AL: Freshly graduated from Syracuse University and done with my last school year, it was time to go home to California. With a daunting eight-day and 4,000-mile drive ahead, traversing the U.S. both east to west, and north to south, we had to make plans since our car had no working stereo. Our rite of passage trip across the country with a side trip through Canada, the trip would be intolerable without our tunes.
It just so happens I grew up with good sound at home (just check the last name and the PF masthead) and have spent the past four years in college with quite a nice sounding vintage system. I started with little Antique Sound Labs Wave 8 tube amplifiers powering old Linn Kans in my dorm room (my iPod Classic as the source). I later moved up to a mid 1970s Luxman integrated amp and equally old Large Advent speakers when I moved into a house with some of my hockey teammates. No one I knew at school had a better sounding system than this setup. I have over ten thousand tracks on my iPod, mostly higher resolution files (320kbps) ripped from CD and not very many iTunes downloads.
MD: I also grew up with good sound at home, and it's left its mark on me, certainly being a factor in my love for good music. We were all taught how to use my dad's turntable, and I remember him having Conrad-Johnson equipment. When we were kids, we'd get yelled at if we ran around too close to it! It sounded really nice.
Luckily, we were given the opportunity to test out the Riva Turbo X; a small Bluetooth speaker system, weighing no more than 4 lbs. It's completely portable and can run for about twenty-six hours on a full charge… we fell in love instantly. It also has line level inputs (needed when we use the iPod Classic or our PCs instead of one of our iPhones) and even a special mode for better sound when playing LPs from your turntable (though you still need to have a separate phono stage). When we received the Turbo X, we immediately showed our friends at school and demonstrated its capabilities. First, we played the system in our car, and our friends mistook the power and quality for the car stereo. The Turbo X suddenly fixed the lack of music for our cross-country endeavor. Since we had packed the big stereo for shipment home already, we used the Riva to supply music for the last graduation party in our house. It was really surprising how good it sounded and how it had no trouble filling our large living room.
Due to the small size of the speaker (9" X 3.5" X 4"), we were able to easily fit the Turbo X on the dashboard of our car as we made our way from Syracuse to our first stop in London, Ontario. As we passed through Niagara Falls, we rolled down our widows, took in the amazing sights of the Falls, and cranked Bob Marley for all nearby fellow tourists. Nothing is quite like seeing something as grand as Niagara Falls while listening to good music. Unfortunately we were on a tight schedule, so we didn't get to spend much time at the Falls.
AL: From there we made our way to London, Ontario, where we had to stay a couple of days, as I would be working out there with a top professional goaltending coach in preparation for minor league hockey tryouts. Because we are typical college kids, we love our Netflix. Hanging out in the evening at the hotel and feeding Netflix from our notebook through the Riva, made for a much more enjoyable experience than playing through the notebook's built in speakers. It continued to surprise us how powerful the sound was, and how the bass capabilities really handled the more exciting moments in the movies we watched (yes, there were explosions). When plugged in (or when you only need six to eight hours of battery time), running the unit in "turbo" mode greatly increases both dynamic range and bass depth and power.
The system can handle this as, in spite of being so small, it uses seven drivers. It has three small full range drivers that play in stereo and using ADX Trillium technology (whatever that really is), can create an oddly convincing spacious surround sound. Bass is handled by four drivers, which, though small, put out a lot of power. They also have a remote app for your iPhone that controls everything and is really well designed. Though it worked well, we didn't use it much, as the unit was usually within an arm's reach.
After leaving London, we had the "pleasure" of driving through the Mid-West on way to visit relatives in Texas. Without much entertainment from the landscape, we relied heavily on our new audio system to keep us sane. Playing artists from John Mayer to Sublime to Led Zeppelin, we slowly made our way down to Texas. Long road trips prove a challenge for battery life on a phone, iPod, portable speakers, etc. This wasn't the case for the Turbo X though. The Riva's battery lasts up to twenty-six hours, and when we discovered our DC power connectors in our car stopped working, we plugged our phones with a USB cable into the Turbo X and were able to charge the phones while still playing music and didn't have to worry about the speaker dying. Charging it in the hotel room overnight meant we started each day with a full charge.
After a couple of leisurely spent days hanging out at Lake Kiowa (north of Dallas) relaxing in the heat and rain, it was back on the road, putting some serious miles in before our next stop in New Mexico. Eight or ten hour days behind the wheel are not really all that fun, but having each other for company and a lot of music we know and love made all the difference. One other feature we made use of during these long stretches was using the Turbo X as an amplified speakerphone setup with our iPhones. Connected via Bluetooth, we were able to call both our homes and carry on conversation, as the built in microphone has some very effective noise canceling technology.
A nice dinner in Santa Fe before heading to the hotel in Albuquerque, left time for a few more episodes of Arrested Development via Netflix before calling it a night. The clarity of the dialog through the Riva made re-watching one of our favorite shows that much more fun.
A day at the Grand Canyon, including taking some cool photos with the Riva out on a ledge, was a great side trip. Everyone should make a point to see the Grand Canyon at least once. It's so big, covering such a vast expansive landscape, that it is really kind of humbling.
A spooky evening at the Stagecoach 66 motel (the "Norwegian" room is creepy enough to be in a bad horror movie without needing any additional props) showed us that there are some places even good sound or music can't fix. We changed rooms and left early the next morning. From there it was a straight, non-stop shot home to Orange County, California. The Riva got us there without ever once acting up or not functioning as it should. For one last stop, we took the Riva to Huntington Beach to photograph it in the stereotypical SoCal beach environment.
AL: Truth be told, the Riva won't replace the big system we spent the summer listening to at my parent's home, but as a second system (my mom wants one for the patio, or for the TV in their bedroom) it would be a good option. When I hit the road for the remaining pro tryout camps (August through October) the Riva will be my main system traveling with me wherever I go. And Michelle has one now too, to be used as her main audio system while she finishes up her last two years at Syracuse.
Riva Turbo X ($349)