Seattle Sports On the Go Audio

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

A self-powered iPod player may not make it onto your trip’s list of mandatory gear. But for backpackers, canoe campers, and mountaineers wanting to bring tunes along into the wilderness — a little Neil Young around the campfire, anyone? — Seattle Sports Co.‘s On the Go Audio product offers an option.

Plug your iPod or other MP3 player into this mini boombox and you get instant audio that can crank loud enough to have fellow campers calling a ranger to complain. But the main venue for this unit — which measures about 3 × 3 × 2 inches and weighs less than a pound — is in the backcountry.

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Seattle Sports On the Go Audio player with Apple iPod

It has a crank arm on the side to self-power and charge a battery. There’s a solar array on top, letting you put it in the sun while setting up a tent to store enough juice for some Led Zeppelin later on under the stars.

In my test, the unit performed as promised. It was easy to operate with my iPod or while scanning AM/FM radio stations. A third frequency range, the WB band, picks up weather and forecast information for the area.

Another nice touch is the unit’s ability to charge an iPod or other USB-compatible player. A USB jack lets you mate your audio player with the On the Go Audio product. Crank the generator arm for a few minutes to add some life to your player’s battery.

All this functionality fits in a carrying case, which stows an iPod, a cord, and the speaker in a zippered nylon box on a carabiner clip. It costs $50.

To me, this is a relative bargain if you want audio outdoors. But performance and functionality are sacrificed for the low price. To start, audio quality from the tiny speaker is only mediocre. It has a limited range and can sound tinny. Don’t expect to hear quiet bass lines or subtle guitar harmonics. I’d compare the sound to that heard from a low-grade laptop computer.

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Seattle Sports On the Go Audio player in its included case

For charging the unit, you can use the crank arm. But get ready to work. The amount of cranking required until full charge is silly — the company (www.seattlesportsco.com) cites 40 minutes at 180 revolutions per minute to full charge, which is an eternity while spinning a small whizzing arm.

A solar charge is less efficient still. The time cited in direct sunlight to full charge is 35 hours.

I cheated and plugged my On the Go Audio into a wall outlet for a full charge before heading outdoors. The unit’s lithium-ion battery stores enough electricity for seven hours of radio play.

But for longer trips, the crank arm is a nice backup. You can spin it for a few minutes to add some juice, playing songs or tuning in the radio to hear weather information until the charge drains dry.

In a tent, the volume turned low, the On the Go Audio is a cool enhancement on a long trip. Then, before a summit attempt or a hard day on the trail, crank it up for motivation. Nothing like a little Radiohead in the morning to wake you up, break that wilderness quiet, and get you moving strong.

—Stephen Regenold writes a daily blog on outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.

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