Listening to the sounds of nature while bike riding has its benefits – birds chirping, sounds of wild animals making their way through bushes, snippets of conversations from people sitting on their front porch. Then there is the road traffic from loud semi trucks, noise bleeds from the various car stereos whizzing past you, the sound of your tires, and finally the sounds inside your head. Riding in silence is beneficial, as it allows one to enter into deep thought sorting out concept and fresh ideas, getting past hurdles where one was previous stuck on, but sometimes it gets a bit much and music is required to switch things up a bit. Listening to music while riding can alter your riding style dramatically, relaxing classical on a country side road, fast paced high intensity beats while climbing a hill, even spoken word comedy shows to force you to work on your balance skills while one is busting their gut laughing. While headphones are an excellent way to capture the dynamics of a recording, it poses a significant safety risk for vehicles sneaking up on you, people yelling at you in the event of danger, or physical damage if you manage to take a fall and land on the small units. Instead, I searched far and wide for a suitable pair of speakers to accompany me on my around the world bicycle tour. It took a few experiments to get the right combination and I think I have a winner – The IHome HM77 Capsule speakers.
I’m now on my second pair of these low priced units after an incident where I misplaced one while stealth camping in a graveyard – and missed them dearly dearly while I was awaiting replacements searching for someone to mail them to while riding. I had ridden nearly 20,000km on the first pair, with no signs of them starting to fail or cause issues, belting out sound 8-10 hours a day constantly.
IHome was launched in 2005 primarily to market products specifically related to the Apple IPod line of portable MP3 Players. At time of writing, they offer 62 products for various applications ranging from speaker docks for the nightstand, headphones with a superior sound quality to the in-box Apple offerings, boom boxes, and of course a line of portable speakers. I chose the iHM77 speakers based upon their size, aesthetics, sound quality and battery life.
The iHM77 Capsule Speakers are sold in a pair, meant to be transported together due to magnets being built into their base for easy transportation. With a small amount of force one is able to seperate the two speakers and connect them to any audio device that takes a standard 3.5mm male jack, typically used in Portable Mp3 Players, Cellular Phones, and Computers. The speakers themselves seperately expand by means of holding the top and the bottom of the speaker and rotating 10 degrees releasing the units in an accordion like way allowing for better low end sound reproduction. They are small enough to place in a pocket with the dimensions of 2”Height, 2” Width and 2” Depth while weighing under a pound. A small power switch horizontally protrudes from the side of the speaker towards the base allowing one to turn the units on or off.
Made from a durable plastic, these speakers come in 3 colours – Black, Red, and Purple. For the first pair I owned, red was the colour of choice, and I found the units to be good at taking bumps and scratches. Naturally, wear and tear occurred of the units due to repeat vibrations, and some of the red paint flaked off to show a white plastic shell. The power switch especially took most of the abuse, but did not break or snap which I had expected to occur within the first 2 weeks of riding. Flush mounted on the other side of the speaker at the same height as the power switch is a combination port used to charge the speakers and deliver the audio via a special cable. You must use IHomes proprietary cable even though the connection is a standard USB Mini port. Turning the speakers on will light up a small Red LED beside the power switch to show that they have adequate power or while charging, and turn blue when they are fully charged. I now own the Purple models purely for high visibility reasons should I lose another speaker while riding, and the fact that they were $10 cheaper. It’s not a fashion show while riding. A small plastic grill protects the single driving speaker and I’ve yet to have any large debris fall into the speakers to damage them. Dust and Dirt does collect on the center cone, which is a reflective chrome type material, but this can be cleaned easily with a Q-Tip and some rubbing alcohol for those that want to go through the effort.
Based on a few other competitors models I tried, I wasn’t expecting anything ground-breaking with the HM77’s – but was pleasantly surprised when I performed a sound test with various types of music at low to high volume. These things are LOUD. When stopped they are loud enough to blank out any other noises around you, and while riding are still loud enough to hear the music, vocals, even low end bass frequencies while riding. They aren’t loud enough to block out the noises of traffic sneaking up behind you while riding which is a must. They are amplified, and will belt sounds as loud as possible – which can cause distortion if the source input is set to high. Certain models of Mp3 Players have a higher output, so I have set a volume lock switch on the devices in question to not have them play too loud. One can also use a software program called Mp3 Gain which will take a batch of digital music files, and normalize them to a constant level as many recordings have a different volume to them. They’ve been able to handle any type of music I’ve thrown at them, and when not riding are loud enough for a small crowd to listen to music around a fire, at a party, or at the beach.
My iHome iHM77 Capsule Speakers have exceeded my expectations for durability, constantly being powered in every weather condition I could them through. They’ve been rained on (typically I will cover them up with a plastic bag if it turns into a downpour), snowed on, covered in dust and debris from heavy winds and have taken a many tumble from the bicycle onto the hard pavement, left overnight in a mud puddle, and even run over by the front wheel of a moving car! After a while I noticed the mechanism to close and open the speakers became a bit tighter to accomplish, yet no pieces broke, snapped off or felt loose. When shaking the units I can not hear any parts moving around inside These are solid units.The combination audio/charging cable that came with the units leaves a little bit to be desired. After about <strong>3 months of daily use</strong> of the first pair I noticed the thin plastic insulation cracking at the end of one of the tips that was constantly being plugged in to the speaker. Made from 24AWG wire they certainly couldn’t handle repeat bends but I managed to repair them using some epoxy, getting another 180 days of usage of the cables before one finally stopped working. They could have done better by putting anti stress fittings on the ends on both speaker tips instead of one. I contacted IHome in September 2010 letting them know what I was doing with their speakers and a bit about my journey and sent along a YouTube video of the speakers in action during a rainstorm. I offered suggestions on how to make the speaker cables more durable. Here’s the Video:
A few weeks later someone from the offices of IHome contacted me and thanked me for the suggestions and let me know that the changes in the product had been made. I have been using the replacement cables which are rubber wrapped, have anti stress fittings on both ends, along with a handy cable clip to wrap up any excess cable for over 8,000 kilometres / 7 months with no such sign of wear and tear on the cables, acting as good as day one. Due to the moisture involved with my riding, a small bit of corrosion appears on the 3.5mm audio jack, charging tip, and the speaker tips. Once a month (or whenever I remember) I wipe the terminals down with rubbing alcohol and give them a light brushing with my metal pot scrubber. The one that matters the most is the 3.5mm jack which sometimes crackles – but this is likely due to other wear and tear of the Mp3 Player that was being used.
Mounting to the Bicycle
Since the IHome speakers were meant to be placed on a flat surface I headed on down to the hardware store and picked up two 2.25” ABS Plastic Caps, normally used for plumbing purposes. I drilled a few holes in the back of the caps at the 10 o’clock position for the left side, and 2 o’clock for the right side so that I could fit the audio terminals through which hang onto the speakers if they bounce around a bit. I heated up my knife with a lighter and burnt a 0.5 inch slot so that I could feed a hose clamp through them to attach to my handlebars. I angled the caps so that they could aim towards my ears a bit which also helped in keeping them secure in the plastic caps. About 3 months later I managed to find a drill again and drilled a small hole in the bottom of the caps to drain any water that would collect in the caps when the speakers were safely packed away in my panniers during large rain storms. It wasn’t perfect, as sometimes the speakers would fall out, usually because I hadn’t plugged the audio terminals all the way in, resulting in them being dropped in the mud puddles, hit by a car, or eventually lost in a graveyard. I’ve now attached a small piece of Velcro onto each of the speakers and the cap to alleviate this problem resulting in secure placement with no losses. I’m constantly asked by curious onlookers as to what these little devices are and most are amazed when they hear the sound they produce when I turn them on to listen.
Where to Buy:
I once saw these speakers for sale at Best Buy and Wal-Mart in early 2010, but now have only had luck in finding them online either through IHome or Amazon.com. I’ve included links to Amazon if you are interested in picking up a pair, and while the low price won’t change, I will receive a small commission for the sale helping to continue my journey across every continent in the world. If you look closely as well and aren’t concerned with colours you’ll see that the purple models are quite a bit cheaper than the red and black models, although functionally they work the same. When off the bicycle, IHome also includes a small felt case for transport, which has been reappropriated for transporting other small articles when riding – I simply throw the speakers into my panniers or handlebar bag if I want to keep them out of sight from perspective thieves. I’d recommend these units to anyone looking to get a decent quality sound at a low price on their bicycle – they’ve exceeded my expectations many times and based on the performance of my first pair should continue to provide me with hours of sound filled riding.