By Sarah Dandelles
The Explorer was a snap to set up and pair with my phone, and the initial charge took a few hours, easily indicated by an orange light near the port (a blue light in the speaker lets you know it’s paired with your device). And this speaker was seriously charged - it lasts 20 hours with normal use (!) and six at top volume with full bass. You can also use the Explorer to charge and power other things - it charged my always-dying phone in less than an hour. The bicycle mount (which comes standard with this speaker) took a painless five minutes to install, and is very sturdy. Riding in the city, I listened to music and tried to listen to a nonfiction book, and although both sounded fantastic through the Explorer, I wasn’t able to “stay tuned” to the book while dodging doors. Besides the power charging option, another great thing about this speaker is that it’s fully functional as a bluetooth device for your phone: when I got a phone call mid-ride, it paused my book and the call came right through, allowing me to talk on the phone hands-free in the same way I would in my car. Very easy to operate, too, with big accessible buttons.
This speaker, at 15 watts, a mere 1.5 pounds, and about 7.5 inches long and 2.75 inches deep, in a neutral olive green color, is quite powerful for music. Dreamwave Audio is a California-based company that only makes bluetooth speakers - eight of them, at last count - ranging from $30 to $300 in price. The Explorer comes in at the midpoint, $149, and is a robust and well-thought-out piece of equipment from which you’ll get many hours of enjoyment.
The sound is really high quality. I was surprised by the variety and subtlety of sound it reproduced, even at lower volumes. Riding through a forest preserve trail with Yo La Tengo was just blissful, and the Explorer handled a mix of very eclectic music elegantly. To be honest, I never thought about the quality of the sound because it was so clear and nuanced, without even a hint of distortion, ever. In the past I’ve said that the best way to listen to new music is in a car, but riding on an empty gravel path with a new album as my companion came in a close second in terms of really being able to hear the music.
A friend who is a DJ and builder of bike sound systems suggested that I test the speaker with “Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega - apparently, this song is the mother of the mp3, so I did that, too, just for fun. Sounded great! For my last ride, I took a long afternoon trail ride, and listened to a book the whole time. Lovely. Even when it rained a bit, I wasn’t worried, because the Explorer is rated IPX5 for water, dust, sand, and snow. Very impressive, and that protection would make this a great year-round camping speaker as well.
Ahhh, bike maintenance outside - with music!
Besides riding accompaniment, there were other uses I found for the speaker, too: Since it can be removed from the bike mount easily (without removing the mount itself), I brought it outside into the back yard on more than one occasion and was able to work on my bikes while Iron and Wine crooned next to me, and I brought it onto the porch with NPR and into the kitchen when I needed my hands free for chopping but wanted to hear the end of my audiobook.
About the Author:
Sarah Dandelles, a cycling advocate, editor and nonprofit director in Chicago, began commuting by bike in Chicago in 1999, went car-free in 2006, and rides a rotating stable of non-flashy bikes year-round (slowly and usually upright) for work and pleasure.
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