By BENJAMIN ROMAN
Music is a great companion on a ride, run or hike — motivating you on a long climb, adding to the thrill of a steep descent. And headphones are great when you want to seal out the world. But wires are a pain, and sometimes you need to hear what’s going on around you.
A boom box bungeed to your handlebars is one option. A better approach is something like the cy.fi Wireless Sport Speaker, which costs $159 for the iPod-compatible model at www.mycyfi.com. This product lets cyclists and other athletes rock their tunes while still hearing their surroundings.
The streamlined speaker is slightly bigger than a full-size iPod, and it weighs just 3.7 ounces. A matchbook-size transmitter plugs into the dock connector on your iPod, which can be safely stashed away — volume control, track selection, and play/pause are controlled with buttons on the cy.fi speaker.
No wires are needed, as the iPod and cy.fi speaker communicate via Kleer Wireless technology, which is touted as having higher quality sound with very low power usage when compared to Bluetooth. A full charge of the cy.fi’s lithium-polymer battery delivers about six hours of music playback.
In my test, audio quality was mediocre. Music was fairly flat. Bass tones were weak. But the cy.fi’s sound is passable, especially considering the setting (on a bike). It can crank some impressive volume for such a little package — loud enough to hear your music over passing traffic while cycling.
Aside from the potential safety advantages of ditching your headphones, the cy.fi lets you share your music with friends or training buddies. Up to four speakers can be synced to the same source iPod, and the transmitter is rated to 30 feet. I found the distance was less with obstructions in the way, but with a clear line of sight I actually got music 100 feet from my iPod.
The included quick-release bracket clips and lanyard loop provide a wide range of mounting options (bicycle frame, handlebars, backpack strap, etc.). The speaker seems fairly durable, and the manufacturer promises the cy.fi is water- and shock-resistant. I wouldn’t clip it to my helmet while kayaking or anything, but it should do fine on a drizzly ride or for a day at the beach.
My test version, to be released in October, is an upgrade compatible with the iPhone 3Gs, meaning you can use it to listen on phone calls as well as play music. The cy.fi speaker doesn’t have a microphone, so it’s only for listening on the phone; you must use a phone’s built-in mic to talk.
Cy.fi also comes in a $149 Bluetooth version for use with non-Apple mobile phones and mp3 players.
The Bottom Line: This unique sports speaker is a bit pricey, and the audio quality is not stellar. But the cy.fi Wireless Sports Speaker is a clever and compact option for headphone-free music during your training and travels.
—Contributor Benjamin Roman is a writer and design consultant from Venice, Calif.