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Tunbebug Shake: The safe way to listen to music while riding

tunebug-003 In every bicycle related forum you can find a thread of heavy discussions whether a bike helmet helps preventing from severe injury or not. At least in every German bicycle forum I know. I won’t repeat pro-helmet or contra-helmet arguments here and I will additionally not discuss why or whether I am wearing a helmet or not. However, there now is a new reason for wearing a helmet: The Tunebug Shake.You may know the situation. You are riding your commute to work for the thousands time. You are having your eyes on the road but you like to fight boredom of the ride by listening to music on your mp3-player. It is in the nature of such a device that you need earphones, so you cannot hear what is going on around you. Is it? Well, a couple of months ago, a new device came on the market which might make it possible to listen to music while riding and still have the ears open for evil dangers, such as non-rule-compliant car drivers. This device, the Tunebug Shake, which costs approximately 130 Euro, is a plane-wave generating device without an own resonance-body. Thus, you need to attach it to some resonance corps, such as your bike helmet. I got my hands on a Shake and tested it.

The Shake is delivered in a small box and comes with two possibilities to attach it to the helmet. A Velcro-strap and what Tunebug calls the Gecko mount. The Velcro-strap is just pulled through the ventilation holes of the helmet, thus pressing the Shake against the helmet surface. If you want to apply the Gecko mount, which is thought for helmets without big enough ventilation holes, such as skating helmets, you first have to attach little Velcro pads (delivered with the Shake) to the helmet and afterwards the mount is attached to these pads. I did not find anyone around me who owns such a skating helmet, hence I can only report on the use of the Velcro-strap mount.

Prior to using the Shake you have to charge it. A jack to USB-cable is delivered with the Shake, so you can charge the device on any USB-port. This jack plug port is the only available cable connection to the Shake, so you cannot connect your mp3-player there while charging. Using a dynamo-charger to recharge it, while listening to music, thus is impossible. After having charged the Shake I attached it to a bike helmet. It became clear pretty quickly that finding a good spot on the helmet is not easy. Finally, I found only one position on this helmet where the shake was pressed sufficiently (as I thought) to the helmet surface. The Shake weighs about 80g which is not a lot when carrying the device in your pocket, however, you feel it significantly when wearing the helmet with the Shake attached. After plugging the mp3-player in the Shake with the jack plug/jack plug cable which is also delivered with the shake, you have to switch it on. The shake does not have any physical switches; instead it has touch-sensitive regions where you lay your fingers for a longer or shorter time. This worked much better than I had expected but I found it to be almost impossible with gloves on (I did this test in January). So touching and holding both touch regions activates the Shake. It then checks automatically whether it must connect to a Bluetooth device (this showed to work easily) or take the signals via cable. If you want to increase or decrease volume, you have to touch either of the regions shortly. Touching both regions and holding them results in switching the shake off.

The videos on the Tunebug website indicated that you would not hear anything prior to putting on the helmet. I liked this feature as I hate to disturb other people by the emission of noise. The result from my test however showed that you clearly hear a music-like noise outside the helmet. With your head inside of the helmet, the quality is much better, though worse than with the cheap earphones which were delivered with my mp3-player. But it is amazing to be able to hear everything around you in spite of listening to music. This just works perfectly. Whether it is an approaching car, the sound a bike makes when approaching you before overtaking you or acoustic signals such as bells, horns, shouts, and similar: you really have your ears for the traffic. tunebug-002

During the second ride of roughly 10km (so the way back home from work) the positive feeling about the Shake was disturbed. It just switched off. Why? Had I not charged it long enough? I checked the internet and found that you have to charge it really long (up to six hours). I tried this and used it again. The same as before happened. The device just switched off. I was annoyed. The shake’s battery was just too bad to cope with the low temperature, I guessed. This disappointment made me put the shake in a box on my desk and I almost forgot about it. Of course, the box was in my view every day, so in a lunch break, I spent in front of my computer, I checked the internet again and found that other users reported the same behaviour of the shake as well. They wrote that it switched off after a while in spite of being charged completely. The reason for this problem, as it turned out, was not a failure but a feature. The shake is programmed to switch off, when the mp3-player stops sending signals – just the time for this is chosen a little short. So if you can make your mp3-player play continuously (avoiding breaks between the tracks), everything is fine and the shake will not switch off. I tried it and it is right. After having solved this problem, I was still not satisfied by the shake. I had to turn the mp3-player to really loud to hear something under the helmet and the quality was far from being good. I remembered how hard it was to find a good spot on the helmet and decided to test in a bike shop whether the quality varies with the helmet you use. I rode to the next bike shop who is selling KED and Uvex helmets. It turned out that the choice of the helmet really makes a difference. It needs to have a sufficiently big spot to place the Shake on. Additionally, the ventilation holes must be in the right position to make the Velcro-strap press the Shake against the helmet strongly – this was not the case with my first tests. With most of the bike helmets offered in the bike shop, the audio quality was sufficient, sometimes even quite good.

The bike shop also had a skating helmet; however, I was of course not able to glue the Velcro-tabs of the Gecko mount to it. But pressing the shake against this helmet resulted in the best audio quality of all tested helmets. Additionally, the external sound was the lowest with the skating helmet. So the video on the Tunebug-website is not wrong, you just cannot transfer the shake’s behaviour to usual bike helmets…

tunebug-005 So, to give a summary…
Positive:

  • Riding with music but hearing the traffic
  • Usability is good
  • Audio quality is sufficient
  • Battery run time is sufficient for daily commute and intermediate day trips (around 5 to 6 hours).
  • Attachment to the helmet is easy
  • Nice and worthy design

Neutral:

  • Audio quality intensely depends on the choice of the helmet
  • Influence on the helmet (and your head) in case of an accident is unclear and was not tested

Negative:

  • The additional weight on the helmet
  • Needs comparably long charging time
  • No charging while listening to music possible
  • No interface to modify settings (such as switching off Bluetooth or modifying the idle time after which the device shuts off) accessible
  • Quite expensive gadget

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