Growing up in the 90s, I saw the boombox going out of fashion and much smaller personal audio players becoming the vogue. Except for the vinyl disc, I reckon my generation saw it all – the transition from the cassette and cassette player to the compact discs and DVDs, to minuscule digital music players (courtesy the Mp3 revolution).

I have nothing against headphones and earphones – they keep your music personal, do not disturb anyone else. But what about when you’re hanging out with a couple of friends, lounging in your bachelor pad or on the beach?

Enter sound docks. All you need to do is dock in your iPod or any other device for that matter, and just sit back and enjoy the music.

But among all other ‘portable’ sound docks, The Bag of Riddim, from the House of Marley, has stood out for bringing back the ‘carry-your-own-music’ trend of the 80s. So we at Smartbuy opened up this bag to see what kind of notes it packs

The bag

Well, it’s a bag. It really is! It’s a neat sound dock packed in a bag so that you can just carry it around. And when you look at it you can’t help but notice how much of Bob Marley’s philosophies have been stitched into this device. The bag is made up of canvas, and the sides have been stitched in Rastafarian colours. It’s even got a leather patch with the House of Marley insignia stamped on it.

There are neat portholes for the bass output and AC plug-in. Oh and yes, you can also put in 6 D-size batteries for music on the move.

And in true outdoor spirit, it comes with a wide canvas shoulder strap, which makes the Bag of Riddim easy to lug around. But I wish they had added a padded patch on the strap for I discovered that the strap does cut into one’s shoulder after some time. There’s even a spacious pocket on one side to carry an iPod and a few more things. The manufacturers claim that all manufacturing materials are of recyclable grade and the packaging comes in recycled paper.

The top panel, however, comes in birch wood, with the speakers facing upwards which remind you of the Rastafarian culture of carrying bongos and other portable percussions, but also helps makes things sound better. Wood has always been considered as the best material for speaker housing, for the ways in which it enhances the sound fidelity.

As far as the audio output is concerned, the Bag of Riddim packs two 4-inch speakers and two 1-inch tweeters, along with an amplifier. The top-facing speakers suggest that the dock be kept on the floor, or near your feet. The bass portholes are on the sides. This versatile speaker position emphasises that the output is not uni-directional and intended to give a group of people an all-round listening experience.

The docking station is quite minimalist, with just a plastic docking space for an iPod or iPhone with the old 19-pin port. For devices with Lightning ports, I guess you’ll have to buy a converter. There’s an auxiliary audio-in port for other devices too.

The docking station is spacious enough to hold even the oldest generations of iPods, it can’t fit in an iPad or the iPad Mini. This is a major drawback as JBL’s OnBeat Extreme, which comes with about the same price tag, can hold iPads too. For controls, you just get a touch-sensitive volume rocker and power button.

The rhythm

While going through the details on the website, I learnt that all of these products have been designed keeping reggae as the genre of priority. That’s a good thing, in a way, because the bass levels in reggae music need to be loud but clean, and should not distort in any way even at the highest volume levels. And although we love our thumping bass, we love it on all genres, not just one. We also want the mid-tones and the treble to be clean, the high notes being sharp but not obtrusive in the overall experience.

So for the first test, I played what it claims to be the best. With Redemption Song, the guitars and vocals sounded very clear. With One Love and No Woman No Cry, the bass was good, and in a closed room, it all sounded just great. But once I moved the dock outside, the bass lost some of its charm. This was natural, because in closed environments, the reflected bass is lower. But all in all, it wasn’t too bad.

But then after moving on to other genres, I found that it didn’t quite sound the same. While listening to Iron Maiden’s ‘Blood Brothers’, I felt that the Bag of Riddim didn’t do enough justice to Nicko McBrain’s snares or Steve Harris’s precision bass. The twangs of Harris’s Fender were clear, but the slides weren’t.

The best part about the device is that even at the highest levels of volume, the sound fidelity didn’t falter even once. I played the White Stripe’s ‘Seven Nation Army’ at max volume (much to the chagrin of my neighbour), and I was surprised that the heavy bass lines and the wailing guitars sounded absolutely clear.

The final beat

The Bag of Riddim, in my opinion is one sound dock that redefines portable audio. Yes, there are other docks that sound good and look elegant, but there’s nothing out there at this price tag that looks so unique and so outdoorsy. The sound output too, is very good, although if you’re looking for genre specific refinement, it might not live up to your expectations. But if you can do with a dock that you can carry everywhere and which gives you good audio fidelity at even the loudest levels, you should consider getting yourself this bag of audio goodness.

Rs 25,999

Love – Design and concept, bass reflex, awesome fidelity at max volume

Hate – Average all-genre performance, no iPad docking

sabyasachi.b@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on February 18, 2013)
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