|Bag of Rhythm portable audio system. (Supplied)
Many years ago I knew a guy who built a computer entirely out of wood. Well, not the guts and processors and such obviously, but the external case was made of hand-sanded, form-fitted wood, a labour of love that took him months to complete.
At the time I thought he was mildly demented, but now I’m a sucker for gadgets that combine high-tech functionality with organic materials. Maybe not so much that I’d want a computer made of wood, but close enough.
The audio gear creators at The House of Marley (www.thehouseofmarley.ca) hope there are other people out there who like the fusion of the technological and the natural, or who are ecologically minded enough to care about the materials their gear is made from. Or who are just really big fans of Bob Marley and his legacy.
While The House of Marley makes a variety of headphones, all with appropriately Marleyesque names (Smile Jamaica, Redemption Song, Zion and so forth), I recently took two of their speaker products for a spin. A leisurely, mellow spin, of course.
First up is the Bag of Rhythm portable audio system ($349.99), an iPod/iPhone dock that fits snugly inside an olive green canvas bag trimmed in the colours of Jamaica’s flag. Think of it as a boombox that you don’t have to hold with one hand, or (perhaps more practically) a sound system you can easily tote to the beach.
The Bag of Rhythm will hold and charge any newer iPod Touch or iPhone (there’s also a line-in jack for basically any other type of portable music playing device), and the sound that booms out of the twin 4.5-inch drivers and 1-inch tweeters is rich, warm and can easily fill a room. The whole unit looks like a piece of art made from found materials, with its curved, two-tone birch wood face and recyclable plastic housing.
The downside is the Bag of Rhythm requires six D-cells to operate on the go (there’s an AC adapter if you want to use it around the house), and the positioning of the top handle on the canvas bag means you’ll probably want to unsnap it to use the iPod’s touchscreen. A minor hassle when you want to jam out on the go, but still a hassle.
Then there’s the price. While it’s great that The House of Marley is environmentally and socially conscious, the Bag of Rhythm is expensive for a portable speaker that doesn’t have any technological bells and whistles whatsoever. Not even a remote control. Does it look really cool and sound great? Yes, but I’m not sure it’s $350 worth of great.
I was a little fonder of The House of Marley’s home audio system, called Get Up, Stand Up ($349.99). Like the Bag of Rhythm, it’s got two meaty subwoofer speakers flanked by two tweeters, and the sound is on par with any higher-end speaker dock I’ve looked at.
It’s also gorgeous to behold, with a gently angled wood face and rounded corners. I was almost reluctant to stick my iPhone into the dock, because the cold glass screen looked so at odds with the device’s warm wood.
There’s a line-in jack for plugging in any audio device that has headphone output, and the dock comes with a simple remote control (volume, power, and skip/search) that’s stored in a slot in the top of the unit when not in use.
Again, while this is one of the most beautiful speaker docks I’ve seen, the price isn’t exactly budget-conscious. There are plenty of speaker dock systems out there that cost less and offer more features.
But then The House of Marley isn’t aiming at technophiles so much as socially and environmentally conscious audiophiles. If that’s your bag, this is your gear. Irie, mon.