Growing up in the 80s, I can remember a time when people would walk around all the time with boom boxes, like the Sony CFDS70, on their shoulders. They’d let their music of choice be heard by everyone around them. It was a part of the culture at that time, and much like “bling” was a status symbol in early 2000, the size of the box you carried was synonymous with your rep. In those days, we didn’t have the technology that we do now; just look at the number of ultra-portable speaker systems that are out there and you might wonder why anyone would carry around something big and bulky anymore. The Bag of Rhythm from the House of Marley attempts to bring us back to the times when it was cool to carry a big box of sound, and does it with style to spare making it one of the top-rated Bluetooth speakers.
Now, you might wonder why they call a “boom box” a “bag”, but the answer to that becomes apparent as soon as you take the Bag of Rhythm out of its box. You see, the Bag of Rhythm comes with its own little snap-on canvas carrying bag – unlike some other small speakers, like the Anker SoundCore Playtime Bluetooth portable, that expect you to fit them in your purse or backpack, the Bag of Rhythm is set up for you to carry it like the name implies: like it actually was a bag. Oh I’m sure you could take the canvas bag off of the sound system and use it to carry… well… something, but that isn’t point now is it? With the bag connected (and in my entire time reviewing the Bag of Rhythm I saw no need at all to remove it), you can transport it easily pretty much anywhere you need to go. Just grab and carry. You may also want to visit our AudioEngine A2 Speaker review if you’d like desktop speakers that you can use with Bluetooth capabilities.
Now while the Bag of Rhythm might not be as big as some of the systems we saw in the “hay day” of carrying boom boxes, it dwarfs a lot of the other iPhone and iPod sound docks out there. The Bag of Rhythm clocks in at roughly fifteen pounds, and is 11 X 26 X 10 – big enough to make you thankful for the carrying bag after a day of lugging it around. Now astute readers will see that I just said that it is an iPhone and iPod dock, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. I understand fully well that a good number of people out there are toting their entire music libraries on their phones and MP3 players, but if you’re going to make me reminisce for the simpler days of my childhood and not throw in a tape deck or at least a CD player while charging a premium for a boom box, I get a little sad. Yes, it’s great that they decided to add an aux port for those people not using all things Apple, but I just can’t help but think how much cooler it would be to have a touch of retro built into the Bag of Rhythm. If you are in the market for a much more portable Bluetooth speaker then you better go through our Bass Egg Speaker review.
Desires for retro trappings aside, the Bag of Rhythm is a truly beautiful piece of hardware, and its design looks like you are carrying around a pair of bongos (I would love to have had something like this around when I used to follow Rusted Root in my younger days). That top panel that I like so much is made of Eco-friendly FSC-certified Birch – that’s one thing that is great about House of Marley product, they incorporate Eco-friendly materials pretty much everywhere they can. Under that Birch is dual one-inch tweeters and four and a half-inch woofers, and the entire thing is ported on both sides to get the air flowing. Unfortunately, the great style that is shown on the top does not translate throughout the rest of the Bag of Rhythm. Yes, when you have the canvas bag attached it keeps its looks up, and still resembles the bongo drums I referenced earlier, but take that bag off and you are greeted with a plain black matte shell. It is completely uninspired and just doesn’t fit with anything else I have seen from the House of Marley. While it is true that everything can’t be perfect, that just seems like a glaring fault to me – at least a splash of color would have made it better. If this product doesn’t fit your style, you might want something modern as you’ll see in our Soundance SDY019 review.
Now the design and style don’t mean anything if the sound can’t hold up – and for the most part, the Bag of Rhythm did just fine. I tested out my usual mix of music with the Bag of Rhythm (as I’ve said before, pretty much every genre except country), and it all sounded tremendous at low to medium levels. With the volume below 70% (mind you, that is incredibly loud with this thing), everything was great – highs were crisp and clear, lows were deep and thunderous, and the mids were warm and not distorted. Once you pushed the volume though, things started to get a little ugly. Anything with a lot of bass as high volumes is going to sound pretty awful in the Bag of Rhythm, which is a real shame. I tried some Rusted Root even some Marley hoping that it was just a fluke with metal, but alas – the distortion carried through to even that. It was almost as if the whole system was shaking – maybe it is because of the relative hollowness of the Bag of Rhythm itself, but it wasn’t what I expected at all.
Another curious negative is the power requirements. Now with a company that apparently makes a lot of effort to be as Eco-friendly, you might be thinking that you would get a lithium-ion rechargeable battery to keep the music coming – or better yet, a solar cell to keep it even more “green” – after all, that premium price tag has to be for something right? Unfortunately, you would be dead wrong. Not only does the Bag of Rhythm not come with a rechargeable battery, but it also takes a WHOPPING six D-cell batteries. Now I’m not one that normally goes around measuring my carbon footprint or anything like that, but even I know how bad that many discarded batteries are for the Earth. It thankfully has a power adapter for when you are stationary, but I just don’t understand the thought process behind making a portable sound system with an Eco-friendly design and not keeping that idea throughout the entirety of the said sound system.
The Bottom Line: The Bag of Rhythm does a great job of putting out stellar sound when kept at a low or medium volume and has style to spare, but it unfortunately also comes with bad sound at high volumes, and none of the bells and whistles of other sound systems out there.
You can find the Bag of Rhythm at the House of Marley for $350