Choosing a speaker isn’t as easy for Elmore Executive Director Arnie Goodman as most of us. First and foremost an audiophile, for Goodman, the sound has to be extraordinary, period. Goodman is also an internationally-published photographer, with a keen eye to detail and lines, so the unit better look good. Last, but not least, Goodman’s intense passion for BBQ may be a little scary, but he does throw the best backyard BBQ parties on the East coast, and isn’t deterred by a little rain, so the speaker had better be able to go outside and join the fun.
We looked at units from $100 (miracles do happen) to about $1,000 (it had better be love), finally settling on the RIVA Turbo X for around $300. The sleek, low-profile unit promised to deliver the sound Goodman was looking for outside four walls, no easy feat.
Key determinants for choosing the Turbo X were its 45 Watts of power, 26 hours of battery life and a Phono Mode that increases the gain on the Aux input so vinyl fans—which includes Goodman and most of his posse—can plug in a turntable. We took RIVA’s word on those, and were not disappointed. We always take claims of superior sound with a grain of salt, however, but test-driving the Turbo X proved it better, not worse, than our expectations
Most speakers sound pretty good inside at a comfortable volume—think singing in the bathroom—but outdoors, with no walls to lean on acoustically, that’s where we start to separate the men from the boys. Outside, the sound from most speakers thins out, and that manly richness we thought would last forever degrades into the reedy tones of an eighth-grader. Thanks to the three built-in speakers, (seven distinct drivers, four for bass alone), the grownup sound followed us into the yard. What good is portable, if it’s only room-to-room?
Hanging out with the cook, we broke in the unit as suggested, at 50% volume for the first three hours. Before the guests arrived, we experimented with Chicago and Delta blues, with all their highs and lows, while basting ribs. The Turbo X is metal-clad and that probably helps the sound, not just the durability, over speakers with plastic housings. Streaming the music through Goodman’s iPad, the sound came through crystal clear and balanced, with commanding bass not often found in speakers of a similar size When John Lee Hooker sang, “Boom, Boom, Boom,” that’s exactly what we heard.
The ribs were getting good, people arrived and the backyard started getting noisy, so we cranked up Stevie Ray Vaughn’s licks, Jack Bruce’s bass and Little Richard’s high notes. This is where the Turbo X showed its stripes. The Turbo X doesn’t just bump up all frequencies (apparently thanks to EQ engineering above my pay grade), so even at maximum volume we heard little or no distortion. You don’t have to be a geek who knows that the Turbo X has three 60 mm, full range custom ADX drivers, and four ADX custom dual piston bass radiators to recognize great sound, even outdoors, just like you don’t have to be a Maserati expert to experience the rush of pedal to the metal. Loud, Turbo X is a real rush.
Even the neighbors noticed the volume: they said so the next day. We were only checking out the Turbo boost mode briefly, but it turns out 100dB is a snowmobile, a motorcycle, or a Boeing 707 coming in for a landing, meaning you have to seriously raise your voice to be heard over it. Even next door. We haven’t tried it yet, but there’s an Aux input (cables included) so if you plug in your mic, with Turbo X’s noise & echo cancellation feature, you can use it as a speakerphone and fully communicate with the guy next door, the dufus who plays “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” endlessly, starting on Thanksgiving.
The BBQ served, we repaired to the lawn for a brief but cutthroat game of croquet, and took the music with us. Turns out that a table is much more suitable a platform for music than ajuga and bees, but the Turbo X is portable. By portable, we mean easily and conveniently moved from place to place, since the long battery life means no desperate searches for available outlets. That said, at a little larger than a half-gallon milk carton and a very solid three pounds, the sturdy Turbo X isn’t something you want to throw in your purse and cart around all day, either. It is, however, plenty light enough to carry high over one’s head while streaming Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” as one member of the victorious Women’s Team, the Crow Kays, proved.
The afternoon wound down, guests left, and cleanup began just as a light drizzle moved in. We had the protective vinyl carrying case (about $30) and the conveniently-located protective plugs (provided) that cover the outlets and store underneath, but we didn’t think of either of them—we were too busy regretting that last, over-the-top rib, and wishing we could lie down. Never fear, the water-resistant Turbo X shed the drops like ‘gator, although hopefully we won’t do that again.
The Turbo X’s clean design belies a host of extra features. Available in either black or white, the unit’s useful bells and whistles include a very cool proximity sensor for the controls on top of the speaker which manage key functions: with a swipe of the hand, subtle blue backlight LEDs illuminate controls for easy access in low light situations without being a distraction. A USB port allows recharging other devices, but of course this will impact the 26-hour battery; A plug-in power adapter is included for those who pull sequential all-nighters. The unit recharges in a quick three hours.
Included is a free Riva Ground Control app for iOS and Android which gives you basic music control functionality, access to the Trillium surround sound and Turbo boost modes, shows the battery level and lets you switch between voice and tone audio prompts. On the Ground Control app, the volume dial goes up to 11, and for all you Spinal Tap fans out there, you know what that means:
Marty DiBergi: Do you have any sort of creed or philosophy that you live by?
Viv Savage: Have… a good… time… all the time. That’s my philosophy, Marty.
Words to live by. Start off those good times with a powerful, adaptive, good-looking and convenient speaker like the Turbo X, and let the music roll.