Etón Soulra solar-powered iPod dock
Let there be light… and sound
Review While there are plenty of solar chargers to keep gadgets going in the great outdoors, sun-powered iPod speaker docks are rather thin on the ground. Step forward Californian company Etón Corporation, which specialises in portable and often eco-friendly products such as wind-up and solar radios.
Waiting for the sun: Etón's Soulra
The Soulra is a sturdy system encased in rubberised aluminium and IPX-4 rated to survive splashes and spraying from any angle, but only if its solar panel – which doubles as a cover for the iPod enclosure – is down.
Its solar cell is monocrystalline, which is slightly more efficient than other silicon semiconductors for the inevitable cloudy weather that will greet the Soulra in the UK, in contrast to the sunnier climes of the brand’s HQ. The panel charges a built-in, but replaceable lithium-ion battery that provides about four hours of continuous use, or longer if it stays out in bright light for a top-up. It charges your iPod or iPhone while doing so, too.
Though it’s not recommended for optimum performance, I found that the cell also charges indoors if facing a large window on a bright day. Sadly the panel doesn’t swivel to aim in absolutely any direction, you’d need to turn the whole device around.
If natural light is lacking and the battery is exhausted you can use the supplied adaptor to recharge from dirty old electricity. For this it uses 7W to charge, or roughly 10W when also energising an iPod. There is an auxiliary input for other MP3 players and phones but it won’t charge these and you’ll lose the track pausing and skipping provided by the Soulra’s remote.
Splashproof with its cover down – ideal for mishaps with hose-pipes or barbecue sauce.
LEDs show you at a glance if it’s charging by sunlight and when the battery is full. The LEDs also give an idea of how much juice remains. I tested the Soulra during a spell of mixed weather and though it charges reasonably well in sunshine, it naturally slows down in overcast conditions.
Alas, the sound quality is disappointingly below average for a medium sized speaker dock. More bass heavy tracks, such as Basic Space by The xx [http://thexx.info], fare reasonably well. Orchestral pieces sound rich enough but high notes are woolly and if things get loud, as during the Third Movement of Arvo Pärt’s Symphony No.3, then there is noticeable distortion at higher volume.
With something really busy, like Aim High from Paul Weller’s recent album Wake Up the Nation, it degrades into a raspy mess, even when playing in Apple’s Lossless format. Audiobooks and spoken word podcasts are mostly effective, with again a slightly muffled quality on top of the otherwise weighty sound. The sealed water-repelling, sand-proof speakers might be to blame for that.
Well-designed for the outdoors, but sonically leaves room for improvement
Whether your motive is green or simply to shave a few pennies from the electricity bill, running a speaker dock and keeping your iPod/Phone charged by harnessing sunlight is an attractive idea. However, the sound is a letdown and given the relatively high price it would take some time to recoup the extra cost by using free energy alone. ®
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