Over the last couple of years, I’ve come to enjoy riding to music. It seems to keep the legs spinning a little easier, particularly during longer days like when doing the Breck Epic or a six-hour race. And, well, on the road it’s just pleasant.
The downside is drowning out ambient noise like riders coming up on the trail or cars sneaking up behind you, which can be dangerous. Two alternatives to having your cake and eating it too are the Tunebug Shake and Yurbud’s in-ear adapters for the iPod/iPhone headphones.
The Tunebug Shake is a small, remote speaker that can operate on it’s own battery and connect to your playlist via Bluetooth or run off your device’s power source via an included audio cable. Yurbuds are soft, rubbery covers for the ubiquitous white, cheap earbuds that come with every iDevice (they’re also sold with earphones as an option) that are sized to fit your ears comfortably while still allowing outside noise to pass through.
So, are they any good? Which option is best? Read on…
The Tunebug Shake retails for $99 and comes with a 3.5mm audio cable, USB charging cable (plugs into any iDevice USB wall wort or directly to your PC), a neoprene helmet mount with Velcro strap and their Gecko helmet mount that uses peel-n-stick attachments to mount to solid helmets like those used for BMX/DJ. Oh, and the owner’s manual.
The actual unit is really small. There are just two buttons, each with raised bumps so they can be used without looking. To turn the unit on, touch both simultaneously. Hold your fingers on them for a second again to turn it off. Audible beeps let you know it worked. The double button raises the volume, the single button lowers it. They work well, even with gloves on. Actually, they work too well. You don’t even need to touch them to activate the button, just get your fingers close enough and they’ll react, which means the unit kept turning on when I was only trying to reposition it or insert it into the neoprene sleeve. The upside is that adjusting volume while riding is pretty easy…you only have to get your finger in the ballpark.
The unit weighs 71g, the strap and neoprene mount 16g. The audio cable, if you use it, is 7g. Total with cable is 94g. The cable is long enough to run down the inside of a jersey, out the bottom and into the top of the pocket to connect to your MP3 player. Or…
…you can mount it directly to your frame if it has a flat enough spot. This is not a recommended use by Tunebug, but it worked well enough that Evan could hear it while drafting me at 20+ MPH. Not clearly, mind you, but he could generally tell what was playing. As long as the small speaker on the bottom has solid contact with a surface and a bit of pressure holding it there, the music is clear. Too much pressure it’s muddled (and might damage the speaker), too little and it’s tinny with no volume. Get it right, though, and it sounds surprisingly good.
My best results were wearing it on the back of my helmet as shown at the top of this post. I could hear it clearly even at 20 MPH. It provided a nice soundtrack to my ride without diminishing my ability to hear cars or carry on a conversation. Using Bluetooth and no wires, I could only eke out 45 minutes of play time before the Tunebug’s battery died, and it started in with warning beeps about 5 minutes before it went silent. With the cable, I’ve used it for a couple of hours and turned it off, so I haven’t tested it to the point of dying, but I suspect that’s where the 5 hours claimed run time comes in. More than likely, it’ll last long enough for any normal ride when running it off your MP3 player. I played off my iPhone 4 and it didn’t drain my phone’s battery too much. One small complaint is that the straps on the helmet mount are woefully short, making it difficult to get it properly tightened down, however, Tunebug’s website shows a newer, better looking strap so it’s likely been updated since we received our test unit.
The bonus with the Tunebug is that it works well for a desk speaker or when traveling for ambient music, too, and doesn’t require much space to pack. Just be sure to bring the charger cable.
YURBUDS EAR BUDS
Yurbuds are medical grade silicone bits that are ergonomically shaped to fit comfortably in your ears and stay there during activity. They’re available with two levels of earphones, from basic white ($29.99) that are identical to the ones that come with every Apple iPod or iPhone (with the inline mic/volume adjusters) to their upgraded Ironman series ($49.99, black with red buds). Honestly, as many pairs of these cheap Apple earphones as we have laying around here, it’d be nice if they offered a bud-only option so as to reduce e-waste.
To order, you upload a photo of your ear next to a quarter and they make a size recommendation.
Yurbuds’ claim to fame is their “Twist Lock” function. The shape of the silicone buds is such that you twist as you insert them and they slot into your ear, keeping them in place. In practice, it works pretty good, though I did have to adjust or pop them back in a few times during a four hour mountain bike ride. I tested them with the standard earphones (the silicone buds are the same for both their standard and Ironman series), and the audio quality is good. What makes them really cool is that, despite looking like they fill the ear, they allow all ambient noise to magically pass through. I could listen to my music at a reasonable volume and still carry on a conversation like normal. That means I could also hear most traffic…at lower speeds.
Why lower speeds? Because they suffer from excessive wind noise above 15mph, whether on the road or in the woods, which cuts into the music and hurts your ability to hear your surroundings. I tried several positions for the earphones, rotating them forward and backward slightly, and the wind noise persisted. It’s not unbearable, but it detracts from sound quality and ambient noise enough to recommend them for safe road riding if you use them in both ears.
That said, for general use, they’re amazingly comfortable. As in, you barely know they’re in, and unless you’re a total audiophile, they seem to improve the acoustics of otherwise mass-produced cheap earbuds, making them a pretty good option compared to in-ear sets costing several times more.
(PS – they won’t block out whining babies on airplanes…you’ll hear it all…but it means you can surreptitiously eavesdrop, too.)