Eton Soulra XL - Excellent in the Sun
Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.
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I'm writing this just after Memorial Day, entering a season when I (like a lot of other people) spend a significant amount of time outside in the sun. Naturally, I like music to accompany me whether I'm working or playing outside. While there are plenty of portable iPod speaker systems available, none have quite the appeal that the Etón Soulra XL does — especially this time of year.
The Etón Soulra XL is a solar-powered iPod®/iPhone® speaker system, making it a logical (and green) choice for outdoor fun. But can a single solar panel actually power a speaker system?
I reviewed the original Soulra system, and it did a pretty good job. The Soulra XL performs even better.
An upgrade from the original
Comparing the two, the Soulra XL is more of an extension and refinement to the original Soulra. The XL does weigh almost twice as much (about 7.1 lbs.) as the original, but that's the only down side. It's bulkier because it's bigger. And it's bigger in ways that count.
The solar panel has a surface area of 72 square inches (as compared to the Soulra's 26-1/4 square inches), and it's used to maximum efficiency. It also has two woofers and two tweeters (the original has two full-range speakers).
Time to charge
According to the specs, the Soulra XL should completely charge the batteries in five hours under optimal conditions. When I took it out of the box, I promptly went outside and placed it in a sunny place in the yard, facing south. That was around 10 in the morning. By four o'clock, the Soulra XL was showing a full charge. Nice!
Props for the solar panel
Another big improvement is the design of the solar panel. The original Soulra's panel folded over to double as a cover for the iPod docking well. The XL's panel is exposed at all times. It rests on the back of the triangular XL, and can flip up. Whether the sun was shining on the back or the front of the XL, I could still keep the system charging by just rotating the panel.
A well-designed well
Another nice feature is the docking well itself. The player sits in a recessed dock that has a hinged cover. This tinted plastic cover reduces glare (same principle as sunglasses), so I could see the iPod's display. One thing — I had to leave the display's backlight on continually in order to see anything through the tinted cover. Fortunately, the Soulra XL also charges the docked player, even when the system's running on batteries — another reason to keep that panel pointed sunward at all times!
which is covered when the solar panel is folded down.
Control and power
The system comes with a remote, and has a recessed storage spot for it on the back of the XL. It, like the the Soulra has a rubberized coating, so you don't have to worry about it getting splashed (I don't recommend diving into the pool with it, though).
Personally, a small remote is just one more thing to keep track of, so I generally stuck with the control buttons on the top of the XL. Play, pause, skip, stop, and volume, of course. What more do you need?
Over the weekend, we had some rainy days. No problem — the Soulra XL also has an AC power adapter for inside use.
A case for travel
The Soulra XL was made for outdoor, portable use. It has a rubberized exterior, making it moisture-resistant, so I didn't have to worry about taking it poolside. The provided detachable strap came in handy — it's well padded with gel, so it never cut into my shoulder as I lugged the Soulra XL around.
Outside voices, please!
The sound of the system is also made for the outdoors. The system has two woofers, two tweeters, and four bass ports (two front-facing, and two side-firing). Even when I set it in the middle of our yard, I didn't have to worry about the sound dispersing into the empty space. If I was in front of the XL, my music sounded focused, and loud.
The bass hit with a nice punch, and the treble had enough of an edge to keep the music defined. Now make no mistake — the Soulra XL will not replace your home audio system. But it's not supposed to. Since I mostly listened to it outside, I stuck to my outside music mix — classic rock, hip-hop (new and old skool) pop and electronica. It all sounded great al fresco. And I didn't have to stay right next to the system, either. Even across the yard, I could clearly make out the music (both treble and bass).
I'd consider the Soulra XL a must-have for outdoor recreation. I enjoyed it while I worked in the yard, and relaxing in the shade. Keeping a portable system powered with four or more "C" or "D" cell batteries can be an expensive proposition after a while. Keeping my tunes going with the same sun that made it such a glorious day seemed to be an elegant solution to me.