As the good ole shock jock Plato so eloquently put it, music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue. Loudspeakers are instrumental for that kind of education.
A crossover network, transducers, an enclosure, additional parts and the complicated interactions of the aforementioned parts form the system of a loudspeaker.
A system more complex than the aforementioned paragraph would have you think: Each and every facet of a loudspeaker’s performance and the resulting cost comes with a trade-off, which makes it difficult to come loudspeakers from different manufacturers.
Sure, one might be able to compare single specifications, but then again it does not speak for the performance as a whole.
As I spend quite a bit of time on the road and enjoy the odd tune, I have listened to dozens of great (and some not so great) wireless speakers, from ultra-portable to rugged and waterproof, including Bluetooth speakers that will make both high fidelity aficionados cringe and others that would audiophile fascists smile.
If you are what the French refer to as a melomane and are used to the emissions of your Wilson Alexandria XLF speakers amplified by VTL Siegfried Reference II monoblock amps, a portable Bluetooth speaker might not be the one for you, but Bluetooth speakers are for sure an interesting breed – especially for travel: Simple and often effective audio upgrades that do not have to break the bank.
Well, unless you want it to.
What has Bose come to stand for?
Well, for me at least “Bose” means excellent design, great sound and a bigger price tag.
Bose’s SoundLink Revolve Plus Bluetooth speaker ticks all the boxes and fits the stereotype: It sounds excellent for its compact size, has a built-in handle for easy transport and is water-resistant. Battery life is good at 16 hours; there is a threaded tripod mount on the bottom of the speaker and an integrated microphone for speakerphone calls.
It’s a premium product with a great sound. Design-wise, it is reminiscent of a lantern emitting sound instead of light and the merits of its design lie in its ability to produce clear, loud sound (given its size) without distortion. A cool feature, however, I rarely find opportunity to crank shit up to 11 when on the road and unless you want to make sure that the Trap part of your intoxicated DJ-set hits the nooks of the Stinkdrüse youth hostel you are residing at, it is not essential.
Summa summarum, Bose as Bose can.
Marshall, the English company commonly known for designing and manufacturing music amplifiers and speaker cabinets, moved into the headphone space quite a while ago and adding loudspeakers to the mix as well: Enter the Marshall Kilburn.
With its timeless design—referred to by some people as “nostalgic,” Marshall’s line of speakers will appeal to both the design and fashion conscious, just as much as it will to the audiophile crowd.
Spoiler alert: It sound as good as it is sturdy too.
The speaker is styled after Marshall’s iconic guitar amps with the iconic logo on front, and the trademark grille. It features two tweeters and a single woofer crammed in its rather large 242 x 140 x 140mm chassis. Weighing in at 3 kg, this one is on the heavy side of things when it comes to traveling, yet is comparatively light given the quality engineering and its power: Clear midrange and extended highs for a sound that is both articulate and pronounced. The analogue brushed metal knobs (with the right level of resistance, no flimsy crap here) allow to fine tune the controls.
Battery life is rated for a solid 20 hours of playback action. The battery can be replaced, which is a feature that a lot of other portable speakers lack.
Sure, many a Bluetooth speaker is water-resistant. This makes them a great companion to use near the sea, your local lagoon and when Hugh Hefner invites you to get groovy in the grotto in the Playboy Mansion. The Wonderboom cannot only be submerged but it also floats, which is particularly useful for your swim training session if you want to push the speaker ahead of you.
10-hour battery life and the sound quality is basic but respectable for a speaker of this size.
Bang and Olufsen
Oh, you are into design? Got it.
Peep the B&O Play Beolit 17.
Bang and Olufsen do not fuck around when it comes to design: Anodized aluminum grille, authentic full-grain leather handle, durable polymer, dished rubber top for your mobile phone -- crafted to near perfection.
With a battery life of up to 24 hours and a feature that tells you how much juice is left along with being able to be charged via a USB lead, it is a practicable thing of beauty.
Sound-wise it destroys: 240 watts of peak power dispersing an authentic and clean sound at a full 360 degrees, with minimal distortion even at high volumes, even to fill a large auditorium.
Expensive? Yes, but probably one of my favourite Bluetooth speakers.
Let’s look into more affordable options:
The Jam Heavy Metal HX-P920 is value for money.
With up to 8-hour battery and a comparatively sleek design reminiscent of the Bose SoundLink Mini, its dual drivers and a dual passive bass radiator generate a bold, crisp, detailed treble and bassy sound out of its small aluminum frame.
Into affordable retro rock vibes? Then the guitar amp-themed GPO Westwood Bluetooth Speaker Jam Heavy Metal HX-P920 was made for you.
Via Bluetooth or an RCA audio cable, 25 watts of sound can instantly be added to all your favorite tunes. It looks like a proper classic guitar amplifier from the cloth grille to the faux leather skin over its carefully crafted frame. Beautifully built frame, with the working and sturdy EQ knobs adding a particularly nice touch, yet only a lean (26 x 11 x 17.5cm) weighing in at only 1.8 kg. It sounds great and offers an impressive scale from such a small box, reaching high volumes with minimal distortion and decent stereo separation.
Like it small?
Look no further, the palm sized Creative Muvo 2c Bluetooth speaker comes with a splash-proof shell, passive radiator and includes an MP3 player via microSD.
Very affordable and compact in size, it does not lack in oomph. The output is much bigger than the taut size would have you think at first glance. 6-hour battery life won’t get you coast to coast but small size comes with its limitation. They come in flashy colours, fit in the smallest of bags and come with a rubberized finish for extra grip when you are all greased up with sun lotion.
If you pair two of them up, you got some serious stereo vibes going.
Bose, Marshall, Ultimate Ears, Bang & Olufsen, Jam Audio, Rockit / GPO and Creative sell a variety of speakers available at their respective websites: