The JBL Charge 2 is even better than the last one. Photo: JBL
When I reviewed the first-generation JBL Charge back in 2013, I called it a “colorful pill of a speaker that looks almost like, as an accessory, it leaped out of a new iPod touch commercial.” I loved it for its clear, crisp sound that was loud enough to shake most rooms: It delivered the sound volume of the Big Jambox in the original Jambox’s form factor.
If it’s not plenty clear, I loved the JBL Charge. It ended up being my go-to kitchen speaker for over a year, until I accidentally knocked it into the sink while doing my dishes. As a sign of its quality, it actually kept working, but never sounded quite the same.
Now I’ve tried out the JBL Charge 2. And I’ve got to say, if the JBL Charge was good, the Charge 2 is even better, fixing some of the first model’s oversights. It’s a solid choice if you’re looking for a portable Bluetooth speaker that can do more than just play music.
The Archt one wireless speaker uses patented technology to fill a room with sound. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
LAS VEGAS — With its wide base and gently sloping sides, the Archt one speaker looks a little like an egg pod from Alien or the business end of a bomb.
Its outer shell is sleek black plastic, with a flat ring around the top that gives it a space-age feel. If the killer looks aren’t enough to grab your attention, the speaker’s ground-thumping bass will.
“It gets really loud,” Archt CEO Evan Foo told Cult of Mac.
While the all-in-one wireless speaker is certainly loud — it was ballsy enough to cut through the background noise here at the International CES trade show — the goal is to deliver CD-quality sound, no matter the source of the audio.
UE Megaboom bluetooth speaker. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
SAN FRANCISCO — It’s easy to see how the UE Megaboom could become your favorite way to listen to music. The new Bluetooth speaker packs great features into a rugged cylindrical package that won’t go tits up if you drop it or leave it out in the rain.
The UE Megaboom is bigger and louder than its predecessor, the similarly shaped UE Boom. It delivers glittering, precise highs and satisfying bass. It’s lightweight and boasts a 20-hour rechargeable battery. All in all, it’s a perfect device for the way we listen to music in the streaming era.
A good piece of gear can make your life better. And, just as surely, a crappy bit of kit can turn an ordinary task into a profoundly irritating experience. This month's Lust List items keep us moving in the right direction.
Mavic Cosmic Carbone 40C
Pushing my bike into what can only be accurately described as a head-sided tailwind and attempting to navigate the tourist-riddled Golden Gate Bridge towers, I was once again thankful to have the Cosmic Carbones mounted to my whip.
There are faster hoops. There are rims that have spent more time at the salad bar. But if you are looking to go faster, over more “epic” terrain, with nary a concern about how precious your carbon wheels may be, then the Mavic Cosmic Carbone 40C (1,990 euro a pair list) should be on your upgrade shopping list. They will get you where you need to go regardless of the condition of the tarmac or what the weatherman has in store for you.
On that recent trip across the international orange landmark, I experienced just about every microclimate and terrain known to man. The braking surface worked surprisingly well in the wet foggy conditions, the climb up hawk hill was a joy and only during the nastiest of crosswinds did I notice the Carbones’ deep rim. Mavic took its sweet time releasing their first full-carbon clinchers, but they nailed the Mavic tradition of building bombproof, lust-worthy wheels. — Jim Merithew
You know what I hate about Apple computers? The precious keyboards. They look lovely, with their sleek designs and tiny little keys, but they absolutely kill my wrists and fingers. That’s why I plug a grimy old Goldtouch keyboard ($129 list when they made ‘em) into the MacBook Air that I use for work. I even take the weird-looking A-frame keyboard with me when I travel. It’s not an elegant-looking solution, but it’s a lifesaver.
I’ve dealt with typing-related RSI for decades. While I use voice recognition when I have to write something lengthy, it’s not the perfect tool to accomplish every task in every situation. Sometimes I need to hammer away on a keyboard, and when I do, the Goldtouch makes the experience far less painful. It’s split down the center, with a ball joint that lets me adjust the angle between the two halves as well as the height at the center. And the soft-touch keys just feel good to me. — Lewis Wallace
I'll admit it: I checked out Rocket Girl from my branch libraryout of a thing for cat-eye glasses and an ingrained curiosity aboutsmart women that history has forgotten about.
Even if you don't care about either of those things, pick up this biography about rocketscientist Mary Sherman Morgan. It's written by her son George D. Morgan,who found that the Los Angeles Times was unwilling to print the obit hewrote because so much of what she accomplished "couldn't be verified."So he painstakingly pieced together her story — from herhardscrabble childhood to some tendencies that today we'd probably callOCD — while tracing the history of rocket science inAmerica.
Rocket Girl ($18) reads like a novel (and, in fact, the work first debutedas a play at CalTech). The story about Mary’s now-credited invention ofliquid fuel Hydyne, which powered the Jupiter-C rocket, is super-compelling.It's a great read, whether you care that she was our first female rocketscientist or not. — Nicole Martinelli
Sailing at the local Friday night beer can races used to be more humiliating than fun: The dispirited crew of Baby Blu almost rechristened the boat Dead F***ing Last before I got armed with Garmin's quatix marine GPS watch ($449.99 list).
As the defacto crew tactician of the decrepit Cal 20, I followed the oldest advice from racing sailors: Start first, keep ahead, finish first. Now that I'm sporting a good countdown watch and can accurately gauge the distance and time to the start line, we are often first off the mark. The navigation aids and speedometers on the quatix help us with the “keep ahead” part, though they can't do much to cover the fact that the old lady we sail desperately needs a face-lift. The best part: I got to keep our first commemorative beer glass from the first win. Arr, thanks quatix! — Stefano Maffulli
The first time I saw a Vinturi wine aerator in a Sonoma County tasting room, I pegged it for a gimmick. The woman behind the bar opened a bottle of red and poured some into a glass. Then she poured some of the same vintage slowly through the Twinkie-size plastic contraption into another glass and invited us to try the two side-by-side.
It was an effective demo.The flash-aerated wine clearly tasted better: richer, fuller, a little bit softer. More balanced and less brash. The Vinturi ($39.95 list) opened up the young wine, allowing its true character to shine through. Wine snobs have been decanting their vino forever, but dumping a bottle into a separate container and letting it “breathe” properly takes patience. The Vinturi gets the job done in seconds flat. The strange sucking sound it makes is air that’s getting mixed into the wine as it flows through the funnel-like device (thanks to the Venturi effect). It’s not for everybody, and not for every wine, but when you pop a cork and you don’t want to wait around, it’s a fantastic time-saver. — Lewis Wallace
The Shape Shifter and I just returned from a photo shoot in Utah. I could not have asked for a better travel companion. I stuffed two camera bodies, three lenses, a Q-Flash, various cords, cards, batteries and battery chargers, my laptop and oh so much more into this gear-swallowing beauty. And then I carried it on and stuffed it under my seat. Amazing.
I have also put a minimal amount of kit into it and zipped the compression zipper shut, so I could commute on my bicycle with this pack. It has waist and chest straps to keep it securely in place and plenty of pockets to help you organize your life.
Think Tank builds serious camera bags for serious photographers. If you like to travel light, like to work out of the same bag you travel with, or only carry a minimal amount of gear, then this thing is overkill. But if you travel with a pack of cameras, love adventure photography or just like to get your shit organized, I can’t say enough positive things about the Shape Shifter ($264.75 list). It’s the perfect bag for the photographer who likes to go loaded for bear. — Jim Merithew
When the standing desk craze took off, I thought it wasanother overblown trend created by the same fitness yuppies thatturned gluten into the most dangerous edible compound sincetrans-fats. Then I got a NextDesk Terra (starts at $1,497) andI’ll never go back to a boring, sit-in-your-chair-till-your-ass-is-numbdesk again.
The design is perfectly simple. The stained bamboo top is gorgeous andenormous. But the best thing about the NextDesk is how smooth andquickly it moves up and down, thanks to the 18-volt DC motors in eachleg that raise it up to a max height of 50.5 inches.
Fast-forward 18 months and not only have I cut my Red Bull dependency in half bymoving around to stay alert, I’ve become a master at typing whiledancing as Google drones through another painful three-hour keynote. — Buster Hein
For the first time in my life I was hailed a DJ hero at a picnic thanks to two things: 1) I’d downloaded the great 20 Reggae Classics and 2) I brought a Harman Kardon Onyx Bluetooth speaker.
Sitting up by the Russian River in the baking sun, there’s nothing better than the incredible sounds created by Jamaica's legendary Trojan label. And the Onyx did them justice, thanks to the four speakers and two passive radiators packed into its distinctive round enclosure. The Onyx has a stainless steel handle that makes it look a ringed planet. It’s big for a portable speaker, and well-built, but it’s light and easy to carry.
Best is that it sounded great — rich, balanced and loud. It has every connection option under the sun, including AirPlay (via Wi-Fi), DLNA and NFC/Bluetooth for our Android friends. Buttons are touch-sensitive and there’s a simple, easy-to-use app that can be downloaded from the App Store. Battery life wasn’t great (five hours unwired/ eight hours wired), but it was adequate for a long afternoon’s partying. It’s a bit pricey ($399 on Amazon) but for a speaker of this high quality, well worth it. — Leander Kahney
With so many Bluetooth speakers, varying in size and price, it can be hard to find the best fit for you. In this episode of Cult of Mac’s Product Recommendations, we take a look at the Angle speaker by Oontz, a portable Bluetooth speaker perfect for office, bedroom and other settings.
Take a look at the video to see what you think and make sure to enter the giveaway to try your hand at winning one.
Enter the Cult of Mac giveaway: We have two Oontz Angles to give away to two viewers who like and comment on our video, and also subscribe to the Cult of Mac channel on YouTube. Winners will be picked at random and entries end Monday, May 26, 2014. Prizes provided by Oontz.
Grain Audio designer Chris Weir is serious about sound. Photos: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Designer Chris Weir is dismissive of products that take a Swiss Army knife approach to features. He thinks a speaker should be a speaker — and nothing else.
“It’s a speaker, not a speakerphone,” he says.
He’s talking about his Packable Wireless Speaker System, a diminutive Bluetooth speaker he designed for Grain Audio, a hot audio startup. Weir resisted all temptation to add a microphone (for phone calls) or the ability to charge phones from its internal battery. It’s just a speaker, and a surprisingly good one at that.
In a market crowded with dozens of unexceptional, me-too products, Grain Audio stands out. Not only are all of its products made of wood (solid walnut, not wood veneer), Grain’s products do one thing, and one thing well: Pump out sound.
Mini Boom by Ultimate Ears Category: Portable Bluetooth Speakers Works With: iOS, Mac, Any sound source Price: $99.99 per speaker
Imagine my utter joy when I received Ultimate Ears’ latest entry into the portable speaker market, the UE MiniBoom, and found them to be even tinier and equally rugged and easy to use. Oh, and they sound fantastic, too.
I got talking to an old man with a long beard yesterday. It was almost down to his jewel-studded belt. And he told me that “back in the day,” “where he comes from,” gentlemen would try to fill their living rooms with ugly black and silver boxes covered with flashing and pulsing lamps. They’d lay rope-like cables around the rooms of their homes, and the “coffee table” – as he called it – would be covered with smaller, button-covered boxes.
These gentlemen would argue with their ladies, who “just wanted to relax and watch a bit of TV for God’s sake WHATS WRONG WITH YOU.”
“Back in the day” was of course “the 1980s and 1990s,” and these boxes were stereo and home theater gear. Now we live in an enlightened age where these things are as beautifully integrated into our homes as, well, as baskets of potpourri, I guess.
Well, Jambox, move over: there’s a new king in town. We’ll be hard pressed to recommend you anymore after getting our hands on the JBL Flip, a Bluetooth speaker that has better (and louder) sound than the Jambox, at a cheaper price, and a killer trick up its sleeve: it’s also an external battery pack, capable of charging your iPhone on the go!
Any of you out there familiar with the Muji CD player? It is/was a cute little box which you’d hang on the wall, press a CD onto and enjoy the tinny sound of tiny speakers spitting high-grade digital files into your ears.
Now you can — like any civilized person — ditch the spinning disk and just enjoy the music. Muji has now launched a Bluetooth speaker that looks a lot like the old CD box.