A plethora of portable sound projection devices are available in a multitude of shapes and sizes. Several have piqued my interest, but the Yubz MAGNUM is somewhat unique, mostly for its factor. Because it looks like, well…a log. Yep, just like the classic Ren & Stimpy commercial. So how does this particular portable speaker system measure up? Let’s check it out!
The packing was satisfactory and seemed fairly secure, with some type of perforated cardboard packing material that unfortunately left a layer of cardboard particles and dust all over the outside of the actual product packaging. A bit messy, but recyclable, so tolerable, I suppose.
The actual product packaging was a simple, yet elegant black box with understated “YUBZ” logo on top, surrounded by a plastic sleeve wrapper (possibly to protect the nice box from the cardboard packing material dust?).
Inside the actual product packaging, I was presented with the instruction manual in its own slot on top of the MAGNUM itself, nestled into its own cavity in a vacuum-formed shell.
Inside the Box
Laying it all out, I was actually fairly surprised with the amount of gear inside the box, which included the instruction booklet, an AC wall adapter, a power cable, an RCA jack audio cable, a multi-compartment carrying case, an adjustable shoulder strap and of course the MAGNUM itself.
My first impression of the MAGNUM itself was that, with its cylindrical shape and textured leather skin, it actually does somewhat resemble a log. Upon picking it up and holding it in my hand, I was struck by its solid, weighty feel, even without having inserted four non-included AA batteries.
I skimmed through the instructions quickly to glean just enough to get cracking. Skimming turned out to be about all the instructions were good for, since they were very simple. My test plan here was evaluate the MAGNUM through multiple device and scenarios. Wired connections first, then wireless.
The controls of the MAGNUM consist of a row of seven circle-shaped indentations just below the Yubz logo. The first circle, starting at the far left, has a small hole in the center, beneath which is the microphone that allows the MAGNUM to be used as a speakerphone, followed by pushbuttons that control Vol +, Vol -, Next Track, Previous Track, Play/Pause and Power/Answer/End. These buttons are extremely difficult to see, as they are integrated into the leather covering and not visually distinct. However, they do have a nice audible/tactile “click” feel.
There are two power source options, wall outlet AC power or four standard AA alkaline batteries. I plugged the AC adapter into a wall outlet, then plugged in the power cable, which on one end has a USB plug that goes into the AC adapter on the other end a small-diameter power plug that goes into the MAGNUM. I was surprised by how loose the connection was between the power cable tip and the MAGNUM. It felt sloppy (more on this later). I also placed four alkaline batteries into the MAGNUM and it seemed to work just fine.
There are several possible combinations for piping an audio signal to the MAGNUM, and I tried to explore them all.
Line-in Input – from 4th Gen iPod Nano
I first tried the wired connection using my daughter’s 4th-gen iPod Nano, plugging one end of the RCA-type audio cable into the Nano’s 3.5mm headset jack and the other into the MAGNUM’s audio line-in jack.
Once connected, the MAGNUM is powered on by pressing and holding down the Power On/Off button until the YUBZ signal light (behind the logo) flashes blue. However, if you only press it quickly, or don’t hold it down until the light starts flashing, it appears to go into some sort of demo mode where it powers itself back off after a few seconds. Also, as mentioned above, the AC power cable connection to the MAGNUM is quite loose and if not inserted just right, can toggle loose and either cut the power or deactivate one of the speakers. The Vol + and Vol – volume control buttons functioned as expected. However, using the line-in cable, the Play/Pause button actually mutes the device instead. Also, pushing the Power/Answer/End button simply mutes the device for a few seconds, emits a tone and returns to music. This is presumably because the device is ‘smart’ enough to know that it is connected to a music player here and not a phone.
Bluetooth Input – from Lenovo T60p Laptop
I then moved on to checking out the Bluetooth connection using my work laptop, a Lenovo T60p. I was able to pair the MAGNUM with the T60p relatively easily, and proceeded to play some .mp3s. The control buttons worked OK for this. The range was about 20 feet. Here again, because it was not connected to a phone, the Power/Answer/End button simply muted the device for a few seconds, emits a tone and returns to music. The range was about 20-30 feet, depending on how many obstacles might be present to present interference to the signal.
Bluetooth Input – from iMac
Next up was checking out the Bluetooth connection with my iMac. Here I had some issues with the pairing process and was never able to get it to pair. Bummer.
Bluetooth Input – from iPhone 3GS
Finally, I moved on to checking out the Bluetooth connection using my iPhone 3GS. Here, I wanted to check out some of the features that are phone-specific, like the Answer button. The Bluetooth pairing was even a bit more straightforward that with my T60p. I fired up the onboard iPod and began Bluetooth streaming some tunes to the MAGNUM, then used my landline to call my iPhone. When the iPhone began ringing, I pressed the Answer button on the MAGNUM and voilà! The MAGNUM paused the iPhone’s music and the MAGNUM’s onboard microphone allowed me to converse with it as if it were a speakerphone. Once the call was complete, I simply pressed the Answer button again and it ended the call on the iPhone and un-paused the music, right were I’d left off. Rather slick. The MAGNUM’s other control buttons also functioned as expected with the iPhone/Bluetooth combo, including the Last Number Redial, Transfer to Phone and Voice Dialing.
I’m no audiophile, but I like my tunes. That said, I found the sound quality to be average to pretty good. I’m not sure I like it as much as I would if the speakers were both aimed toward me, creating true stereo sound. I don’t own any other portable speaker systems similar to this that I could use for comparison purposes. However, my wife has a Sony ICF-CS10iP iPhone/iPod Speaker Dock/Clock Radio that puts out some quite good sound, and I suppose I would rate the MAGNUM close to, if not slightly below, that system. For the size of the speakers and their orientation with respect to each other, the MAGNUM’s sound is really not bad.
I’ve already mentioned some of the MAGNUM’s accessories above, but here’s the scoop on the remaining ones, the case and the strap. The case has a cylindrical-shaped main compartment that is sized to fit the MAGNUM perfectly and has a zip-around cover. Either end of this main compartment has a mesh cover that allows sound to escape.
Off the side of the case is a smaller compartment that I assume is meant to hold the other accessories, such as the cable and AC adapter.
There is also a small hole on one end of this compartment–for what, I have no idea. On the bottom of the case are two small holes that I assume must be portals for plugging the AC power and line out cables into the MAGNUM through the case, so you can operate the MAGNUM while inside the case.
On the opposite side of the case from this side compartment are two straps with Fastex-style quick-release buckles.
Finally, on top of the case are two D-rings to which can be attached the hooks of the strap. The strap looks a lot like an actual belt, with a combination of an adjustable nylon web and leather with buckle portions.
I have to admit, the case and strap are a bit of an enigma to me. I can’t quite figure out how the two side buckles would be used, unless to strap it to the handlebars of one’s bike. And I really can’t see myself slinging this thing over my shoulder to haul the MAGNUM around town, but some might do this. That said, the case does hold the device and accessories rather well.
As I was preparing the last few edits to this review, I noticed that the MAGNUM is currently not shown on the main Yubz site. I emailed Yubz about this and they responded, “Yubz MAGNUM is available for customer to order but now we put it as a offline retail item” and that a special form must be filled out to order it. However, I also Googled Yubz MAGNUM and found this page, which shows the price to now be $164.95 instead of the previous $109.95, and it appears to be available in red, green and yellow in addition to black. Not sure why Yubz has doing this, but there you go.