I love music and I love bicycling, but it’s hard to find a satisfactory way that’s both safe and enjoyable to combine the two. Earbuds and headphones, besides being illegal in many places, make it hard to hear what’s going on around you. Tunebug’s $120 Shake aims to offer a solution by turning your helmet into a surround-sound speaker.
I was initially intrigued by the Tunebug Shake because it seemed to offer the possibility of a personal “soundsphere” that wouldn’t completely cut me off from the outside world (and wouldn’t be illegal, either). You strap the Shake—a small 0.85-inch tall, 2.3-inch triangle—to your helmet with the included Velcro straps or mount. You can either run a cord from the Shake to your music player or pair it via Bluetooth to your iPhone, iPod touch, or other Bluetooth-enabled device.
In theory, as the Tunebug Shake vibrates from the music, your helmet will resonate sympathetically to become a loudspeaker (similar to the Tunebug Vibe [ ], which is designed for other types of surfaces). Touch-sensitive controls let you adjust the volume and turn the device on and off. For the most part, it works. What became obvious, however, is that my bike helmet has lousy bass. Then again, my helmet wasn’t designed for head banging, but rather to keep me from banging my head. Unless you get a special—but non-existent—bike helmet manufactured by Bose or Altec Lansing, you can forget about bass response (although my dental work occasionally attempted to fill the bass chair if I turned up the volume too much).
One of the problems with listening to music while biking is that the sound can’t compete with wind and traffic noise. With the Shake, that same noise is still going to make hearing music difficult—especially unfamiliar music. (Somehow it’s more forgiving when it comes to songs you know well.)
Another problem I encountered was with the device’s inconsistent Bluetooth connection, which had frequent dropouts. The company says that the Shake is designed to automatically shut off when it doesn’t detect an audio signal for two minutes (to prevent accidentally running down your battery) and suggests turning the volume on the iPhone to maximum, and then controlling the volume using the Shake’s buttons after that to avoid disconnection. But even doing so, I still had a few problems.
The rechargeable battery lasted two or three hours if I made sure to start with a recently charged device. On the plus side, I found no significant effect on my iPhone battery life when I used the Tunebug Shake with Bluetooth.
Macworld’s buying advice
If you regularly bike in a quiet setting and don’t particularly care about bass response, then the Tunebug Shake might be worth a try. The Shake, however, is more expensive and has poorer sound quality than earbuds or headphones. Riders who are already willing to risk the sonic isolation and possible illegality of earbuds will likely find their current music-listening method much more satisfying than the Shake.
[Jim Bradbury is a recovering technology journalist, daily bicycle commuter, and three-time survivor of Paris-Brest-Paris.]