Review: Techwiz Innovations Musak Bag
Pros: A hybrid iPod and computer bag with integrated speakers that average listeners will find entirely acceptable for indoor or outdoor listening. Unique combination of features at a fair price.
Cons: Both computer compartment and iPod holder are limited in practicality to certain types of users’ demands, overall design of bag and integration of amplifier aren’t as sharp as similar individual products.
Depending on your needs and expectations, one of two new Musak bags from Techwiz Innovations ($99) could be a fun way to carry around your both iPod and a laptop computer. One version is designed to accommodate the iPod mini, while the other works with full-sized iPods. Both use the same one-size-fits-all black nylon body, which integrates two medium-sized portable speakers and an amplifier into its top corners.
Techwiz isn’t the first to integrate an iPod into a larger carrying case - Burton’s Amp Pack snowboarding backpack was an early pioneeer - but it’s one of the first to let you listen to your music without headphones. You strap your iPod into an upside-down sheathe, easily plug an included headphone cable in to the iPod’s headphone port, and turn on the amplifier. Volume is adjustable on both your iPod and the amplifier, and the level can be raised to a level sufficient for even outdoor listening before distortion becomes problematic.
It would be almost ridiculous to expect spectacular sound from a product like this one, but Musak does a better than decent job. You get legitimate stereo separation from the speakers, which are positioned “left” and “right” for the person carrying the bag rather than outside listeners, and sound quality that only suffers when it’s compared with options that aren’t entirely fair matches. Musak sounds fuller and can be run louder than, say, MacAlly’s PodWave and PodGear’s PocketParty, and while it’s not the match of Pacific Rim’s inexpensive Cube Travel Speakers in bass, it’s roughly comparable in volume. Needless to say, none of these options lets you conveniently wear the speakers on your body as you walk around, so Musak stands apart from other options in that regard. Average listeners will like the sound; only audiophiles will gripe.
The bag’s only disadvantages are practical ones. On the nitpicky front, the amplifier is a BoomMusic brand part with a simple on-off switch, volume knob, and four AA batteries as power, all hidden inside a zippered pocket behind the top right speaker. The lack of controls on Musak’s exterior is attributable to a decision that tossing a generic amplifier into the pocket would be good enough by comparison with designing the bag more specifically around that functionality. It’s not a bad implementation, but not a super professional one, either.
Less nitpicky are issues with the bag’s other pockets. PC laptop owners might be fine with the bag’s laptop pocket, which is fine for your average 15”-inch or smaller machine, but not 15” widescreen PowerBooks. Techwiz’ tapered laptop pouch is fairly simple, and while it’s decently padded, it’s not hard-reinforced in any way. There’s a thin-ish pocket for other items you might be carrying, but like the laptop pouch, it’s not going to hold legal pads or other large items without a struggle. Students without a need to carry much around might like it, but professionals won’t.
The design of the external pockets leans towards the student set rather than urban professionals, too. There’s one big catchall pocket with a magnetic clasp, three pen sheathes, and three card holder pockets. Held closed wth two plastic clips, the front flap includes a reflective patch of fabric and a zipper-closed pocket that’s also pretty small, while the back has a larger pocket held closed only by a small strip of Velcro. White stitching pipes the zippers and pockets in a look that’s not quite as sharp overall as the best messenger bags we’ve seen - and prefer to use. Thankfully, the shoulder strap is large and adequately padded with a fabric and leather-like piece that you can easily adjust to your own size.
Similarly, the iPod holder is a very simplistic affair: a piece of leather that’s very loosely protective, with a small vinyl screen protector and full exposure of the iPod’s corners. A strip of Velcro on its back prevents the iPod from bouncing around or falling out while you walk, but the holder isn’t ready for serious pokes and prods from the world. If you wear the bag as intended - across your chest, where the speakers are located - your iPod will be safe so long as you’re not planning on participating in a hockey or football game, but if you plan to swing it around to your back or make contact with people or objects, you need something more protective.
Our feelings about Musak are more than a little mixed. On one hand, it’s a fun way to carry around your iPod and listen to music - definitely easier than carrying a boom box, with similar audio quality (if not sheer amplitude). At $99, it’s also not terribly expensive given its design and various features. But on the other hand, it’s a so-so bag with pockets that are best suited to people who carry around small-to-average-sized computers and small-to-average-sized objects. There are certainly better speakers for the price, and better bags for the price, but not a better combination of speakers within a bag for the price. Therefore, Musak isn’t a replacement for our top recommended products, but there is certainly a niche of people who will really enjoy its unique combination of features.