I’ve dreamed of a bicycle sound system for years. I’ve tried several, even jury-rigged a few of my own, but always ended up discarding them ‘cause they sounded lousy, fell apart, or were just a hassle to deal with. But two trends might make decent cycle-sound systems possible.
First there’s Bluetooth, which lets you stream MP3s, Internet radio, and podcasts from your smartphone. Then there’s the recent explosion in relatively high-quality miniature sound systems like the Soundmatters FoxL and the Jawbone Jambox.
The $99 NYNE Multimedia NB-200 is one of the first Bluetooth speakers designed specifically for cycling. Its driver layout—two 1.5-inch drivers with a 3- by 1.5-inch passive radiator—is somewhat similar to that of a FoxL. While you can get a bike mount for the FoxL, the NB-200 was designed from scratch as a bike speaker. The enclosure has slots that match up with a couple of handlebar clips.
It also has control buttons—play/pause, track skip forward and reverse, volume up and down—designed for quick, easy tapping to minimize the amount of time your hands spend off the grips. There’s a speakerphone, too, so you can annoy the hell out of your riding mates by carrying on loud phone conversations about trivial matters during your rides.
Of course, you can use the NB-200 just as you would any other small Bluetooth speaker: Haul it around the house, take it to the beach, or drop it into a suitcase and carry it along on trips.
My main ride is a recumbent trike, which isn't a particularly relevant testing platform, so I decided to bring the NB-200 with me on a trip to my parents' house in Texas and strap it to the handlebars of the Globe three-speed comfort bike I keep in their garage. The curved handlebar proved a slight challenge for the NB-200, because I couldn't quite get its dual mounting clips to sit flat, but I was able to wiggle the unit onto the mounts without too much trouble. I mated my Samsung Galaxy S III with the NB-200, got my playlist of test tracks going, slipped the phone into my seat bag and hit the road.
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed playing the NB-200 while riding around the gated golf community my parents live in. The NB-200 sounded pretty good and produced plenty enough volume. I especially liked that I could hit the NB-200's controls so easily; adjusting the volume, in particular, was easy even when I was riding at 18 mph. The unit sounded surprisingly smooth, with nice voice reproduction, fairly clear treble, and just a touch of bass to keep the sound full.
But playing a bike speaker in a golf community, where the only traffic you confront is an occasional luxury car or golf cart, isn't too challenging. So I hopped onto FM 1093, a nearby two-lane country highway. (In Texas, the "FM" stands for "farm to market.") Now I was being passed every 20 seconds or so by cars, pickups, and even 18-wheelers. Yet the NB-200 still played loud enough—although only just loud enough—to be heard over the traffic. I have to say I got an otherworldly kick out of playing Miles Davis's 1971 fusion classic A Tribute to Jack Johnson while riding past cattle ranches and the muddy Brazos River. I could definitely get used to this Bluetooth bike speaker thing.
NYNE bills the NB-200 as "water repellant." I didn't get a chance to ride through a rainstorm with it, so I put it in the kitchen sink and splashed some water on it for about 1 minute. It kept playing, although it got quieter as the water bogged down the drivers. It also skipped tracks on my phone a couple of times, without me pushing any buttons. When I lifted it and turned it over, quite a bit of water drained out of the enclosure, which was disconcerting. So while I'd speculate that the NB-200 can survive light drizzles, I wouldn't recommend riding through the kind of hellish downpours they get in Louisiana or southeast Texas. But who rides in that kind of weather, anyway?
Brent Butterworth and Geoff Morrison combine their years of gear testing and knowledge in one überblog of irreverence and techiness.
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