Cy-Fi Wireless sports speakers in Review – no strings attached

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Just as The Quest ain’t your kid’s RPG, Cy-Fi ‘s iPod and Bluetooth speakers aren’t your average run-to-the-beach bicycle speakers. And, at 159$ for either model (Kleer or Bluetooth) also ain’t your casual, cheap portable speaker. I’ll be honest here, I’ve searched for years for a perfect way to listen to my music whilst riding and tested everything from earbuds to custom earphones. But as you can guess, deafening your ears to the outside is extremely dangerous. Actually, putting anything in your ears while riding is dangerous, no matter how much the trail or road needs the fellowship of music. For this very reason, Cy-Fi’s wireless bicycle speakers simply rock for the serious rider.

Specifications

ModelKleer Wireless (Model 18)Bluetooth A2DP (Model 19)
CompatibilityUse cy·fi with your iPod or iPod nanoUse cy·fi with your cell phone, PDA or MP3
SoundEnjoy 100% lossless, CD-quality wireless audio via Kleer technologyEnjoy wireless stereo sound via A2DP Bluetooth technology
ControlsChange the track, volume and playlists settings from your speakerChange the track, volume and playlist settings from your speaker
MountingEasily mount cy·fi on your bike, boat, backpack, etc., with the provided attachmentEasily mount Cy·Fi on your bike, boat, backpack, etc., with the provided attachment
Powerover 6 hoursOver 5.5 hours
Operating Distance30 feet (~ 9-10 Metres)30 feet (~ 9-10 Metres)
PortabilityPack cy·fi as a travel speaker – it weighs less than 4 ounces (~ 115 grams)Pack cy·fi as a travel speaker – it weighs less than 4 ounces (~ 115 grams)
Special FeaturesBroadcast your favorite tunes to up to four cy·fi speakers- cy·fi enables you to make hands-free calls (if your phone supports it)
TechnologyKleer Wireless

The Setup
Firstly, both models are nearly idiot-proof – though there were a few times where the A2DP model left me scratching my head. In the end, it was my head, not the Cy-Fi model which was the problem. Essentially, if you can apply a tourniquet, you can mount the Cy-Fi: just layer on the rubber runners, clamp the plastic around the handlebars, and twist the bolt. Then, the speaker unit slides onto the bass with a comforting and secure ‘click’. While about the size of an oblong fingerless hand, Cy-Fi’s speaker unit manages to stay stable and a light at 110 grams (4 ounces) which promises to be shock proof and weather resistant. Un-mounting it is almost as easy as clicking eject from the OSX finder sidebar; simply push the small tab down and slide the unit in the opposite direction. The only other handy bit you have to know is how to shove model 18′s Kleer Wireless transmitter into the dock feeder at the bottom of your iPod/iPhone. If you are already a bicycler, just pop the iPod/transmitter or your iPhone into your shirt’s rear food pouch, but I would suggest some sort of perspiration/precipitation-proof protector.

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Kleer Wireless

Cy-Fi’s integration with the iPod/iPhone is exemplary, missing marks in the smallest of areas. But first, let’s get the good stuff out of the way shall we? Once you engage either model (read the manual), the external speaker will work for a variety of media: music, movies, games, etc.. And just as versatile, the unit can be played whilst charging in its own cradle. But, you had better not be watching movies whilst burning down Whistler at 70 k/ph; taking your eyes off the road is dangerous and is why the unit’s big, easy-to-press buttons are so damn comforting. While either unit manages around 6 hours of battery life, your iPod/mobile phone may not. I used both models extensively only to find that my 1G Nano lasted about 3 hours with model 18 and my iPod touch survived the six hours with either model, but was desperately short on juice by the time I got home.

A2DP

A2DP

The interface
Whilst plugged in, the model 18 (Kleer) will automatically load your iTunes library and play the last song which had turned over in your device. Model 19, being Bluetooth, must first be paired, but apart from that, interface differences are minimal apart from phone functions.

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For iPhone users, I would recommend the A2DP version simply because it does everything: plays music, serves as an external speaker for movies and games, and will let you take calls. For the iPod touch 2G, the Kleer is vastly a better-fitting product. Firstly, model 19 did nothing else but raise/lower volume and pause/play. I suspect this has to do with the touch’s own linearity with regard to A2DP networking. With a variety of mobile phones, the Bluetooth unit is a mixed bag: most modern handsets are capable of proper BT interface, but some, like the iPod touch, are not. Regarding the Kleer unit, there are no such problems at all: in all conditions, it simply works with any post-mini iPod. In fact, on my first ride with the iPod nano and model 18 (iPod version), it worked so well that I ran straight into a storm and before my lazy reactions took over, I was riding 22 kilometres home in a stiff rain. The return trip did nothing to the Cy-Fi, but the constant rain, flood sand, and construction debris wrecked havoc with my tyres, and after finding a nice hole to stuff my front wheel into, notched my rim. Miserable, but encouraged by Armin Van Buuren, my return ride was much better than it could have been.

The Experience
Since both units rely on wireless signals, you can probably follow me when I say that nothing is quite ideal. What I mean is that the speakers and transmitter are lovely ideas; in all conditions, they work very well. But, South Korea is livid with the buzz of all sorts of wireless signals from mobile phones to stray internet, and in my area, military communication. For the same reason, my Cateye wireless cyclometre may get retired this year as it often finds some fritz to go on. When pairing my iPod touch with the Kleer version, I’ve yet to experience dropped signal, but it and my Cateye don’t see eye to eye; frequently, the cheap, poor computer loses signal for several hundred metres while model 18 pounds out tunes. The Bluetooth version loses signal sometimes, but not annoyingly so.

If you have an iPhone and are a little more casual a rider, I would recommend the BT version; it simply stuns with the combination of music/handset features. The Kleer version on the other hand, isn’t as flashy a multi-device, but it has a wonderful card up its sleeve: multiple-speaker pairing. You and up to four mates can enjoy the same Armin for your team/club route climbs as long as you remain within 10 metres of each other. For training, the beats are a great way to synchronise heartbeats, breaths and pedal strokes – if you are into that sort of thing. The six-hour battery lasts long enough for almost any normal ride, but a problem with the design is that once batteries go, they are gone. And, because Cy-Fi uses a proprietary connector, there is no way to charge it whilst out and about, so your trips may have to be planned with segregated listening schedules.

And, for the road audiophile, my recommendation goes like this: just enjoy the fact that you have music from a safer source than earphones. Neither unit can show their stuff as you are clipping down the tarmac at 30+. The combination of wind, road noise, other riders, your own breathing, and the slight rattling of the unit on its frame will be enough to lower even the best quality speakers to the level of primary school HiFi: tin-cans and string. But, the 159$ unit does not have those speakers to start with. Music gets loud enough to field a riding pair, but won’t bleed outward too much, nor will it convince anyone that Kleer or A2DP are the perfect audio solutions. That isn’t to say that Kleer’s tech isn’t amazing; I have demoed it on several occasions and been wowed by its technical astuteness, but Cy-Fi is more about the convenience and safety provided with bicycle speakers rather than sound quality. The speakers lack bass and mid-range finesse, but can belt out lossless files and are wonderful companions to the road with any music. While over-amped, and tuned for volume rather than quality, the Cy-Fi still rocks the road. If I really wanted the best sound, I would strap my Sensaphonics 2X-S into my iPod and take the dangers of the road with my morning mouthful of Jinro. After using Cy-Fi, however, I am not ready to go back to earphones of any calibre.

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The Verdict
I have a hard time not making a special award at TMA for the Cy-Fi, but it ain’t the end of the year yet. In South Korea, I see many creatively cobbled speaker setups, but none, not even the best sports-oriented units do what Cy-Fi does. Ease of use, aerodynamics, iPod/iPhone integration, good battery life, hot-swappable, and for their niche, good-sounding, both models are almost perfect. They even play lossless files without tracking or dropping frames. Add to that telephony or team-pairing capabilities, and you have your 159$. Cy-Fi needs a port for charging whilst on the go, and better dampening so that it rattles less on its frame, but otherwise, for the serious bicycler, it is nearly the perfect product. For those with a shopping bike, or who just want to go to the beach and have some tunes, other, cheaper options may be better.

Model 18 and 19 are serious accessories for the serious rider.
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App Summary
Title:Cy-Fi Wireless Sports SpeakerDeveloper:Cy-Fi
Price:$159App Size:
  • Easy to set up
  • Easy to operate
  • A2DP: take calls
  • Kleer: pair up to 4 bikes to the same iPod
  • Good, but not great sound
  • Weatherproof/shockproof
  • Rattles slightly in its frame
  • Needs on-the-way charging – port for pedal-generator would be great

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