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.

Libratone Lounge Review

The Libratone Lounge graced my home this last weekend. Its furry green speaker cover and stark design classed up my living room and drew comments and eyes. The Lounge is Libratone’s largest offering and their solution to the traditional stereo. The Lounge’s greatest strength is its look. If you like Apple products the Lounge will fit right into your simple industrial aesthetic. People notice this speaker as soon as they enter a room and it’s a conversation starter. It’s big, it’s bright and it’s unique. It is also the largest available integrated wireless music system I am aware of. 22cm high, 100cm long and 12cm deep allow it to house a respectably sized forward facing sub.

This is my second experience with the Libratone one button, poke it until you get the colour you need, interface. I am sorry to say that my opinion has not improved since the last time I cursed it’s existence. Half the time I was clicking without getting a result or any feedback. The other half I was flipping open the manual to figure out what that colour blinking light meant. At least you only have to do this once to set the speaker up and then it remembers the setting.

The sound from the Live is ample and certainly can be cranked up to the point of discomfort if you so desire. I found the quality to be a little digital sounding and slightly monaural. It sounds good but not great for most genres. Rock hasn’t got quite enough kick and acoustic performances sound a little electric through the digital amplification. The flip side is electronic music sounds really good on the Lounge.

The Lounge is certainly targeted towards Apple users with a host of connectivity features designed around Airplay. For the rest of us, the connections to portable devices are only wireless if we are willing to give up our connection to other WIFI networks. If you want to stream content, you will have to hook up through the mini jack. This isn’t a problem if you connect the Live to Airplay.

Libratone provides a free app for their products that allows you to setup for the exact position of the unit in your room. You can also change the acoustic properties of your product for different music types. Each setting is clearly labeled and easy to use. Don’t forget to pick up the app if you are using a Libratone product. Proper tuning with their system will improve your sound.

Overall, I recommend the Libratone if you want to “sex up” your living room with a great conversation piece. Love it for it’s high concept Scandinavian design and unique style. It’s great for casual listeners and people who want stylish background tunes in their home. If you are more of an audiophile and less into the looks, then I recommend the Sonos Playbar. Check out my review from last week for more detail on the Playbar.