We’re not usually excited by solar charging accessories specifically because of their sun-soaking capabilities, but Eton’s new speaker system Rukus XL ($200) is interesting — a modest re-engineering of the previously-released Soulra XL, now with a price more appropriate to its features, still including a solar panel that adds to the value. This version of the large triangular speaker connects to your device using Bluetooth, and has a compartment on the front that opens to reveal an elastic strap, plus a USB port for charging any iPod or iPhone with a self-provided cable. The Apple-specific docking electronics have been removed, but you can nestle even the latest, tallest pocket devices inside the central nook. Because the speaker is so similar to its earlier counterpart, portions of this piece borrow heavily from our earlier Soulra XL review.
Unlike audio systems that surprise you by delivering more than you’d expect from their small bodies, Rukus XL is designed to wow you with its bulk. Measuring roughly 14” inches wide by 8” tall and 5” deep, it looks from the sides like an extruded triangle, complete with sturdy hard rubber edges and metal speaker grilles that imply a certain level of anti-shock ruggedization. Rukus XL’s grilles are notably gray rather than Soulra XL’s black and red versions, one of several small cosmetic tweaks Eton made to its prior design. Unusually, the iPhone/iPod holder on front is hidden behind a removable flip-down hard plastic shield that can keep your device safe from the elements, and you can control play/pause, track, volume, and power from rubberized buttons on the system’s top front edge. A matching rubber panel protects the power port, aux-in port, and a device charge on/off switch from moisture or sand intrusion. But despite all of the ruggedizing elements, Rukus XL isn’t specifically marketed as waterproof or elementally safe. Additionally, Eton has removed Soulra XL’s side mounts for attaching a shoulder strap, no longer including either the mounts or strap in the package. To carry Rukus XL, you have to rely on the built-in front handle, which has been modestly designed from the boxy version on Soulra XL to better fit the contours of a hand.
Just like Soulra XL, Rukus XL sports a huge solar panel on the back. Connected with a hinge to the top of the triangular unit, the panel flips open to face the sun, exposing a black plastic recess. Rukus XL has changed a little here, too, as the previous remote control compartment and the remote itself are gone. Eton claims that the panel needs five hours of sunlight to fully charge the battery, though we found this to be optimistic for Soulra XL, which actually took twice as long to go from empty to full. Leaving a speaker sitting out in the sun for 10 hours just to recharge its battery doesn’t strike us as making a lot of sense, and explains Eton’s inclusion of a wall charger — most of the time, you’re going to just want to plug it into an outlet to refuel the rechargeable battery, which gets between five and eight hours of play time per charge. But if you are outside, it’s a nice bonus to have power continually supplied to the unit, as long as there’s sunlight.
Sonically, Rukus XL sounds similar to its predecessor, which fell into the “good but overpriced” category for the prior $250 price. Two front-facing speaker grilles cover a total of two tweeters, two woofers, and two passive radiators, with two additional grilles on the sides for two more passive radiators—a speaker configuration that’s highly comparable to Logitech’s recently-discontinued $150 Wireless Boombox and newer $250 UE Boombox. Straight out of the box, Rukus XL sounds somewhat flat and bass-deficient, but if you press the “bass” button, the low end suddenly kicks in, making the sound comparable to both of the Logitech models. Although Rukus XL gets pretty loud, turning on the bass adds noticeable distortion at higher volume levels, the reason Eton lets you turn it off and suffer from flatter sound as a consequence. Superior tuning or speakers would have mitigated or eliminated this issue.
Bluetooth performance is solid rather than amazing. Rukus XL receives broadcasts from iOS devices at a roughly 30-foot distance with some wall obstructions before the signal begins to deteriorate. While the best wireless speakers we’ve tested continue to perform at even greater distances, Rukus XL is within the promised 33-foot parameters of the basic Bluetooth standard, giving users a highly viable alternative to docking their devices inside.
We appreciate that Eton dropped the price while making the switch from Soulra XL to Rukus XL, and added in Bluetooth. At the same time though, there are some minor losses, namely the shoulder strap, the remote, and cable-free Apple device charging. In terms of looks and physical size, we prefer Logitech’s sonically similar UE Boombox and prior Wireless Boombox, which perform at least as well for music while occupying much less space. Rukus XL is still a good option, though, and if you’re in the sun a lot, the solar panel is a bonus. There’s enough in the package for $200 to earn Rukus XL our general recommendation.
Company and Price
Company: Eton Corporation
Model: Rukus XL
Compatible: All Bluetooth-Capable iPads, iPhones, iPods