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Rocketfish Rocketboost Overview and Software

By Chen Fifely

Overview and Features

transmitter receiver angledAlthough Rocketboost is incorporated into a number of wireless products, this review specifically focuses on the RF-RBREC amplified audio receiver/amplifier and the RF-RBUSB transmitter/receiver. The RF-RBUSB retails for $64.99 and can either send a signal to other Rocketboost products, or receive an audio signal. It supports a 3.5mm input, which makes it easy to connect with any audio source featuring an analog output. The signal input through the 3.5mm jack loops out through a 3.5mm output. This is a convenient feature as it allows you to hook up a source and loop it out to another device. I used this feature when hooking my iPhone into the transmitter then running it into my home theater receiver, this way my home theater is part of the whole-home system. There is also a USB input on the transmitter. The USB input is used to hook the transmitter up to a computer, allowing any audio source on the computer to be transmitted out to other Rocketboost receivers. Rocketboost has a control program that can be downloaded from their website and installed on either Mac or PC. There is also an app for any iOS devices, which can be used to control the entire system as long as the transmitter is hooked up to the computer with USB and the Rocketboost program is running. The RF-RBUSB also has a switch on back to enable or disable “Hub Status.” In any Rocketboost system, there has to be one, and only one, hub. A maximum of 9 devices can connect to a hub with a maximum distance of 150’ (line of sight) from the hub to a receiver. Overall, the RF-RBUSB is a full-featured and promising piece of equipment for $65.

transmitter rea

Rocketfish RF-RBREC Receiver/Amplifier

amplifier angledThe second product reviewed here is the RF-RBREC receiver/amplifier, which retails for $99.99. It is meant to be used as an expansion product in an existing Rocketboost system. It allows someone to easily add music to a room by purchasing the amp and a pair of speakers. It cannot be used as a hub or a transmitter. There are also no inputs on the unit. The only thing on the back of the unit is a pair of speaker terminals and a power cord. Unlike most budget products, which use spring type speaker connections, Rocketfish opted to use full-sized 5-way binding posts. This is a nice touch because 5-way binding posts accommodate the use of banana plugs or spade connecters, as well as large gauge speaker wire. Another nice touch is the ability of the amplifier to drive a 4-ohm load. The unit is powered by a class D amplifier rated at 42x2 W (RMS) into 4-ohms. The features just might make up for the dismal build quality of the unit, which is nothing to write home about - the unit is made completely of cheap plastic. On the front of the unit is a power button, IR receiver, volume knob, bass button to boost bass output, and source button to switch between different transmitters on the Rocketboost network. One feature that would make this product much more attractive is the addition of an analog input and output. Even if the unit could not transmit audio to other units on the network, an analog input would allow it to function as a standalone amplifier for speakers. Furthermore, multiple units could be daisy-chained together to drive zone 2 speakers from an AV receiver’s zone 2 preouts. Still, it is hard to complain about a wireless 4-ohm stable amplifier for only $100!

amplifier rear inputs outputs

Software and iOS app

The quality of the software and iOS app is where the Rocketboost system allows HUGE room for improvement. The software has some bugs, a cluttered layout, and an anemic feature set. When the software first opens, you are given the option to either browse sources or receivers. This option seems unnecessary and confusing because some devices can be both sources and receivers. Once you select sources or receivers, you are taken to the main page (shown below). On the left hand side is a column showing your devices. On the top of the screen is a selection to choose between viewing sources or receivers, which will adjust what is displayed in the left-hand pane. My suggestion is to do away with this option and simply have all of the Rocketboost devices listed on the left-hand pane all the time. There is a settings tab where each device can be renamed, or grouped together so they play the same thing. There is also an option to disable sources because only 5 sources can be active at the same time on the network. Once you click on the device you wish to use, the center pane shows all of the options for that device. This pane is functional, but poorly laid out. There is no clear delineation between the different options so as to guide your eye along the screen. If you select a receiver, all of the sources you can listen to on that receiver are listed. Simply click on the source you would like, and it will start playing.

software screenshot

Other than changing the source you are listening to, all you can do is adjust the volume on the receiver. If the source selected is the transmitter connected to the computer, a few more options are available. The software interfaces with both iTunes and Windows Media Player, so you have the ability to play, pause, skip, shuffle, and repeat songs. You can select any playlists you have previously created in iTunes or Windows Media Player. You can also select Computer Audio as a source, which will send out whatever you are listening to on the computer. I used this feature quite often, as I would open Pandora in an Internet browser and stream it to my two Rocketboost amplifiers. Unfortunately, that is the extent of the control the software or app gives you and also where the major flaws start.

First, when the RF-RBUSB is hooked up to the computer via USB (as opposed to 3.5mm), it automatically becomes the default audio device on the computer, which disables the computer speakers. You can go into device manager (for Windows, it is different on Mac) and change the computer soundcard back to the default audio device, but then the Rocketboost transmitter is disabled. In order to have the computer speakers and the Rocketboost transmitter work at the same time, the computer speakers must be plugged into the 3.5mm output on the Rocketboost transmitter. This is a huge inconvenience, especially if you have spent money on nice computer speakers or a quality soundcard. If you take the time to hook up the system so both the Rocketboost transmitter and your computer speakers work, now you are stuck listening to the same thing on both systems. Let’s say that Rocketboost fixes the issue of disabling the computer speakers, you still won’t be able to listen to one thing through the computer speakers and send a different audio signal to the Rocketboost system . All of the sounds being played through the computer speakers are sent to the Rocketboost system, even if iTunes or Windows Media Player is the selected input on the RF-RBUSB. Let me explain, if you want to listen to Pandora on your computer speaker but listen to iTunes on the Rocketboost system, Pandora will be sent through to the Rocketboost system even though iTunes is selected in the Rocketboost software. Selecting iTunes or Windows Media Player as a source simply opens the program and gives you basic playback functionality, it doesn’t stop the other sounds on the computer from being sent to the Rocketboost system. This is a huge oversight!

Second, and this is my biggest complaint, there is no way to easily browse your music collection using the software or the iOS app. When navigating music, you can only view the song that is currently playing, or skip forward or back one song at a time. This makes it nearly impossible to navigate a music library and functionally limits the iOS app to pause and play. No one is going to pull out their phone, boot up the app, and press “next track” 300 times to find the song they want. Furthermore, the software relies on an external program, like iTunes, to actually handle playing the music. This means that the Rocketboost software is limited to the functionality of whatever software it is pulling music from. I think Rocketboost should take a page out of SONOS’ playbook here and have the Rocketboost software handle the entire music library. This would allow for a more seamless experience, it might even make the software worth downloading in the first place!

iPhone 1 iPhone 2

Finally, the last major flaw in the software is the lack of ability to power zones on or off with the software or app. Each Rocketboost device has to be powered on by hand or with the IR remote, and then it can be controlled wirelessly. If each device is left on all the time, then this isn’t a problem (this is how SONOS works). If you want to listen to music in a room, it isn’t that hard to walk over and turn on the amp, but if the amp is located in a different room than the speakers, it is a problem. In my home the USB transmitter was hooked up to the computer in the study, so if I wanted to listen to music in the bedroom I would have to go to the study, turn on the transmitter, start the computer, and run the Rocketboost software. After that process, I could go back to the bedroom and actually listen to music.

One method to work around the poorly designed software and app is to hook an airport express, or similar device, to the 3.5mm input on the Rocketboost transmitter. With this configuration the Rocketboost system is essentially turned into an Airplay system. But then the price of this system climbs into the area where it has to compete with more, and probably better, competition.

 

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