Review: Nyne Rock portable Bluetooth boombox

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At max, the Nyne Rock can play for a little over 8 hours per charge, 15 at half-volume(Credit: Stanley Goodner/Gizmag)

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There are plenty of portable audio devices to choose from these days, many of which conveniently fit in bags or backpacks for carrying. But sometimes a bigger beast is called for. We got the chance to kick back and crank up one of the latest wireless speakers from Nyne, the Rock.

Design & Connectivity

The Nyne Rock Bluetooth speaker is the kind that you carry with two hands. Or at least a full-finger grip using the built-in handle. Measuring 21 x 9.75 x 6.75 in (53.3 x 24.7 x 17.1 cm) and weighing 12.13 lb (5.5 kg), this rhombus-shaped speaker is classified as boombox-portable. Inside or out, the Nyne Rock commands attention while demanding a bit of space.

The flat black, rubberized exterior is the kind that resists the occasional scrape or scuff. It's rugged only up to a point, as the thin metal grilles can dent easily. But the Nyne Rock does offer IPX-3 resistance and covered ports, essentially making it splash- and dirt-proof. It's fine with surf and sand as long as you don't drop or dunk it.

Controls are neatly arrayed across the top, under silicone that glows white (blue for hands-free button) through the buttons while the speaker is on. Unlike many speakers that herald the power up/down sequence with a unique (oftentimes obnoxious) jingle, the Nyne Rock keeps it simple with a two-beep maximum. Devices can connect wirelessly to the Nyne Rock via Bluetooth 4.0, or, if you're feeling fancy, the NFC spot to the right of the buttons. Pairing is quick and simple, announced by a meek beep (two when you disconnect) when complete. There is no toggle for input mode, other than connecting an audio cable for an automatic switch.

Cable ports are located on the back of the Nyne Rock, underneath a lid with a silicone gasket. There are 3.5 mm connections for line in/out, as well as a 5 V / 1 A USB output to charge devices (only while the speaker is on). The speaker itself recharges through the included barrel-plug wall adapter, and a series of 5 LEDs light up to show an estimate of how much power is left in the tank when you press the little button. The estimate seems about as accurate as you'd find on a typical USB power bank. Just know that once you're down to two LEDs, there's really only 20 percent left, functionally. And to conserve energy, the speaker automatically turns off after five or so minutes of inactivity.

Like most Bluetooth-enabled speakers available, the Nyne Rock features a built-in microphone for hands-free voice conversation. But unlike so many others that fall short of being useful, the Rock is (surprisingly) good. The only real complaint by either side of a phone conversation may be that voices are not loud enough. If you're sitting within a few feet and enunciate/project towards the Rock, you'll come through clearly. There's no static, muffling, or sounding like you're speaking through a tube (and vice-versa), and all but the loudest background noises about you are omitted.

The Rock's Bluetooth wireless performance is solid, maintaining a functional connection up to the listed 33 ft (10 m) distance. The occasional passing body – or even someone standing right in the way – doesn't even cause the Nyne Rock to flinch at that range. You can push it a few feet further (even tested through two interior walls) before the music playback starts to choke, depending. This speaker is well above average for Bluetooth signal strength. If weak wireless connections are a pet peeve, the Nyne Rock may suit you well. After being turned on, the speaker looks to connect with the last known device. A press-hold on the hands-free button performs double-duty to put the Rock into Bluetooth pairing mode.

Sure, there are speakers a fraction of the Rock's size that perform with similar quality and possibly last longer per charge. But those ones are pushing volume limits while the Nyne Rock is barely getting started. And when done, this speaker needs only a few hours to fully-charge back up.

Included with the Nyne Rock is documentation, an audio cable, the wall adapter, and an assortment of international plug tips. Nice and simple.

Audio Performance

Not only does the Nyne Rock offer excellent wireless reach, the Bluetooth signal is devoid of any underlying hiss or buzz. Even with sound muted through a connected device, all you can hear from the Rock is near-silence and no noise. There's a total of 33 volume steps on the speaker, with the lowest level emitting zero sound regardless of device volume. Not all speakers do this. Each volume button press is met with a blink of the blue-lit hands-free button, with min/max levels earning a double-blink of all buttons. The Nyne Rock also remembers the last volume it was set at upon being turned on.

The Nyne Rock can get piercingly loud, probably louder than would typically be desired for indoor use. However, for best results, you'll want to keep the connected device's volume under 70 percent if the speaker is set to max. That's about where distortion through excess volume starts to develop, turning everything (vocals too) sharp, coarse, and crunchy, as if it all were being pulsed in a blender. It sounds worse inside than out, and in reality the volume level and projection is good enough to make complete max volume unnecessary.

But the larger issue, which varies by music track and genre, is internal resonance and vibration. When playing songs, such as Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes or Angel by Massive Attack, you can hear this throaty, buzzing rattle and bark as the Nyne Rock attempts to handle the combination and pace of instruments.

The noise is independent of the resting surface and sounds the same, regardless if the speaker sits atop wood, brick, or concrete, or if you're holding it by the handle. During a raucous party, no one may notice or even care much about the added noise of it all. Otherwise, lowering the volume is the only way to mitigate this effect that can be quite pervasive throughout the lows.

Due to its design, the Nyne Rock has a broad dispersal pattern that could almost be considered omnidirectional. Naturally, the best area for listening is going to be the front 90 degree arc from at least 10 ft (3 m) away. Circle beyond that and the music sounds slightly less complete (the highs diminish some), but equally enjoyable nonetheless. This makes it pretty easy to position the speaker without giving it a second thought: on a shelf, up against a wall, vehicle tailgate, central location, etc. As for projection, the Nyne Rock capably covers (without distortion) over 800 sq ft (74 sq m) of backyard space to entertain two dozen guests at a BBQ. Zero complaints.

No matter the volume level or listening distance, the Nyne Rock can't quite deliver stereo imaging or lateral movement across the soundstage. But considering how this speaker seems better-suited for wide projection, it's still not bad to listen to and enjoy. The openness and slightly-forward presentation of the soundstage definitely makes up for it, as vocals and instruments have sufficient space for defined edges of sound. You can pick out individual elements without a sense of excessive overlap. The depth is good. Good enough to hear vocals up front, drums in the back, and everything else in the middle. But it's done so without coming out as muddled or claustrophobic.

Although the Nyne Rock dishes out loud music with ease, softer parts of songs aren't (completely) left behind. Pushing the volume closer to max definitely shifts focus towards what's big and bold. But once you drop it to a more moderate level, the balance improves so that subtler elements come into play. It's not hard to pick up on small details, such as pursed lips uttering soft consonants, or the sound of maracas gently shaking in the background. While not audiophile-grade, most should find the level of detail plentiful.

Despite being able to push some serious bass, the Nyne Rock handles highs with (surprisingly) delicate grace and power. Stringed instruments sound natural, with plucks and sharp hits quick on the decay. Notes sound crisp, distinct, and flow without hum or blending into each other. Hi-hats and cymbals retain their metallic tone when struck. While the latter doesn't quite have that full "shushing" quality to it, you'll be hard-pressed to hear thin, tinny, or sizzling bits. Vocals sing clear and sweet, separate enough from the instrumentals, but not so far to feel detached.

As music moves into the midrange, the Nyne Rock starts to offer a mixed bag of results. Mids that play closer to the highs maintain a better quality of sound. Trumpets blare with unabashed tartness, and saxophones deliver familiar burnished tone. This speaker accurately captures the throaty-rich vocals of The White Buffalo, or the smooth crooning of Michael Buble.

But elements quickly suffer coloration as they dip down towards the lows, especially at higher volume levels. Vocals and guitars develop a warm hum that softens edges considerably. More complex songs can lead the mid-to-low mids sounding thick and muddled. But at least it scores points for staying true to itself and the advertised power, even if heavy-handed with genres of rock, metal, pop, and similar.

Without a doubt, the Nyne Rock is balanced in favor of the lows. Big, muscular lows that aren't afraid to flex and strut. Beats come with an attack that is passably quick, but definitely in-your-face. The decay is slower by comparison, which turns tight, bouncy drum hits into the semi-lingering kind. Warmth, clarity, and tone are pleasing. You can zero in on the characteristic sound of bass or cello, and sometimes the speaker enunciates the purring effect of such strings.

But it's the impact and sub-bass rumble where the Nyne Rock really shows its stuff. Stand in range and you can expect to feel the music as much as hear it. Sure, it leans towards boomy with how the Rock emphasizes mass and volume over finesse, depth, and richness. But you can expect to enjoy some seriously beefed-up EDM and hip-hop.

The verdict

The Nyne Rock Bluetooth speaker has a subdued yet edgy look that lends a somewhat rugged appearance without drawing too much attention. Although functionally good, the build does have a bit of that factory cookie-cutter feel to it. The battery life is not too bad, considering the physical size and decibel output potential. The Bluetooth wireless and hands-free microphone are surprisingly good, better than what you get with most portable speakers.

Despite all of the Nyne Rock's strong points, it may not be for everyone, depending on size and/or audio quality preferences. But it certainly delivers on its promise of volume and power. Overall, the Nyne Rock makes music fun and enjoyable to listen to, so long as you don't take too critical an ear to it. If you're looking for greater depth or richness of sound, there are other speakers better-suited to the task.

Some of the Rock's audio aspects can be a little rough around the edges, especially at higher volume levels. Too much leads to unwanted internal noise and poor mid- and low-end reproduction, especially in more enclosed spaces. But we're talking about a boombox here. This is the kind of speaker that favors pool parties and backyard BBQs with loud and active people. Especially those that appreciate open, projected sound accompanied by forceful sub-bass rumble.

The Nyne Rock is available for US$$249.

Product page: Nyne Rock

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