iPhone Life magazine

Origaudio: Smaller and Louder

OrigaudioIt is one of the iconic images of a generation: In the 1989 movie, Say Anything…, Lloyd Dobler stands outside Diane Court’s window, boom box held high over his head, blasting a serenade of Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes. Those were the days of the baggy pants, backward hats, and giant, shoulder-worn boom boxes. Often, carrying these barely-portable monsters of music required a friend to carry your assortment of cassette tapes.... and another to lug around an extra set of D size batteries.

Times change. Although the baggy pants and backwards hats may still be around, those massive boom boxes have gone the way of the dodo bird for most of us. They have been replaced by iPods, iPhones, and other portable music players. The problem with these solutions, however, is that they are intended to offer an isolated listening experience with headphones rather than massive bass-blasting speakers. This is fantastic for losing yourself on a crowded train, but not so great for serenading the beautiful valedictorian of your school.You simply cannot create that massive music sound with stock white earbuds.

So, what is a guy to do when he really wants to impress the girl of his dreams by blasting Peter Gabriel at the front of her house? The folks at Origaudio think they have the solution... or several solutions, to be more precise.

“You simply cannot create massive sound with stock white earbuds.”

Back in 2009, Jason Lucash and Mike Szymczak saw this same problem after spending nearly six years traveling. The devices got smaller and smaller, but lugging around those massive speakers (even the portable ones) was still quite cumbersome. So, they set out to create a solution which would allow listeners to continue blaring their music at full volume, without a bag full of heavy speakers or equipment.

I spoke with Jason Lucash via email, and he explained their early efforts at creating that portable, packable, listening experience:

“Since we were traveling so much, we were lugging big bulky speakers around in our suitcase that took up a lot of room and ran on battery power. We had an original idea to put speakers into Chinese take-out boxes because they flat packed and didn’t take up a lot of room. When that idea failed, we went to the idea of the Japanese art of Origami and came up with the first idea of our Fold N’ Play recycled speakers. They were perfect for traveling because they could fold flat and took up hardly any room in our suitcases!”

That product, the portable and eco-friendly “Fold and Play” speaker ($14.99, origaudio.com), earned Origaudio a spot on Time Magazine’s, “Top 50 Inventions of 2009” list. Had they stopped there, it would have been sufficient, but Origaudio kept going. Today, they offer a full array of portable and transportable listening solutions. The folks at Origaudio were kind enough to send me a taste of their latest products: their ultra-portable Rock-it, and the eruptible and expandable Volcano speaker system.

Rock-It

($50, origaudio.com)

The Rock-It is the ultimate portable speaker for the road warrior. What makes it so incredible? How about the complete lack of an actual space-consuming speaker? This tiny little tube, which comes in a variety of colors, is more like an anti-speaker in terms of size.

The Rock-It sends vibrating sound waves through the Rock-It pod (which is located at the end of the Rock-It tube). Just stick the Rock-It pod onto any surface and the sound waves will transmit through the surface and amplify into the air, turning that surface into a speaker. While you may have seen this technology before, it has never been incorporated into a package this small before. The Rock-It can easily slide right into your purse, gear bag, or pocket.

I tested out the Rock-It on several different surfaces. It worked great with a hollow container, like a cup. The interior of the cup formed the perfect acoustical environment for amplifying and projecting the sound. I did find, however, that your cup needs to have a flat surface on the bottom. Otherwise, the Rock-It pod will not adhere properly, and the sound may not project adequately. If you do not have a cup or similar object, don’t despair. This works great on any soft, semi-porous, solid surface. For example, I tested it on my bedroom door, creating a literal wall of sound, which was extremely impressive. The kitchen table, which is made from a denser wood, however, did not fare quite as well. I was absolutely blown away by this speaker system. I have used speakers based upon similar conductive technology before, but I have never seen it executed so well… and in such a tiny package.

Volcano

($24.99, Origaudio.com)

The other Origaudio speaker I had the chance to evaluate was the Volcano. This is another ultraportable speaker, based on “bass expansion” technology. Like the Rock-It, the Volcano is compact enough to fit into your gear or travel bag; but once connected to your music source, it will quickly erupt with sound. A quick twist of the unit expands it from a portable piece of plastic into a massive sound blaster that would make even Lloyd Dobler proud. Of course, if one Volcano speaker is not enough to fill your space, just connect two or more together and create an amplified chain of sound. This will even allow you to create a surround sound experience by stringing multiple units together and placing them throughout a room or space.

I was a little less impressed by the sound quality of the Volcano than the Rock-It. The Volcano had a tinny sound, when compared to other speakers I have tested using the same audio source. For the record, I used the HTC Arrive and 1st Generation iPod touch for this article.

In addition to these speaker options, Origaudio is constantly innovating, testing the latest trends, and developing new ideas. Their newest product focuses on the recent trend of customization. Origaudio’s Doodle speaker ($39.99, origaudio.com), which I did not test for this article, allows you to upload any image, artwork, or design into the Doodle editor on their website, sit back, and wait for your personalized listening unit to arrive in the mail. Of course, the innovation does not stop there. Jason and Mike have plenty of plans for the future, which they plan to reveal soon, though it does appear that more customized products may be in the works.

I am incredibly impressed by Origaudio, and I think Lloyd Dobler would be as well. What is even more impressive than their speakers, however, are the contributions the company makes to the music industry and community in general. A portion of all Origaudio sales is donated to the Music National Service, which operates Musician Corps. Jason explained the charity as a sort of musical Peace Corps. This organization “recruits, trains and places musicians in high-need settings wherever music can reach, teach or heal. In exchange for a full-time year of service in public schools, low-income housing projects, children’s and VA hospitals and other settings.”

Lloyd Dobler may disagree, but I found the size and portability of the Origaudio speakers to be absolutely incredible. Then again, holding an iPod and Rock-It system connected to a Coke can in your girlfriend’s front yard would probably not be quite as romantic. Perhaps you should keep a giant boom box on reserve just for those occasions.

All of the speakers mentioned in this article are available from Origaudio (www.origaudio.com). When you order your speakers, be sure to use the coupon code, “iphonelife” for an immediate 20% off your order.Doug Goldring is an attorney in Washington, DC. He is the editor emeritus of JustAnotherMobileMonday.com and has written about mobile technology on numerous websites. You can contact Doug at doug@justanothermobilemonday.com.