Tool Review – Music Tools

MarsailiI am a bit of a music fanatic.  I like to incorporate music into every aspect of my life.  From taking a shower in the morning, to working (Pandora streaming right now), to working in the shop, or out for a sail.  Those activities are fine by themselves, but add a little music you love and it becomes fantastic!  It used to be that in order to carry music with us, we would need some sort of portable, battery-sucking “boom box,” but today I have music stored on my phone, on my multiple MP3 players, and on my laptop.  Everywhere I go, I always seem to have something on me that is capable of playing some tunes.  The tricky part is getting the music out of those devices in an acoustically pleasing manner.  Sure, I could wear headphones all day, but I don’t like how that isolates me from the world.  For example, if I was sailing with headphones, I wouldn’t be able to hear the wind blowing through the shrouds or the waves lapping the hull.  Those are sounds that are necessary to the relaxing experience of sailing.

So in this tool review I would like to share with you the music tools I use in various aspects of boating and life.  I will address the music stations I have including the basement workshop, the garage, the boat, and the super-portable-music-anywhere solution.  Keep in mind that my goal here is to get the best possible sound for the least possible money.

First let me explain a couple of varieties of speakers.  

Speaker Power:  The speaker will have its own power supply that can be via an AC adapter, alkaline batteries, or an on-board rechargeable battery (or a combination).  Anything at my house, I want it to have AC capability so I don’t have to deal with batteries, but an on-board rechargeable battery is a nice added benefit if I want to move around.  The unit on my boat takes regular alkaline batteries so I don’t have to be transporting the device back and forth to the house every time it needs a charge.

Speaker Connection:  Bluetooth or wired.  Bluetooth is fantastic and convenient, but it sucks the life out of the batteries both on the speaker and the smartphone.  Most iPods or basic MP3 players do not have Bluetooth capability so you will need something wired or you will need to use your smartphone.


My setups:

The Basement:  I have plenty of power outlets in my basement, so I don’t have to worry about anything being battery powered.  I have an old ipod nano (circa 2000) holding all of the music.  The battery on the iPod no longer holds a charge, but as long as it is plugged in it is perfectly capable of spinning bluegrass for me all day.  In my opinion, bluegrass music is the quintessential boat building music That iPod plugs into a JBL OnStage speaker.  The one that I linked to is newer than my model, but I have owned a number of these devices and they are all amazing.  The sound that comes out of such a small device will blow your mind.  Sure, it will not sound as good as a Bose SoundDock, but it also does not cost $300.  These little JBL units are great and VERY durable.

The Garage:  The garage is a very similar setup to the basement.  Again it is an old, charge-less ipod plugged into a JBL OnStage speaker.  The difference here is that this speaker was one of the original speakers from the OnStage line.  It has been sitting in my garage in New England for over 7 years.  It’s been dropped, kicked, spilled on, frozen, heated up, etc.  It still sounds amazing and shows no signs of slowing down.

The Boat:  I have a Marshall Sanderling.  The boat stays out at a mooring on Cape Cod for 3 months a year.  It has a small cabin so I am able to shelter electronic from the elements somewhat, but the salty air does seem to infiltrate everything eventually.  First I will start with the storage device.  I use a SanDisk Sansa Clip 4GB or I use my smartphone.  The SanDisk is inexpensive and I can throw it in my pocket when it needs a charge.  I can also use a cigarette lighter adapter on the boat to charge it.  It is simple to manage the music and the interface is nice and easy.  For the speaker I use a slight modification of the JBL OnStage because I wanted one that would use standard alkaline batteries.  That way I could just keep a supply in the toolbox.  The JBL OnStage III was just the device I needed.  The sound is excellent and some fresh AA batteries gives me about 10 hours of music.  I have used it for 3 seasons now without a problem, but I noticed last year that some of the battery contacts were starting to corrode a little.  It may be it’s last season coming up.  I will either purchase the same thing, or maybe give the Outdoor Technology Turtle Shell Speaker a chance.  I have read some decent reviews.

General All Around:  I recently picked up one more music device so I could have something in the shower or when working around the house.  The Cambridge Soundworks Oontz Curve is amazing.  It is tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand yet the sound it produces is very impressive.  Remember, this is a speaker about the size of a golf ball so it is not going to deliver sub woofer thumping bass, but I can just about guarantee that you will be shocked by how much bass it actually does have.  The unit is charged via USB cable and has a lithium ion battery that seems to never die.  The connection method is Bluetooth and if a call comes in while you are listening to music, you can simply hit the button on the Oontz and answer the call through the speaker.  Highly recommended!

Here are a handful of devices I either purchased or tested that I was NOT to fond of:

With the exception of the unit in the garage, none of my speakers are “docked.”  You don’t need to spend $120 on an iPod to make these things work for you.  They are all connected via the supplied 3.5mm jack or Bluetooth so just about any device with a headphone jack will work.

Thank you for reading!