Every reputable audio brand now offers portable Bluetooth speakers, alongside swaths of Amazon-fodder with names such as iClutch and The Broozr. The latter are very cheap and are certainly a good option for people who simply want a slightly louder phone. The seven speakers tested below represent a range of those with pretensions to superior fidelity.
Some of these have flashy extra features such as USB power output or aptX compression. The former is useful, but in most cases seemed like an afterthought, while the latter is almost worthless unless your device is equally well equipped and you only listen to swanky lossless audio. We’ve judged them, then, primarily on the quality of the sound they produce, plying them repeatedly with the same six tracks, in the hope of separating the room-fillers from the landfillers.
The test playlist
De La Soul: Pain (ft Snoop Dogg)
Ella & Louis: Stars Fell on Alabama
Neiked: Sexual (ft Dyo)
Kwabs: Perfect Ruin
Joanna Newsom: Waltz of the 101st Lightborne
Benjamin Britten: Sea Interludes
(from Peter Grimes)
Onkyo T3 £109
Dainty little trinket
Looks like a fatted iPhone and though it carries the branding of Onkyo, the Japanese hi-fi specialist, it’s produced by Hong Kong “music lifestyle” conglomerate Gibson. Snobbery aside, the T3 is small and remarkably lightweight with a nice, clean delivery. The sound reproduction favours the treble and high mids and the maximum volume isn’t going to trouble the neighbours. All the same, Ella and Louis’s harmonies came through in comforting detail and I think I improved the depth slightly by removing the ugly leatherette cover, allowing it to sit directly on the desk.
Loud, trendy must-have shaped like huge aspirin
The Beats brand is renowned for making headphones that are too bassy and too expensive. While the Pill+ isn’t cheap, it also isn’t overwhelmingly bottom heavy, which is a relief. It also has four drivers on board, enough to allow for a broad spectrum of sound.
Even so, there is something shallow about its sonic configuration: Joanna Newsom’s inimitable hooting seemed both shrill and distant when compared with, say, the same song played on the Kef Muo, and at higher volumes the Kwabs track lost some stability. More irritatingly, the Pill+ must be charged with an iPhone cable.
House Of Marley Get Together Mini
This is as big as a “portable” speaker can be: 1.5kg and a foot long. The argument for this size is that there’s room for four separate drivers – two for treble, two for bass – as well as a passive woofer at the back to amplify the low end. As a result, the Get Together Mini is loud and rich, with a bias towards bass, but perhaps a little muddier than some of its rivals. For most people, it would amply double as a bookshelf speaker.
Bob Marley’s descendants are not known for sharing his contempt for worldly goods – Californians can now buy a Marley-endorsed range of premium cannabis. Still, squeamish buyers will be relieved that, according to Bob’s son Rohan, the Marley audio range is “something our father would be proud of”.
JBL Charge 3
Inexplicably submersible speaker/charger
Upstaging merely “splashproof” speakers, the Charge 3 can be completely submerged in water for half an hour and emerge unharmed. Since this cannot also be said of a human being, the advantages of this extravagant waterproofing are moot. The passive woofers at either end, which flap about like little cheeks, provide lush, plosive bass even at low volume on the De La Soul track and the speaker is altogether very muscular, but there is a certain lack of definition at the top end, a side-effect, perhaps, of its impermeability. Among the several contenders that double as a battery pack, though, this is the only one that does so with any real gusto.
Nifty Danish torpedo
Depending on how you perceive the parameters, this is either a very decent all-rounder or bit of a non-starter. Soundwise, there isn’t much brute clout and because it’s treble-heavy the sibilants of Louis Armstrong’s vocal came through spiky and garish at higher volume. On the other hand, it handled Britten, Neiked and De La Soul very well, even with its meagre bass capacity. The quality of the delivery is perhaps slightly inferior to the Charge 3, and it’s certainly less assertive, but it’s also £50 cheaper, much lighter and more discreet. In fact, it’s adorable: elegant, slightly woolly and with a very smart interface. Aside from the Onkyo T3, it’s the only one that could reasonably claim to be pocket-size.
Glossy, prismatic contender for highbrows
Posted: Sunday, March 11th, 2018 at 9:59 am
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