I never expect too much from small portable speakers meant to connect to mp3 players and smartphones. There’s not much you can do to create a full, powerful sound when the goal’s to provide a quick and easy listen on the go, and besides, we’re talking compressed music files here, which is not exactly source material for the connoisseur.
Still, I was surprised by the Rock Out portable speaker from Goal Zero, which does its darnedest to prove that convenience and durability can come with a decent sound. Unlike some plug-in speakers, the Rock Out does not try to add depth by vibrating the desk or table its placed on; it’s got a wooden sound box and two 40mm speakers that do the bass boost work, which makes sense considering the Rock Out is not meant to be set down anywhere at all—it’s designed for camping, hiking, biking or generally moving around, with a cushioned carrying case that also protects your music player and a shock cord for hanging from tents or backpacks.
Add to this a 70dB SNR amplifier, powered by a lithium battery advertised to last 20 to 40 hours on a single charge—rechargeable via USB or the company’s Nomad 7 solar charger (sold separately)—and you’ve got a pretty nifty sonic companion for backwoods bushwhacking or campus trolling.
So give Goal Zero’s offering high marks for portability and functionality—but what about the rocking? As mentioned above, bass response is impressive for its small size, and the integrated, 4 ohm stereo speakers deliver a clean, fairly bright sound in the mid-range. The Rock On makes acoustic instruments shimmer but is sometimes a bit clashy and grating on the high end. Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” sounded pretty good, but the ringing electric guitars on Big Star’s “Don’t Lie to Me” were tough to listen to in spots. Ironically, the Rock On was at its best with my kids’ top-40 music, providing plenty of pump and pop when cranking Owl City or Emily Osment.
Drawbacks include the lack of a volume control anywhere on the speaker itself—requiring a user to unzip the pack to make any adjustments—and its chunky, 3” by 6” build, which is fine for the outdoors but would look like overkill paired with a laptop at Starbucks.
All in all, the Goal Zero delivers on what it promises, especially if your goal is a rugged, portable, take-anywhere music player. It’s a good value at $40.
Disclaimer: The Goal Zero Rock Out speaker was provided to GadgeTell for the purpose of this review.
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