Celebrity endorsed products come in for a lot of abuse from audiophiles, but it is impossible to ignore their value in reaching a wider audience and educating them about the benefits of superior sound quality. At the forefront of these brands is The House of Marley, founded by the family of reggae legend Bob Marley, which releases audio products it claims are founded upon his same environmental and philanthropic beliefs. To date it has proved a hugely successful combination.
The Bag of Rhythm is The House of Marley's first iPod/iPhone dock and, as could be expected, it is unmistakeably unique. No doubt launched to cash in with the arrival of summer, the Bag of Rhythm, more than any other dock we've seen recently, pushes its role as a portable sound system in the mould of yesteryear's ghetto blasters.
To (literally) carry this off the dock is wholly contained in an earthy canvass bag with hand and shoulder carry handles. This fits snugly, clipping to the dock with popper buttons and there are holes to avoid blocking the power port and bass output. Further pushing its claims for an outdoor life are useful pockets on both sides and a khaki colour scheme with numerous inevitable references to the Rastafarian flag.
As for the dock itself it looks somewhat like a skateboard attached to bongos and continues the naturalistic outdoor theme. The top surface is birch, the enclosure made from recycled plastic and notably the speakers are ceiling-facing, which assumes it will be positioned below you on the ground. Connectivity is kept to a minimum with just a 3.5mm auxiliary jack, no wireless (Bluetooth or AirPlay) and a snug iPhone/iPod dock that stops a connected device from falling out on the move (though excludes iPads). Controls are kept to a minimum too with only power, volume up and volume down buttons.
Batteries keep the Bag of Rhythm playing on the move. It swallows no less than six D cell batteries (not included), which The House of Marley says will last up to six hours. What is worth noting is the weight these batteries add. The shoulder strap makes the Bag of Rhythm relatively easy to carry, but at 6.8kg and roughly 100-150g per battery (depending on its type) you are looking at a product of around 7.5kg.
So what about the audio itself? The Bag of Rhythm omits a dedicated bass driver, making for a 2.0 arrangement with 40 watts of total power (20 watts per channel). This is comprised of two 4.5in woofers and two 1in tweeters. Typically, The House of Marley isn't subtle about the sound signature you can expect: "Using reggae music as the test by which all our products are made, bass is the first element we turn our attention to," says the website. "The bass is the driving force. We want to hear it without distortion no matter how low it goes and we want it to hit hard. Every one of our in-ear and on-ear headphones and speakers are made for the biggest sounding reggae bass."
The obvious question is whether this a good thing? The answer is: not always. Certainly it cannot be disputed that the Bag of Rhythm sounds excellent when on its own turf. Blasting out reggae is a heart-lifting experience with a fat bass, warm sound and (pun very much intended) bags of emotion. Where the problems start, however, is when you expose the dock to a wider acoustic palate.