By Eliot Van Buskirk of Evolver.fm.
It’s notoriously impossible to keep track of everything at CES, so I’ve been keeping tabs on coverage from people I’ve worked with personally covering the show. It takes a certain kind of person not to be overwhelmed. Wayne Cunningham scored pictures and a description of the Audi Android tablet, and now another former colleague, Wil O’Neal, executive editor of TechRadar, has a pick for the best audio device at CES: the Rocki.
In a sea of products from the biggest electronics manufacturers in the known galaxy, Rocki is a Kickstarter project that only launched about a month ago, making TechRadar’s award that much more impressive.
The Rocki (no company name), still being developed through that successful-many-times-over crowdfunding campaign, is a sort of “Sonos meets Jambox” type device that uses WiFi — either your home network or a ad hoc mobile WiFi network (as in without a router or the internet) — and a custom app to let groups of people control music and listen to it together. It also works in the car, if your car as an Aux In, so you don’t have to resort to this.
The Rocki lacks a speaker — one reason it’s cheap. The apps are free for the main owner and guests to install from the app stores, while the sleek, angular-yet-somehow-roundish Rocki hardware, consisting of little other than a rechargeable battery, WiFi radio, DAC (digital to analog converter), processor, and micro-USB power connection, costs only $49 (analog output), or $89 for the Rocki+ (adding two digital audio outputs: optical and HDMI).
Note that neither model can output to unpowered speakers — in other words, you need to use speakers that have an amplifier connected to them, powered speakers, a boombox, a car stereo, an iPod dock, or something of that nature. One way to think of this: You cannot connect speaker wire directly to the Rocki.
You have to use the Rocki app to play music on your newly-wireless boombox, home speakers, or car stereo. Following a rash of coverage after Rocki’s January 2 announcement and the splash it made on the show floor, Rocki just now added Spotify and Deezer to its list of partner services, which previously included only SoundCloud.
Presumably, the team behind it will be able to add a few more services to the app before production units ship.
In addition to music from those streaming services, the apps play the local music on everyone’s phone at the party, so long as those phones have the Rocki app installed. Any format playable by the phone gets handled by the Rocki app, and because the connection is WiFi rather than Bluetooth, the system should allow for the best sound quality your speakers will allow.
It’s looking like 2014 will in fact be the year mainstream consumers get serious about wireless audio, both in the home and on the go. It sure will be nice to put those old boomboxes on the internet and take them to the beach this summer.
(Images courtesy of Rocki)