April 03, 2012
| by Grant Clauser
After a fairly lame winter here in Pennsylvania, it’s finally spring, which means people are spending more time in their backyards, thinking about the warm deck parties they’ll have later in the season and taking bets on which neighbor will be the first to pull the lawnmower out of the shed (it was the guy in back of me, by the way—twice before March was even over).
With backyard bearing down upon us, our thoughts (well, at least my thoughts) also turn to backyard music. Having a great indoor sound system and a nice music collection is pretty useless when you like to spend several months out of the year outside (we’ll get to backyard theaters later with a review of the Epson MegaPlex).
Typically my outside tunes come either from a little boomboxy-style iPod speaker dock or a Tivoli PAL radio. I tend to use the radio more frequently because it’s weather proof, which means it’s always outside on my patio table. Unfortunately, it’s just a radio so I’m stuck with the few stations I can pull in—and the outside the sound travels about 15 feet. Which all brings me to the Russound AirGo, an Airplay-ready weatherproof outdoor speaker.
So what do I mean by Airplay ready? There’s no Airplay wireless compatibility built into it like the B&W Zeppelin Air (which is far from weatherproof, by the way), but it includes a cavity designed specifically for connecting and concealing an Apple Airport Express. All you do is open up the door in the back, connect the Airport Express (there’s even a AC cable hidden back there specifically for the Airport), seal it back up, and you’re ready to go.
After setting up the Airport on your network (or putting it in client mode for direct connection to your iPhone or iPad), the Russound AirGo is ready to play.
The device itself is a sturdy Humvee of a speaker. It weighs a little more than 16 pounds, includes a single woofer and two tweeters and is driven by a 40 watt amplifier. It looks, in shape and color, a little like an old CRT monitor sitting on a desktop computer. There’s a sturdy handle that allows you to carry it around, but it needs to be plugged in at all times (no battery) so you can’t move it far unless you use an extension cord. This also means it’s not suited for beach parties. And you don’t want to drop it in the pool when someone’s swimming.
To play some music one sunny afternoon, I opened up iTunes on my phone, went to the Jenny and Johnny tracks and tapped “Committed.” A small icon at the bottom directed me to select the iPhone or the AirGo as the destination for the music. After very brief pause, the music was coming from the AirGo. There’s no volume control on the device itself, so you turn it up and down with your iDevice.
I have a fairly big yard and the AirGo was able to deliver loudly all across it—louder than my neighbors would probably appreciate unless they’d been invited to the party. Up close it was loud enough to overpower the riding mower next door. That’s pretty impressive for a little speaker with a handle.
Sound quality was very good. This isn’t something you’ll depend on for critical listening, but it makes a wide sound field to cover a large outdoor space with sufficient detail for backyard grooving. As I mentioned earlier, it gets quite loud, and I was please how well it held up at high volumes, though I can’t imagine using that loud very frequently. I don’t think my neighbors like The Melvins, and my wife hates it when I embarrass her.
Aside from the ease of use and the good sounds, the AirGo gets points for being able to be left out in the rain. It would probably withstand snow fine too, but we didn’t have much of that this year. Still, the system really can be a year-round outdoor music system if you’re into that.
If you already have Airplay set up on other speakers or receivers in your house, the AirGo can be a nice addition to a simple DIY multiroom audio system. Note though, that an iDevice can only send out one Airplay stream at a time. To supply tunes for multiple Airplay devices you need to stream directly from a computer.
Another nice benefit of the system is that because the Airport Express inside the AirGo acts like a Wi-Fi repeater, it can improve your web surfing outside, so you can download better barbeque recipes for the cookout.
By the way, Russound lists the price as $399, but I found it on Amazon right now for $227.
$399 (Airport Express not included)
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had audio training from Home Acoustics Alliance and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.