the best in class that I have heard, and for under $100 you won’t be disappointed. It’s not going to compare to a stationary dock or a home theatre, but it sounds great for a small portable system; you can spend a lot more for comparable sounding products.

The Zooka from Carbon Audio is a great little speaker bar that pumps up the sound on devices that traditionally sound “poopy” on their own speakers. It’s simple and intuitive to use with a rugged build that I expect will outlast the devices you will pair it with. Carbon Audio has made a great little product at a good price that will really appeal to the right person. If you are suffering with poor built-in speakers on any device, I recommend trying a Zooka. I think you are going to like it.

Bring your music on the Road!

Whether you’re stuck in a hotel room or need some quality music before heading out on a vacation, good quality travel speakers can make a big difference. There have been some significant improvements to portable speakers recently and you can now get some really impressive sound in a small box.

Most travel speakers have built-in batteries, some can be used with Bluetooth while others use AirPlay with smartphones and tablets. What they all have in common is a relatively low price and the fact that they are all wireless. Here’s a quick overview of some of the hot products available today:

BEATS
Beats has unveiled a portable speaker called Pill®. The Pill is a small Bluetooth speaker that works with NFC technology (Near Field Communication). So if you have an NFC-equipped smartphone you can simply tap it on the device to pair it up easily with your speaker. Despite its small format, the Pill can deliver powerful sound and includes a battery that gives you up to seven hours of continuous use. If it loses its Bluetooth signal, it can be set to automatically shut down after 30 minutes. The Pill also doubles as a Bluetooth speakerphone, with a built-in microphone allowing it to be used for conference calls.

LIBRATONE
The Libratone® Zipp are the first AirPlay speakers that do not require an internet connection to work. Libratone produces stylish, high quality speakers, covered in felt of various colours. Libratone’s PlayDirect makes AirPlay much more useful, letting you use the Zipp speakers wherever you are, rather than being tethered to your home Wi-Fi network. It features an internal battery that offers up to eight hours of playback off a full charge. This is the ultimate sound solution for those with i-Phone and i-Pads – the critics love Libratone!

BRAVEN
Braven portable speakers offer an integrated power reserve that can be charged and then used for emergency smartphone charging, and can be paired with any smartphone that supports Bluetooth, including the iPhone and your favorite Android handset. The Braven 600 series offers 12 hour of playback, and has a connectivity range of about 33-feet. Braven speakers are encased in a polymer chassis that is impact-resistant, making it ideal for camping trips or rugged environments. For those that like even more sound, the Braven speakers can be daisy-chained (linked) to increase overall sound output.

JAWBONE
JAMBOX delivers stunning hi-fi audio in a portable wireless speaker so compact you won’t believe it when you hear it. Unlike other portable speakers, JAMBOX is powered by a pair of proprietary, highly sophisticated acoustic drivers, unmatched in their ability to produce extreme high (tweeter) and low (woofer) frequencies from a single, ultra-small dome speaker. They work in concert with an innovative moving-wall passive bass radiator and airtight enclosure to deliver shimmering highs and thumping lows that you can literally feel – the richest sound all in the palm of your hand.

GEAR 4
The Gear 4 StreetParty is designed for ultimate portability and superb sound. At only 16mm and weighing just 300g the StreetParty is extremely lightweight, includes a stylish carrying case and is powered by batteries. This portability is combined with exceptional audio performance and superb bass tones. With its well designed adjustable dock, the speaker system fits both iPod Nano and iPhone snugly and is also compatible with other music players via its line-in port.

JBL
The JBL OnBeat Venue Lightning aloows you to take your iPhone 5 or iPad mini into a new realm. It’s an amazing, wireless, Bluetooth®-equipped loudspeaker dock for the latest Apple devices. Equipped with the Lightning connector, the JBL OnBeat Venue LT lets you experience true high-definition sound for music, movies, videos and games on your iPad mini, iPad (4th generation), iPhone 5, iPod touch (5th generation) or iPod nano (7th generation). It also wirelessly streams music from any Bluetooth-enabled device. And don’t worry about signal strength; HARMAN TrueStream® technology guarantees the best possible wireless performance.