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Eton Soulra XL review: Eton Soulra XL

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Last year we reviewed the Eton Soulra, a solar-powered portable iPod/iPhone speaker. Well, the company is now offering up the Soulra's big brother, the Soulra XL.

Eton Soulra XL
7.0

Eton Soulra XL

The Good

Well-built and attractively designed for outdoor use, the <b>Eton Soulra XL</b> has a built-in rechargeable battery, an integrated solar panel for trickle charging while outdoors, and a shield for protecting your iPod or iPhone from water splashes and sand. It also plays fairly loud and comes with a remote.

The Bad

The Soulra XL has no FM radio. It's short on bass and a tad pricey.

The Bottom Line

While it may not blow you away with its sound quality, the Eton Soulra XL is a sturdy and attractive portable iPod/iPhone audio system that offers a built-in rechargeable battery and solar charging.

Featuring an extra-large, retractable 72-square-inch "enhanced" monocrystal solar panel, the 7-pound Soulra XL has a built-in 2000mAh rechargeable lithium ion battery. The company says it will run for 5 hours of continuous play (as long as it has some sun to soak up) and has eight speaker drivers (two tweeters, two woofers, and four passive radiators), and a 22W output, which will fill a decent-size room or patio space with sound.

This model's sleeker looking than the smaller Soulra, but isn't as rugged, and doesn't offer the splash-proof design with speakers that are sealed on the inside to provide "protection from sand, water, and other outdoor elements." Still, the unit appears solidly built and has an integrated carrying handle, as well as a removable padded strap for carrying the Soulra XL over your shoulder.

The best thing to do is charge the battery fully using the included AC adapter before you take it outside. Fully charged, you should get about 5 hours of battery life from the system as your iPod or iPhone is charged in the cradle. But that number will rise to as much as 8 hours if you flip up the solar panel and expose it to direct sunlight (obviously, how much sunlight you get will affect battery life).


The solar panel folds down into the back of the unit.

The unit doesn't recharge as quickly via the solar panel as it does using the AC adapter. It takes about 5 hours to fully charge the unit in direct sun versus about 2 hours with the AC adapter (note: solar charging will not work through a window). But so long as you've started with a good charge, you should be able to leave the unit outside playing for a good portion of the day.

Measuring 8.1x15.1x5.3 inches (HWD), the Soulra XL is about twice the size of the original Soulra--and weighs twice as much at 7 pounds--but it's easy enough to carry around. Eton has also improved the design of the translucent shield that covers your iPod or iPhone when docked and helps keep your device dry in the event of a water splash or sand. Now the shield is better integrated into the unit and is on a hinge that opens and closes. There's also an auxiliary input for connecting other audio devices.

Overall, as we said, we really liked the design, including the rubberized buttons on the unit itself, and appreciated that Eton included a remote--it, too, has a durable look and feel. As with the original Soulra, if we had some quibbles, they concerned the lack of an FM tuner and the sound quality, which is certainly an improvement over the original but still leaves something to be desired in the bass department, even with the bass button engaged.

This model can play significantly louder than the original, but you probably won't want to really crank it--especially with bass-heavy material--because it has a tendency to sound a bit crunchy at high volumes. In other words, the Soulra XL sounds decent enough for casual listening, but don't expect the big, rich, more detailed sound that you get from a larger unit such as the Altec Lansing Mix iMT810 (Altec's boom box has a battery option but doesn't have a built-in rechargeable battery or the solar charging option).

We put the Soulra XL up against the more affordable and compact Logitech S715i, our Editors' Choice pick in the portable iPod speaker category, and the S715i sounded better; it wasn't a huge difference, but there was definitely a difference. That said, the Soulra XL seems better built and better suited to outdoor use. Also, the S715i doesn't feature the built-in solar panel, which adds potential value.

Conclusion
You can get the Soulra XL for $250 online. As we said, you can find better-sounding units for the money, but the Soulra XL gets high marks for its design. When all is said and done, the Soulra XL makes a good outdoor portable sound system for your iPod or iPhone. It does fine indoors, too, but you should really only get this if you plan on using it primarily outdoors.

Eton Soulra XL
7.0

Eton Soulra XL

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 6