Gadling Gear Review: Bluetooth Speakers For Travel

Bluetooth Speaker: Damson Twist
Damson

Smartphones, tablets and iPods have made it incredibly easy to carry your entire music collection wherever you go. This is particularly useful when traveling; you get an entire library of songs right at your fingertips, helping to make those long stays in airports and hotels just a bit easier. Add a portable Bluetooth speaker to the mix and you have a wireless entertainment system with high quality sound that can go with you anywhere. Those speakers have gotten smaller, lighter and more affordable over the past few years, making them a great travel companion for the music lover. Here are two unique options to consider for your next road trip.

Damson Twist ($69.99)
If you’re looking for a compact, yet surprisingly powerful, Bluetooth speaker to take with you when you travel, it’s tough to beat the Twist from Damson. This diminutive audio device really packs a punch and thanks to its unique design it even provides a solid amount of bass — something that can’t be said about most of the competition.

When taking the speaker out of the box for the first time you’ll probably be struck by two things. First, the Twist is quite small, measuring a shade under three inches in height and about two-and-a-quarter inches around. The second is that the speaker is surprisingly heavy for something so small. It tips the scales at 12 ounces, which doesn’t sound like much until you hold it in your hand. For such a small device the Twist feels incredibly solid, conveying the sense that it can take a little abuse and keep performing just fine. The build quality on the speaker is truly top notch and Damson should be commended for creating a portable speaker this good.Pairing the speaker with a smartphone or other Bluetooth-enabled device couldn’t be any easier. After charging the Twist to full capacity, I simply turned it on in “BT” mode and selected it from my iPhone’s list of available devices. The two gadgets communicated with one anther for a few seconds before the speaker gave out a brief chime indicating that it had successfully connected. After that it was ready to begin playing music and moments later it was doing just that, belting out tunes in a very satisfying manner.

Unlike most other Bluetooth speakers, the Twist incorporates what Damson calls “resonance technology” to improve volume and overall sound quality. While holding the device in your hand, you’ll barely be able to hear anything out of the speaker at all, even with the volume turned up fairly high. But place the Twist on a flat surface and it immediately begins pumping out audio at a higher level. In fact, when I set it down for the first time I was caught a little off guard at the jump in both volume and sound quality. The speaker uses natural resonance from whatever surface it is placed on to create a richer and more full audio experience and as a result, it delivers performance on par with a speaker much larger than itself. Damson says the Twist works best when sitting on a wood, metal, glass or even cardboard surface. During my testing I found that I preferred it on wood the most as that helped to amplify bass levels quite nicely.

Battery life is a bit lackluster on the Twist when compared to the competition, although that is somewhat expected considering its size. Damson says you will get about 4 hours of wireless music between charges and I found that to be a solid estimate during my testing. You can extend that life up to 9 hours if you forego the wireless options and plug your audio source directly into the Twist itself. A 3.5 mm audio cable is included in the box for that very purpose and a USB charging cable is included as well.

Available in four colors, the Twist’s outer casing is made of brushed metal. This gives it a very classy look that isn’t found on other speakers in this price range. Damson has even provided a nice travel pouch that helps the device to maintain those good looks when you hit the road. These small touches help to set the Twist apart from the crowd. The fact that it only carries a price tag of $70 doesn’t hurt either. At that price, you can afford to buy two and daisy chain them together for even better sound. Considering how good the Twist looks and performs, I’d say it’s a real bargain.

Bluetooth Speaker: Boom UrchinBoom Urchin ($149.99)
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the Twist is the Urchin from Boom. The two are both Bluetooth speaker systems, but the similarities between the products pretty much ends there. Where the Twist is a small wonder of modern engineering, the Urchin is larger, louder and built like a tank.

The distinctively shaped Urchin features a removable silicon shell that helps protect it from all manner of dangers. This speaker is shock and dust proof as well as water resistant, which means you can hang it in your shower, take it on a camping trip or pack it for your beach vacation in Fiji. In short, it is designed to survive in just about any environment while continuing to wirelessly pump out tunes without missing a beat.

Clearly Boom’s focus was on building a speaker that could withstand plenty of punishment but they didn’t skimp on the sound quality either. While the Urchin doesn’t provide the deep bass that the Twist offers, it does deliver a much more consistent level of sound that isn’t dependent on the surface it is sitting on in any way. The high end of the audio spectrum comes through bright and clear, while the mid-ranges are delivered vibrantly too. The Urchin sounds great even when the volume is completely cranked up with no discernible distortion.

Boom’s technical specifications say that the Urchin’s rechargeable battery should be good for up to ten hours of music and I found that to be fairly accurate. Adjusting the volume to lower levels can extend the battery life a bit longer but as it stands, this speaker is capable of providing music for a full day out. The included wall charger will replenish the battery fairly quickly as well so the Urchin will be ready for use again in no time at all.

One feature that the Urchin has that the Twist doesn’t is the ability to be used as a speakerphone. This is a useful feature for hands-free conversations or making a call in a group setting. When paired with a smartphone the Urchin’s built-in mic allows for two-way communication although I found it to be rather lackluster when used in this capacity. The voices of callers came through the Urchin’s speaker just fine but they reported that my voice sounded muffled and distant. The quality of the cell connection can play a role in this of course, but compared to other Bluetooth speakerphones that I’ve used, this one did little to impress.

Boom ships the Urchin with a carabiner for attaching the speaker to a backpack or even a belt loop. A suction cup and adhesive screw attachment are also included in the box, making it easy to lock down the speaker no matter where you want to use it. The suction cup works great in the bathroom for instance, giving you another reason to sing in the shower. The fact that the company recognized that this is how their customers would want to use the product is an indication of how much thought went into its design.

Both the Twist and the Urchin have qualities that make them great choices for travelers. One packs great sound in a small package while the other is designed to survive just about anything you can throw at it. If you want to listen to music outside in the elements, the Urchin is the clear choice, especially with its much longer battery life. But if you want an inexpensive speaker that you can carry with you when you hit the road, the Twist is an amazing piece of technology that performs beyond its size. Either of the two devices will make music-loving travelers very happy.

Gadling Gear Review: Nyne NB-230 Portable Bluetooth Speaker

Nyne N-230 Bluetooth Speaker
Nyne N-230

Over the past couple of years, the number of choices for consumers looking to buy a portable Bluetooth speaker has exploded. It wasn’t all that long ago that our options were limited to just a few underpowered speakers that provided low-quality wireless audio, but now there are literally dozens of these speakers on the market making it much more of a challenge to decide which one to buy. It has also made it more of a challenge for the companies who manufacturer these devices to stand out in the crowd, forcing them to try something a little different. That seems to be the approach that Nyne took with their NB-230 speaker system, delivering a product that will remind you more of an old-school boombox rather than the smaller speakers that typically come from their competitors.

The first thing you’re likely to notice about the NB-230 is its size. Most other portable Bluetooth speakers are designed to be small enough that you can toss them in a backpack and take them along with you just about everywhere, but as mentioned above, this speaker is more like a streamlined boombox for the 21st century. While it is small and light enough to take with you on a day trip, this isn’t likely to be the kind of speaker that you’ll want to carry with you on a trip to the far side of the globe. It is simply too large and oddly shaped to want to put into your luggage, although it is great for a day at the beach or family picnic in the park.

Unlike most other portable Bluetooth speakers that I’ve used, the NB-230 doesn’t include a rechargeable battery. Smaller speakers can be powered for hours on their own built-in batteries, but this device is too large for that to be an efficient option. Instead, you’ll need to use six C batteries to keep the speaker operating while away from a power outlet. (When is the last time you actually had to use C cells for anything? Probably the last boombox that you owned more than a decade ago.) Nyne says that those batteries will keep the NB-230 charged for up to four hours, and that is about what I achieved while testing the unit. That means that using this speaker away from home could get costly and that battery life is about half that found on smaller models from the competition.What the NB-230 lacks in portability it more than makes up for in sound quality, however. Because of its size, this speaker can out class most of its competitors in terms of volume without even breaking a sweat. But the two high-quality, 3-inch speakers that Nyne integrated into this device also do an excellent job of replicating a full range of sound. The mid- and high-range elements of your music will shine through distinctly on the NB-230, coming through with surprising clarity. Bass lovers will be more than satisfied with this device as well, as this speaker can deliver a thump that will remind you of your old boombox. I put the NB-230 through its paces using a variety of classic rock, pop, classical music and even podcasts and in all cases it performed admirably.

Nyne NB-230 Bluetooth SpeakerConnecting an iPad, iPhone or other Bluetooth enabled device to the NB-230 couldn’t be simpler. Holding down a dedicated Bluetooth button on the speaker places it in pairing mode and then you simply select it as an alternate audio source from whatever gadget you want to play music from. After a few seconds, the two devices will connect and all audio will begin playing directly from the NB-230′s speakers. Having wireless audio available at all times has gotten to be kind of second nature these days, but it really is nice to have the ability to send your favorite music to a powerful, high-quality audio system from across the room without ever having to get out of your easy chair. For those devices that don’t have Bluetooth functionality built in, the NB-230 also has an audio jack that allows you to plug a device in directly. While it is nice to have this option for use in a pinch, it does diminish the fun of having a wireless speaker system to a degree.

I was also impressed with how well the NB-230 performed as a speakerphone. This is a common feature on other Bluetooth speakers as well, but the size of Nyne’s offering aids it once again in this category as the large speakers enhanced the experience nicely. When paired with a smartphone, incoming calls can actually be picked up directly from the NB-230 itself and a built-in mic makes two-way communication a seamless affair. It performed so well, in fact, that most people I talked to using this speaker couldn’t tell I wasn’t on my phone directly. It even works great in conference calls situations, as the NB-230 can be placed at the center of a table, facilitating a conversation with numerous people in one room.

In terms of design, the NB-230 has nice clean lines that make it a natural fit for just about any environment. It looks just as good in an office as it does your living room or bedroom. It has a sleek, classic look about it that is modern without seeming too trendy. If you purchase one of these speakers, you can rest assured that it’ll still look as contemporary in five years as it does today. That isn’t always an easy thing to pull off on any electronic device.

If you’re looking for a portable Bluetooth speaker to take with you when you travel, the Nyne NB-230 probably isn’t the best option for that situation. Its larger size makes it tough to lug along on any trip that involves getting on an airplane. On the other hand, if you want an excellent wireless audio system for around home, and occasional use elsewhere, this is a fantastic option. It has excellent sound quality across the entire audio spectrum and it can pump out the tunes with plenty of volume. On top of that, it serves as an excellent speakerphone, which comes in surprisingly handy in a number of situations.

The Nyne NB-230 carries a price tag of $129.95, which makes it very competitive with similar devices from other manufacturers, most of which don’t deliver the level of sound quality that you’ll find here.

Gadling Gear Review: Cubedge Edge.sound Portable Speaker

The Cubedge Edge.sound portable speaker systemUpdate: After posting this review I received an updated Edge.sound speaker with firmware 1.1 installed. That updated addresses a few minor technical issues and enhances the sound quality fairly significantly. The speaker is now much improved over the one that I initially tested, with bass sounding more pumped up and a better level of quality across the board. With the firmware update installed, it is easier to recommend this portable speaker system than the initial review would imply.

Over the past couple of years, the portable Bluetooth speaker market has gone from just one or two options to a dizzying array of choices. As smartphones and tablets have become increasingly popular, so too has the demand for small, lightweight sound systems that can be carried with us anywhere we go. Travelers especially enjoy having the ability to listen to their favorite music, podcasts and audiobooks without having to settle for using crappy earbuds or uncomfortable headphones.

The latest portable speaker system comes to us from a company called Cubedge who released their Edge.sound product just a few weeks ago following a successful Kickstarter campaign. Like most other portable speaker systems from the competition, it is powered by a rechargeable battery that is charged via an included USB cable and wall adapter. It features a built-in microphone that allows it to be used as a speakerphone and it even resembles other portable speakers, measuring roughly six inches in length and weighing in at just 10 ounces.

Music is pumped to the speaker via Bluetooth 3.0, which, in theory, provides a faster connection with improved audio and battery life. Connecting a smartphone, laptop or tablet is incredibly easy and doesn’t even require the entry of a PIN code. It was so simple, in fact, that I was wirelessly streaming tunes from my iPhone within seconds. The Edge.sound will also remember the last connected device and automatically re-connect when it is powered on.The Cubedge Edge.sound portable speaker system.Audio quality, the most important aspect of any speaker like this one, is solid but mostly unremarkable. While using the Cubedge speaker, I was a bit surprised at how muted some of my music sounded. Other speakers I had tested, such as the Jawbone Jambox, offered a fuller and richer experience across a wider audio range, which made the Edge.sound a bit disappointing overall. I’m told that Cubedge has a firmware update available that addresses some of these audio issues, but at press time I couldn’t find that update anywhere on their website.

Similarly, I found the Edge.sound to be just adequate when used as a speaker phone. It got the job done, although audio quality wasn’t especially good. To be fair, this isn’t exactly a strength of most of the competition either, but it is still a nice option to have when you need it. The quality of a speakerphone is also highly influenced by the environment in which it is used and the cellphone’s connection to its network, which can vary greatly depending on location.

The Edge.sound’s internal battery provides about ten hours of life before requiring a recharge, which puts it about on par with the competition. Plugging the device into a wall outlet fully juices it back up in about two hours. Cubedge even offers an optional solar panel to keep the speaker charged while on the go, although I wasn’t able to test how efficient that option actually is. Battery life does vary a bit based on volume, but overall it was very dependable and steady throughout my testing.

As a frequent traveler, one of the things I did appreciate from the Edge.sound is that it is both lightweight and durable, which comes in handy when hitting the road. The boxy speaker is wrapped in rubber, which helps to keep it nicely protected from day-to-day abuse. The device is also lighter than many of its competitors, which makes it a nice option for those looking to shave ounces from their luggage. The Edge.sound’s unique design helps it to stand out from the crowd to a degree as well and I appreciated the integrated light that provided visual cues for when the speaker was getting low on battery or was ready for pairing with a device. Other competing products don’t always provide those kinds of cues, making them a bit more challenging to use.

The Edge.sound is available now for $150, which again puts it on par with the competition. Overall, it has a very good build quality and the designers paid attention to some important details that make it a good option for travel. But the average sound quality makes it difficult to recommend over some of the other Bluetooth speaker systems that are available, particularly at that price. Still, as a first effort from a new company, it is a solid entry into this competitive market space. If the promised firmware upgrade can indeed improve the overall sound, this device will become a much more attractive choice.

Gadling Gear Review: Jawbone Jambox Portable Speaker

The Jawbone Jambox portable speaker systemA few years back the Bluetooth portable speaker market was a small one that mainly consisted of tiny, underpowered speakers with mediocre sound. Then along came the original Jambox by Jawbone and consumers realized it was possible to get high quality sound in a small, yet stylish, package. Since then, the company has continued to refine the product, offering new features and updates. Their latest innovation even allows customers to personalize the look of their Jambox by selecting from literally hundreds of different color patterns.

Starting tomorrow, Jambox customers are invited to Remix their speakers by selecting from a variety of grill colors and styles, and matching them with their choice of body color. This allows you to choose exactly how your Jambox will look and gives you the option to create one using the colors of your favorite sports team, alma mater or what ever else appeals. The process is fun, easy and doesn’t add any additional costs to the Jambox’s $199 price. Once you’ve selected your personal look, Jawbone will custom build your Jambox and ship out in about a week.

I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the new Remix process and after spending a little time on the Jawbone website, I was able to order my own custom Jambox. It took just a few days to get it in my hands and like previous models, the speaker features great build quality and sounds fantastic. The diminutive device is just 6 inches in length and weighs about 12 ounces, which makes it an excellent travel companion. An included soft case helps to keep the speaker well protected when not in use.Jawbone Jambox RemixFor those who haven’t used a wireless speaker like the Jambox before, it pairs via Bluetooth with your smartphone, tablet or laptop and allows you to stream audio from any source. That means you can listen to music, podcasts, movies or just about anything else. Considering its size, the Jambox is capable of putting out an impressively big sound and it can easily fill a room with your favorite tunes. While putting the device through its paces, I enjoyed listening to Pandora, Last.fm and Spotify, both at home and on the go, and was constantly impressed with how loud and clear the audio was. In fact, be careful when using it for the first time. When I started jamming tunes on mine it actually scared the heck out of my cat.

The Jambox has built in voice cues that are actually quite helpful. For instance, it’ll let you know when it has powered on, when it’s in discovery mode for Bluetooth pairing and even how much battery life remains. The pre-programmed voice works well, but Jambox users can download a number of other unique voices from the Jawbone MyTalk website. MyTalk also has some installable apps to extend the functionality of your Jambox, and when connecting to the site, it’ll even check to be sure you’re running the most recent firmware.

As if being a great portable sound system wasn’t enough, the Jambox also works as a hands free speakerphone too. While testing it in this mode, calls were clear both on my end and those that I was chatting with, which isn’t always the case with similar speakers from competitors. Speakerphone mode not only works with your favorite cellphone, but also Skype, Facetime and just about anything else that uses a microphone. A round button on top of the device not only activates the mic but also grants access to Siri.

All in all, the Jambox is a great portable speaker that travelers will love to have with them. Its ability to wirelessly play back audio of just about any type makes it a great option for entertainment on the go and its ability to act as a quality speakerphone is a welcome addition. With a battery life of about ten hours, you won’t need to worry about charging it often and its rugged construction makes it more than road ready. The fact that you can now order one custom built in your favorite colors is simply icing on the cake. It makes an already excellent product even better.

Daily gear deal – Jabra SP700 Bluetooth speakerphone for $30

Still driving with your head at an angle so you can keep your phone pressed against your ear? Then now is the time to invest in a Bluetooth speakerphone.

Any mobile phone with Bluetooth can connect to this Jabra carkit, but this unit also offers some very special features not found on most other Bluetooth units. Inside the SP700 is an FM Transmitter which means you can switch from the internal speaker, to your car stereo. And that is not all – compatible phones can even send music over Bluetooth to the unit and transmit that over FM!

The Jabra SP700 comes complete with a car charger cord, a bonus AC charger and a sun visor clip. The unit normally retails for $80, but you’ll find it on sale at Amazon.com for just $29.50 (+$5 shipping).