Backyard Party Time

Summer’s arrival means it’s time to peel your pasty self off of the couch and head outside for a little sunshine and fresh air. But just because you’re stepping outside the indoor A/V sanctuary doesn’t mean you have to go all Trappist monk with your entertainment. And I’m not talking about dragging an iPod and headphones or (heaven forbid) some relic of a boombox outside. Electronics companies recognize that more and more living — and, more important, entertaining — is taking place out of doors, and they have responded in kind with tons of cool new options to enjoy music and video outside the home.

When we talk about outdoor entertainment, we’re talking about the backyard. The backyard is where barbecues happen. The backyard is where lounging by the pool happens. The backyard is where hanging out with a cooler full of Pliny the Elder (we can dream) happens. If there’s gonna be a summertime party, chances are that it’s going down in the backyard, and that means you’ll need some A/V gear out there that’s up to the task.

ION Audio Water Rocker

ION Audio’s Water Rocker is a two-part system consisting of a transmitter to hold your iDevice (or other portable) and a receiver/ speaker. The transmitter can either run on AC power or go fully portable using three AA batteries. It has a minijack headphone connection located behind a hinged cover, along with RCA inputs suitable for connecting a cable box or other audio source. The speaker is a sealed sphere and runs on six AA batteries. A built-in FM tuner (with 20 presets) lets it run independently of the transmitter, meaning you could take the speaker somewhere and enjoy radio without worrying about your iDevice getting lost or wet.

The Water Rocker’s wireless transmission range was fair; it had a bit of trouble broadcasting from my kitchen to my pool area. Fortunately, there are three selectable broadcast channels, and one was usually less prone to interference than the others.

I put ION Audio’s “IPX7-level fully waterproof and submersible” claim to the test by leaving the Water Rocker outside in several rainstorms, tossing it into the bathtub with my 5-year-old daughter, and letting it float for a few days in my pool. The unit’s two speakers sit right above the water line, and I quickly noticed that any jostling — like, say, from a nearby 5-year-old — can cause the speakers to fill with water. This resulted in muffled sound — which is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from speakers filled with water.

Considering that the Water Rocker’s speaker drivers aren’t much larger than those you’d find in a speakerphone, its sound was decent. However, detail was limited, there was almost no bass to speak of, and it started to sound strained and distorted when pushed above moderate volumes. So the Water Rocker is probably not an ideal choice to drive your next party, although you can connect up to 10 speakers to one transmitter, which lets you easily cover a large area with sound.

I found the perfect application for the Water Rocker to be floating next to me while I was lying on a raft and enjoying some low-level background music. And I like that it included a selectable sleep/shut-off timer— perfect for reminding you to “turn before you burn” when soaking up rays.