Gadgets Off The Grid

Eagle Guard Station is a favorite for Paul and I. Lots of back roads through the Helena National Forest to explore, and close enough to Bozeman to invite some friends up for an overnight stay.

A Wandering We Will Go
It's the dead of winter when my riding buddy Paul and I make the dream of beautiful summer riding in South West Montana come true. Forest Service cabins become available to rent on six months ahead of time, and by late February we've got a route planned from one cabin to the next for our week long summer ride. Come midnight each night exactly one half year in advance of the riding date, we've got our fingers hovering above the "reserve" button ready to snap up each cabin in order to string together the adventure. Contingency plans are made in advance should someone sneak in and snatch a cabin from our grasp, but by the beginning of March our ride and route are secure.

Dirt roads are preferred, but back country Montana pavement will often deliver a spectacular bimble through Big Sky Country. This year's route was roughly 50/50 totaling about 900 miles for me, and a thousand for Paul who left a day earlier than I.


Our route for the trip. We start in Bozeman (F). Paul took the southern route stopping at Black Butte Cabin (G) on Saturday night. I caught up with him at Bloody Dick Cabin (B) Sunday. Monday we lit out for Woods Cabin (C) on Como Lake for two nights. Tuesday was a day ride to Twin Lakes (not shown). Wednesday it was over Skalkaho Pass to Cummings Cabin (D) in Lincoln, MT---home of Ted "The Unibomber" Kazinski. Thursday was Stemple Pass Rd. through Helena to Eagle Guard Station Cabin for three nights with day rides. Sunday we returned to Bozeman...the back way.

A Little Music....Please!
Paul and I aren't afraid of a little peace and quite. Sundown in the mountains brings bird calls and coyote yelping often, and a crackling fire with distant thunder is way better than a TV. But shuffling around the fire ring reducing logs to coals for dinner, or late night whiskey drinking and cigar smoking while playing cribbage by candle light sure does benefit from some tunes. Problem is, it's damned hard to keep electronics charged for ten days out in the middle of nowhere.

When I stumbled into the EnerPlex booth at T.H.E. Show Newport earlier this year where they were showing off their Kickr IV Portable Solar Panel and Jumpr storage battery and device charger I knew a solution to juicing up devices off-the-grid was at hand. After talking to the representative about my upcoming motorcycle trip and the need to charge portable devices we agreed it would make a fine review opportunity, cards were exchanged, and samples were promised. Now to sort out the rest of the gear.

My Samsung Galaxy S3 would be the phone for the trip, and for music I have an Astell&Kern AK120 that has Bluetooth capabilities and is loaded with tracks, so all I needed to do was find a good Bluetooth rechargeable portable speaker. After my visit to Harmon in June, I had them send me a Flip portable speaker, which sounded quite good for $99 but unfortunately it needed a higher voltage and different connectors than was available on the Kickr and Jumpr so I wouldn't be able to use it. A little internet searching turned up a very cool looking new product, the Ultimate Ears Boom. A few emails were exchanged with the UE PR folks and one was on the way. My moto-camping music system was complete but there was little time for testing. I hope it all plays well together. didn't go so well in one case, we'll get to that. Flip the page for the whole story.

Vacation Photo Interlude

On the road to Twin Lakes we found an idilic swimming hole complete with waterfall. A sure cure for getting rid of the grunge from three days of riding.

johnjen's picture

Woods cabin that is.

Like I've been there, or something…

Great write up


audiozerro's picture

Haha, I do love this sort of test! The UE Boom is really one of the good Bluetooth speakers out there according to most expert, perhaps even one of the top ones. I personally like mine a lot, and will take it with me next time I go camping to play music around the fire.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

We've seen numerous places together...from desert Oregon to the hiegths of the Sierras. 

Now dust the fesh of that bike and meet me in a pasture on Labor Day, YFF!


paul's picture

The software on the AK 120 (100) is godawful. The "playlist" function is useless (and a LOT of work!!).

I use the app, Discovr Music to put a playlist together and make a Smart Playlist in iTunes. I then make a folder on the AK120 and drag and drop the results. Playlist!

Love the form factor on the AK120 and AK100!

audiozerro's picture

Haha, I do love this sort of test! :) The UE Boom is really one of the good Bluetooth speakers out there according to most expert.. perhaps even one of the top ones. I personally like mine a lot, and will take it with me next time I go camping to play music around the fire!

doublea71's picture


Saw your trip route and noticed you opted out of Missoula. I used to live there and I want to mention a record store, Ear Candy Music, that is co-owned by an old friend, John Fleming. I believe it is on Higgins Ave and it seems to be going strong in its 16th year - maybe check it out the next time you make it into The Garden City. Montana truly is the last best place and I hope to return again some day. I love how you incorporate your love of the open road into your gear reviews and sort of take us along for the ride a bit. The pictures of Montana's scenery take my breath away because it is a place that still resonates with me and will until my dying day. Thanks for the good read.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I think I've been there before, I'll check it out next time I'm in Miss Oola.

And yes, Montana is an incredibly beautiful place. There aren't many places left in this country where you can ride hundreds of miles on dirt roads through the mountains without seeing another soul. Wish I had more room for all the pix I took. 

Limp's picture

You can afford thirty-odd Sansa Clips for the price of an AK120, and they even do playlists properly.

And MC 500 Ft Jesus? That's awesome!

Tyll Hertsens's picture

MC900 Foot Jesus stuff is not only great music, but it also seems to be VERY well recorded.  I use a couple of tracks as listening references.

Next time I think I'm just gonna load up my need for hi-rez on a BT speaker anyway.

veggieboy2001's picture

I picked up a cheap solar charger (that didn't work) for a vacation in Croatia last year. I knew this could be a great solution, even if the one I had was very poorly done. I'm glad that worked so well for you...even if the A&K didn't. Nothing more frustrating that having high hopes, and watching (hearing?) them be dashed to bits.


ultrabike's picture

Very kool gadgets there! (Solar panel combo).

"There's simply no excuse for loading that player with all the hardware to do a great job of playing hi-rez files and then not completing the task with a solid embedded software platform."

Amen! Some few products I've seen (and bought) have the HW specs but horrible FW implementation and support. At least the price point of some of those products was low so lack of support would be sort of expected... Not at the $1300 price point.

Very nice to hear the Boom does a good job.

Have not been to Montana yet, but it looks fantastic! Great pictures! That Bottlelegger Casino Bar and Grill in Lincoln breakfast picture is pure win!   

Stephen Mejias's picture

What an awesome trip. Thanks for taking us along for the ride, Tyll!

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Glad you enjoyed it!

Lemme know if you ever feel like taking a vacation up in Montana and I'll show you around. 

Dan S's picture

I just got one of these myself, and I'm very pleased.

I couldn't find any reviews from my usual go-to audiophiles like you, Steve Guttenberg, or anybody at Head-Fi, so I decided to wing it for once. I listened to all the models that I could, and the only key one that I didn't get a chance to audition was the FoxL v2 Platinum.

The UE Boom ended up winning out because it's water resistant, louder than similarly sized competition, and it sounds as good or better than any of its competitors. It obviously doesn't compare to an amp and loudspeakers setup, or a nice pair of headphones, but it sounds a lot better and goes a lot louder than I expected.

The only real negatives are intrinsic to the Bluetooth speaker category in general. All the sound comes from one place, you don't get a wide field of sound. The lower treble is a little sharp if you're close to it and play it loud, although less sharp than competitors. The bass is a little weak, but not as weak as I expected.

Overall, a great buy! I'd love to hear what you think about running two of them together -- that's an interesting feature, for sure.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I'll post up a follow-up for the second Boom in stereo...

...and EnerPlex is sending me a bigger storage battery and Surfr (a case with solar panel built in) for my S3, so I'll mention them as well.

natal's picture

My wife and I drove through Montana last summer.   It definitely is Big Sky country.  Absolutely, beautiful.  

TheAudioGuild's picture

...looks like it could be a scene out of Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. cool


Bennyboy's picture

That AK thing is a massive ripoff. The company behind it must be laughing their heads off all the way to the bank at the gullibility of those forking out such eye watering amounts for it. 

You don't say if your Samsung S3 is the international 19300 version with the better DAC in it,  but I use one as my only music player. Rooted, with Siyah Kernel and Stweaks added,  it is simply beautiful sounding. Wouldn't want anything else. 

You are right - there's no future for standalone music players anymore, beyond the daylight robbery of these mad esoteric audiophile nonsense machines. 






rataplan's picture

Terrible customer service! Went through the same thing with how to apply the firmware update. They still haven't updated they're firmware page with instructions :/

Astell&Kern better improve their software. Hopefully the extra bucks they're making off the AK120 can pay for this.

Read my head-fi review to hear all of my gripes:

rich tanaka's picture

The AK120 is a very good high resolution player. It sells like hotcakes in Asia. Good and happy for AK.

But the customers service is a contradition. A good phsyical product along side customers service which don't live up to expectations.

First, sending request for assistance will received no acknowledgements. ie " Your request is received by us. We will get back to you asap." 

Next, one waits for almost a week for any reply.

Tyll said it correctly, ie their web page is more like a product sale brochre. There is no contact emails, no telephone numbers etc. So one has to go to iRiver to get their contacts addresses. 

My constructive suggestion is their management should look into the customers service area.

p.s. Language commuication problems ? The Koreans are the most literate people in the world and almost all younger generations ( after 1970 ) are required to study Englsih in schools. So the miscommunication problems are not an issue here. If this is China, we can undertsand.

rich tanaka's picture

Would there be a review on the product itself ?

jeckyll's picture

As a fellow KLR rider, I've got to recommend Eagle Mike's stand. No need to lay the bike on it's side if you get a flat. Cheap, packs small and functional. Maybe check it out before your next trip :)

Now to the audit comment: I was about to message you to ask what you're riding with these days as I'm thinking of replacing my Shure 215. But wow, those JH13's are spendy!

I'm heading out on Saturday for a week through WA/OR/ID and I think the Shure's will need to be my go-to riding IEM for another season or two.

Looks like you had a great ride, I'll search on "that adventure site" to see if you wrote up a ride report :)


Sean's picture

Usually I do my best to charge my phone before getting on the road, so I rarely need to charge it during my travels. I use Duracell Alkaline Batteries for anything else I need and they are a lot safer than Lipo batteries.