Rocki Play review: Knockout bargain Rocki punches up your audio system with Spotify
Ever since Sonos entered the marketplace we've all seemed to accept, if begrudgingly, that wireless streaming adapters for your existing stereo should cost $350 . Even Samsung adheres to that pricing with its Link Mate multi-room adapter.
But why should it cost so much? This is the question that Rocki asks with its Play device. It's a Wi-Fi music dongle that connects to your existing hi-fi system for only $49 in the US, £40 in the UK and AU$68 in Australia.
As of January 2015, Rocki now supports the excellent Spotify Connect feature, which means you can use the Spotify app on your Android phone or tablet to play music wirelessly on your home audio system. Add in DLNA and mobile streaming, and you have a very talented device for the money.
You'd expect something this cheap to be a little rough around the edges, and from a hardware perspective you'd be right, but the software is surprisingly slick and easy to use.
As far as competition at this price is concerned, there is only the $49 Gramafon Spotify streamer (normally $89) which appears to offer better build quality but lacks Rocki's depth of features. Apart from that, the Beep and the original Phorus Receiver both run $150 but are underwhelming at best. Meanwhile Bluetooth dongles cost about the same, and offer basically universal music compatibility, but suffer from short range and poor sound quality.
If you're looking for an easy way to get wireless, phone-controlled Spotify or DLNA music happening in your house, there is currently nothing better at this price than the Rocki Play.
Editors' note: This review was updated January 29, 2015, to account for the addition of Spotify Connect. The sub-ratings for Features and Value have been increased, improving the the overall rating from 7.7 (3.5 stars) to 8.2 (4 stars).
If this was a beauty contest, the Rocki would come dead last, even if it managed to kill off all the other contestants. This is a small, rock-shaped device that comes in a rubber shell -- with a truckload of different colored skins to choose from! -- but underneath, it's a fairly nondescript plastic blob. The upside is that it's easy to put out of sight; just dangle it off the back of your stereo.
The device features only two ports -- a 3.5mm output and a Micro-USB for power -- plus a boot/reset button. All the hardware you'll need is included in the box: a USB power adapter and two audio cables, a 3.5mm-to-3.5mm jack, as well as a 3.5mm-to-stereo RCA cable.
The Rocki has an onboard battery that the company says is good for up to four hours of playback, though that will presumably depend on the complexity and size of the files you send through it. MP3s may preserve the battery longer than WAV files, for example.
The single LED located by the power inputs indicates connectivity and battery level.
While the dongle isn't much to look at, nor should it be, really, the accompanying app is very easy on the eyes. The Rocki Android app features a slick user interface and is very simple to operate.
While there is also an iOS app it lacks the streaming services (below) offered by the Android version, though Rocki tells us an updated app is coming in the next month. Spotify Connect did work using an iPhone in my testing, however, making it a good choice for Spotify subscribers with iOS devices who don't own an AirPlay device like an Apple TV.
At present there are four apps within the Rocki application: Deezer, SoundCloud, Last.FM (scrobbling only) and Danish service Familystream.
Third-party support also exists for Spotify Connect, and that's how most people will now probably use it. Just open up the Spotify app in Android or iOS and connect to the Rocki directly (here's a walkthrough). Just be aware that if you want to use Spotify Connect you'll need to be a paid subscriber, not on a free account.
Some users may balk at the lack of Bluetooth, but in essence this is the anti-Bluetooth dongle. The better bandwidth and greater range of Wi-Fi means it should be leaps and bounds better for sound quality and stability of connection.
While the app itself is a DLNA server, sadly, it is unable to access other DLNA servers on your network directly. You'll need to use a third-party DLNA app like BubblePNP, Rocki's recommended Android DLNA partner, to stream to the Rocki.
Like the Play-Fi system before it, the Rocki is also apparently a stealth Apple Airplay device -- that is, not officially sanctioned by Apple. Sadly, I couldn't get this unofficial function to work, though other users have.
While the app offers access to music-sharing site SoundCloud, I couldn't get the app to connect. It would let me enter my username and password, then simply showed a whirling "wait" graphic ad infinitum.
The player is designed to use at home though it can also be changed to a permanent hotspot mode for traveling outside. All you'll need is your phone and an audio system to connect the Rocki to. Judging by its website, the company seem to favor '80s boomboxes, but anything with a line-in will work.
The advantage of the Wi-Fi connectivity of the Rocki system, as opposed to Bluetooth, is that you can leave the room with your phone and not have the music cut out. Indeed, Rocki is designed to be a whole-house system, and the company claims that there is no upper limit to the number of adapters you can use, so long as you and the dongles are within reach of Wi-Fi.
To get going, you simply click on the Start button on the front page of the app, and Rocki pretty much does everything else for you. The unit creates its own ad-hoc network that the app searches for, and once detecting it, the app asks you to input your home network password. Unlike most other Wi-Fi device setups, you don't even need to touch the new unit, just plug it into the power.
By comparison, the setup of the more expensive Phorus system was heart- (and router) breaking. The couple of minutes I spent setting up the Rocki were a joy compared to having spent at least an hour tortuously troubleshooting the Phorus, which had permanently disabled the wireless function of my router.
After our initial review in June 2014 the company has issued several updates, adding Deezer and Spotify Connect. I found I needed to turn the Rocki on and off a half-dozen times for the device to receive all of them. With that done I then found the Rocki appeared within the "Devices" section of my Spotify app and I was able to stream to it without issue.
For such an inexpensive unit, the Rocki really performed beyond expectations. Yes, the build quality is a little iffy, but it seems that all of the money has been poured into its performance instead. You won't quite get the hi-fi performance you might expect from a dedicated system like the former Squeezebox Touch , but at as much as one-sixth of the price of most competitors, that's less of an issue.
For example, in practice there was less difference than I had expected between the Rocki and the USB DAC on the TEAC A-H01 . With Arcade Fire's "Reflecktor" the differences were very subtle, with a tiny bit more air on the TEAC. Both sources were able to convey the deep bassline and sometimes overwhelming amount of instruments in the soundstage equally well, though. With a more "rock" track like Future of the Left's crunchy "Small Bones Small Bodies," there was better vocal detail on the TEAC, and the guitar and bass were easier to tell apart from each other. But given the price differential -- $49/£40 versus $299/£239 -- this wasn't bad at all.
Playback control can be spotty: I found sometimes it's not possible to stop a playing track, while the app can also start playing the song from your last session, even with an empty playlist. Similarly, depending on the strength of your network, you may find that you get the occasional dropout, but if you have a dual-mode (2.4GHz and 5GHz) router and a compatible phone, this should fix any small issues.
But it's streaming via Spotify Connect that is the hero here. I was able to playback for several hours without stutter using the Spotify app on my home network. DLNA playback also worked great via Bubble UPnP, which has now developed into quite a slick app, by the way.
Finally, when using the battery, I found I got a couple of hours playing FLAC files out of the device before the app crashed, and I was only able to get the system working again by plugging the Rocki back into the power socket.
If it offered support for more music sources, the $49 Rocki Play might be the kind of no-brainer for audio that the $35/£30/AU$49 Chromecast was for video. It's dead simple, plus you don't need to worry about wireless hubs, expensive speakers, or other gumpf. It will likely suit a large majority of users who want to stream Spotify to their hi-fi, or Android users who just want to hear their portable music collection.