By Kevin Hunt
For a colorful little music streamer with 17 sides (at last count) and a bust-out Kickstarter funding campaign, the Rocki Play isn’t that complicated.
It streams music from a smartphone, tablet or computer to a traditional speaker system, just like a half-dozen or so other Wi-Fi adapters.
Apple’s Airport Express, still a premium streamer, has been doing it for more than a decade. In technology years, that makes it older than Bullwinkle.
The Rocki Play and the upcoming Rocki Play+, however, promise wireless streaming at lower cost, compatibility with a wider range of music formats and an onboard rechargeable battery for greater portability. It only looks like a pick-a-color geological novelty.
More than 2,000 people backed Rocki late last year by pledging $200,000-plus — four times the goal — in a Kickstarter campaign. The $49 Rocki Play arrived first, perhaps prematurely, without an iPhone app, lacking DLNA-sharing (non-Apple) support and an Android app unable to play Spotify, Pandora or other major music services.
Rocki, the company, declared it would start a music revolution with all of these functions accessible within its app.
The foundation, at least, is ready. It connects, wirelessly and mostly painlessly, to a home network and then, the old-fashioned way, to an audio system or powered speaker, via the streamer’s 3.5-millimeter output. Rocki relies on plug-in power or battery power when electricity is out of reach but a Wi-Fi signal is not.
For those who haven’t used a streaming adapter, Rocki transforms existing speakers into wireless speakers that play music streamed from, and controlled by, a smartphone or computer.
So does an Airport Express with Apple’s AirPlay streaming technology. If it were administered truth serum, Rocki would admit it could stream little more than what resided on a smartphone’s memory.
And Rocki calls this a revolution?
But Rocki Play also supports AirPlay — somewhat peculiarly, the company says it was not intentional — which suddenly turns this still-developing streamer, right now, into a half-price Airport Express streamer.
And now that Rocki has an iPhone/iOS app, it doesn’t really matter that the app doesn’t have direct access to Spotify or music on a computer connected to your home network. It’s all there with AirPlay.
I connected Rocki to an small office audio system, then set it up through the iPhone app. It took three tries before Rocki finally said, “I have successfully connected to your Wi-Fi router.” (Yes, Rocki speaks.)
Once set up, Rocki appears on AirPlay’s drop-down menu, whether it’s on an iPhone, iPad or even a PC running iTunes. It worked on an older iPod Touch that couldn’t even download the Rocki app. For now, this is how I would recommend using Rocki Play — downloading the app only to expedite setup.
As a music streamer, Rocki exceeds Airport Express in some areas. Airport Express can play CD-quality files (16 bits, 44.1 kilohertz) but not FLAC files — a favorite of the Windows world. Rocki can.
Rocki can handle high-resolution music files, up to 24/192, though the company declines to identify the digital-to-analog chip it uses. Still, to get that kind of firepower in a $49 streamer is significant.
Full high-resolution capabilities await in the Play+, expected this summer, that has two digital outputs, HDMI and optical, so enthusiasts can stream music to the Rocki, which will then output a digital signal to their higher-quality converter.
Rocki also runs on battery power up to four hours. For casual, around-the-house streaming, the Rocki Play makes multiroom wireless music affordable at $49 per room. Just add speakers. (For signal range, stability and sound quality, Wi-Fi is superior to Bluetooth.)
The Rocki app, in September, will add Rhapsody streaming service and streamlined multiroom management.
Even as a $49 AirPlay dongle, the Rocki Play is a bargain. It’s absolutely evolutionary.