I can’t stand the tiny sound the built in speakers on most devices make, but hate to keep my phone tethered to a speaker. The solution is, of course, Bluetooth, but Bluetooth speakers can be hit or miss, especially when it comes to sound quality.
I wanted to share four speakers I’ve been testing for the last couple of months. All four work with most bluetooth enabled devices, including Mac, iOS and Android, include rechargeable batteries, and a line out for directly connecting to devices. But there the similarities end. The size and features are different, but, more importantly, the price for each varies greatly along with the sound quality.
For the Audiophile: Transit by Soen
My first reaction to the Transit was “this is nice, really nice.” Feeling like something out of a James Bond film, every detail is well thought out and meticulously constructed. This includes an integrated kick-stand, brushed aluminum accents, and low profile controls. My favorite detail, though, has to be the on and off sounds. Most speakers I evaluate use R2-D2 like beeps or chirps, which, while getting the job done, are rather utilitarian. The Transit, on the other hand, uses warm full guitar cords, making me smile every time I would turn it on.
The overall black rubberized effect is calming to look at, with minimalistic touch controls, and even all of the FCC and other specs are hidden on the bottom of the kickstand, rather than messing up the clean aesthetic. It includes a Magpro cover which attaches neatly around the sides, not unlike older iPad covers. But unlike those covers the cover for the Transit has to be completely removed to use the speaker, leaving you with an elongated octagonal piece of rubber to store when not traveling.
The system includes an integrated lithium-ion battery that promises up to 8 hours of non-stop playback. My own tests show this to be roughly correct, with some variability depending on the volume set. The feature I appreciated most was the auto-off, which saves battery power. Pressing any button will quickly wake the speaker.
What matters most is how the speaker sounds sounds, and it sounds excellent from every angle and even at a distance. I tested the speaker in a variety of circumstances for music and voice and found the sound to remain warm and clean even at high volumes. The Soen web site details a lot of technical specifications they used to accomplish this that you can geek out on—including Smart Suspension™, Flux Force Motor™, Momentum Port™, and SOEN Pure-EQ™—but forget that. Just sit back and enjoy how all of that tech integrates to create a stellar sound
The realistic bass never suffers from vibration disturbance with tight mids and high levels keeping everything sounding natural. At just over a pound and 1.3″ thick, the Transit system is an audiophile’s portable dream come true.
Soen Transit (www.soenaudio.com)
For the Outdoors: Ecorox by Exogear
If you need rugged construction with excellent sound quality, the Ecorox from Exogear is the best I’ve used. The speaker is in a hard rubber case with a protected, but still easy to use controls, and a back panel flap to keep plugs protected but still easily accessible. The grill is solid, but comes in a variety of accent colors to liven the overall design up.
The speaker is built for active use, including a handy mounting bracket and, for you accident prone canoeists, the ability to float in water. I put this speaker to the test, taking it in the shower for several weeks to listen to every morning, and I’m glad to report that the promised waterproofing of these speakers held up under tough conditions. I even dunked it in the pool, dropped it on concrete, and it kept on playing.
The battery life is a solid 10 hours, give or take an hour depending on how loud you are listening to Morning Edition. I found the stand-by time to be almost a week before the speaker needed to be recharged.
And the sound? Belying its rugged appearance, the tones are solid and full with a six watt stereo speakers and a top mounted bass radiator. Even in the shower, this allowed the sound to come through loud and clear.
Exogear Ecorox (ecoxgear.com/ecorox)
For the Family: ARS60 by Acoustic Research
If you need a speaker that looks good in a family room or kitchen and is easy to switch around devices for, then I recommend the ARS60 by Acoustic Research. It’s column design and seven different grill color choices gives it an elegant almost sculpture like look that will fit into most decorous with ease, keeping it pleasing to the eye but relatively invisible.
The sound it makes is far from invisible, though, able to fill the room with clear sound. The speaker kicks out 16 watts of sound and using the aptX codex to provide smooth audio output even when streamed wirelessly.
Beyond the quality sound, the feature I liked most about the ARS60—and what made it the best choice for family—was the controls that not only allow you control the volume, but also easily advance to the next track or return to a previous track. Situated in our kitchen, this made it easy for anyone to start playing their music on any device, but allowed anyone to skip tracks they didn’t care for.
Acoustic Research ARS60 (acoustic-research.com)
For the Kids: Public Zoo by bēm Wirelss
I let my daughter play with this one, so I’ll let her take over:
I personally thought it was really good! The 2.5″ cubed design is fun so your kids will want to use, especially with the cute bow-tie. Bow-ties are cool. The controls were simple to use and easy to press and very simple. You can play, pause, and increase or decrease the volume. I would say that it’s inconvenient not to have a fast-forward and rewind button, especially when I’m carrying the speaker around the house without my phone.
I did have to pair it with my phone a lot, but pairing was no sweat. The blink blue light is very bright, so you may want it against a wall while you are sleeping. You find yourself wanting to stare at it at night.
The battery life was really great, I got almost a day of stand-by before I had to recharge it, and hours of playtime.
The sound is nice and crisp if you need something for a small party or gathering. I never took it to its full volume, but I never needed to because what I got always filled the room, without my parents complaining. It’s nice and portable so you can take it on trips, and fits in any bag: very compact.
If you need something cute (but not sappy cute) but rugged for kids and teens, the bēm wireless speaker is an excellent choice.
bēm wireless: The Public Zoo (bemwireless.com/the-public-zoo-mobile-speaker-black)