Gadling Gear Review: Bluetooth Speakers For Travel

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.

Boom 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: Geneva Model XS Travel Alarm Clock And Speaker System

The travel alarm clock was once required equipment on any trip. These small, usually battery operated, clocks were essential to getting us up and moving in the morning no matter where we slept the night before. Slowly over time, the travel alarm clock has mostly been replaced by our cellphones, which have included alarm options for years. But if Geneva Sound System has their way, the travel alarm clock is poised to make a big comeback in the form of their Model XS.

Stylish and elegant the Geneva Model XS is unlike any travel alarm clock you’ve ever seen. As you would expect, it packs a bright, easy to read LED display and an alarm that is powerful enough to wake you from the deepest of sleeps. It also has three incredibly loud, yet clear, speakers (2 tweeters, 1 woofer), an FM radio receiver, integrated Bluetooth for streaming audio from a smartphone or tablet and a built-in lithium battery that promises five hours of untethered play time. On top of all of that, the entire package comes wrapped in a high-quality faux leather hard case that looks great and keeps the unit well protected from the rigors of the road.

It only takes one look at the Model XS to see that Geneva has put a lot of thought into the design of this device. When the case is open the lid serves as a natural brace for the speakers and clock, which collapse neatly inside for storage when not in use. Touch controls line the top of the case and are logically laid out and simple to use. They also light up nicely, making them easy to find in the dark, which is much appreciated when you’re on the far side of the planet, suffering from severe jet lag and need to be up before the crack of dawn.Geneva is quick to point out that the Model XS is not simply a travel alarm clock but is in actuality a portable sound system. After hearing it in action it is hard to argue with this assessment as it definitely delivers clear, high quality audio from a variety of sources. The device includes a direct line-in option that allows it to work with any audio source, but it is the wireless Bluetooth capability that really sets it apart. Once paired with a smartphone, tablet or laptop it is a breeze to send your favorite music, podcasts, or streaming audio to the powerful speakers, which actually have the ability to fill a room with sound.

The addition of an FM receiver to this device also helps set it apart from the competition as it is often nice to listen to local radio when visiting a new destination. A hidden telescoping antenna helps to pull in the signals, but unsurprisingly the audio quality wasn’t nearly as good when compared to streaming from another device. Radio reception was a mixed bag, with some unexpected static even on strong stations, but overall it performed about as well as you would expect.

It is actually hard not to be impressed with the Model XS, which simply exudes class and quality in every way. But the device is a bit large in size, which could be a turn-off for travelers who like to hit the road as light as possible. The unit measures just over 6 inches in length and weighs in at 1.1 pounds, which makes it much larger and heavier than a typical travel alarm clock. It also lacks features like dual time zones or multiple alarms, which can come in handy for road warriors.

The size of the device isn’t the only thing that is large on the Model XS. The system also sports a hefty price tag as well. Geneva has priced the unit at $250, which makes it an expensive option for many travelers who simply need a lightweight clock to carry with them when they hit the road. Then again, this device isn’t really aimed at that market and for those looking for a great portable sound system, that also happens to tell time, the Model XS is the perfect choice.

Available in three colors (red, white and black), the Geneva Model XS is a beautifully crafted piece of technology that packs excellent sound. For travelers looking for a great portable sound system to take with them on the road, this is a fantastic option, provided they don’t mind adding a bit of extra weight to their bags. The clean, classic design of the device makes it stand out both at home and while on the go, which will make this a popular product with those who appreciate high quality portable audio.

Gadling Gear Review: Braven 600 Portable Speaker

A month or so back we posted some suggestions for tech and travel gifts for dads and grads with the Braven 600 portable speaker earning a spot on that list. This small, yet powerful, sound system is so impressive that we thought it was worth a full review as the compact speaker has a lot to offer travelers beyond just listening to their music on the go.

The first thing you’ll notice about the Braven 600, even before you take it out of the package, is how attractive it is. Wrapped in anodized aluminum, this speaker has a clean industrial design that is simple and elegant without drawing undue attention to itself. Measuring 6.25 inches in length and weighing just 12 ounces, it won’t take up too much room or add extra weight to your bag either.

The speaker manages to pack quite a lot of technology under its metal shell. As with other wireless speaker systems, the Braven 600 uses Bluetooth technology to easily connect to smartphones, tablets or mp3 players. It also features a built-in microphone, which gives it the ability to act as a hands-free speakerphone and its powerful battery not only keeps it operating for up 12 hours on a single charge, but also has the ability to recharge other devices as well.

As a lightweight, portable sound system it is hard not to be impressed with the Braven 600. It pumps out surprisingly crisp and clear sound with plenty of volume, particularly for a speaker of this size. Bass levels are solid but don’t overpower the mid and high ranges, which gives listeners a satisfying audio experience over a variety of musical genres. I’d be willing to bet that even audiophiles will find this to be an acceptable portable wireless sound system.While overall audio quality is excellent, I wasn’t quite as impressed with the device’s performance as a speakerphone. The built-in mic does serve its purpose at an adequate level but voices still sounded a bit muddled on both sides of the conversation. It is hard to fault Braven for including the functionality in their speakers and I’m sure there are some who will find the option useful, just don’t expect to be blown away by this feature.

Battery life on any portable device is of the utmost importance and the speaker doesn’t disappoint in that area either. Braven says that the device can be powered for up to 12 hours on its rechargeable battery alone but I found that it actually exceeded that time by nearly an hour. Performance will vary some based on volume, speakerphone usage, devices connected and other factors, but for the most part the 1400 mAh battery is a real strength of this speaker.

That powerful battery can be put to use for more than just cranking out music and podcasts. Braven included a USB port on the speaker giving it the ability to actually charge your mobile devices while on the go. Doing so will obviously put a hit on the overall battery life of the speaker itself but it is a nice option to have when you’re traveling and need to top off the battery on your smartphone. I tested the feature on my iPhone and found that it was a fast and efficient way to recharge the device, although it wasn’t quite as useful with my third generation iPad, which has a much larger battery to fill.

Braven has included a number of other nice touches on its 600 speaker that will surely be appreciated as well. For instance, the device uses audio cues to let users know when the Bluetooth capabilities have been activated making it easier to connect their devices. This simple addition may seem like an obvious choice but competing products don’t always include this option. It is also possible to daisy-chain several Braven speakers together providing an even more well rounded portable sound system. Travelers will appreciate the included carrying case and audio and USB cables, which make the Braven 600 road-ready right out of the box.

If you’re in the market for a lightweight, durable sound system that works great at home or on the road, it’s tough to beat the Braven 600. It packs a great deal of functionality into a compact package that offers fantastic sound, a speakerphone, great battery life and the ability to recharge your devices on the go. For me personally, this is the best portable speaker I’ve ever used and with a price tag of just $149, it won’t exactly break the bank either.

Gadling Gear Review: SuperTooth Disco Portal Speaker

One of the best things about carrying smartphones, tablets and laptops with us when we travel, is that we are also generally carrying our entire music libraries with us as well. The problem is, the speakers on those devices aren’t usually the best for enjoying that music and we don’t always want to wear headphones to get the best sound. Fortunately a number of companies now make excellent portable speaker systems that do offer great sound and are fun to take with us on the road.

One of those speaker systems is the Disco from SuperTooth, which can stream music from any device that supports Bluetooth 2.0 technology. Once paired with such a device, the Disco pumps out surprisingly loud and clear music, streaming audio, movie soundtracks or anything else that you can throw at it. I was impressed with how this relatively small device could fill a room with sound, serving up distinct highs and lows and clear vocals from a variety of sources.

While the Disco does included a standard wired audio port for devices that don’t use Bluetooth, the best way to connect is wirelessly of course. Pairing my iPhone and iPad with the Disco was simple and took just seconds and once they were connected, it was a breeze to stream my personal music library, as well as audio from Pandora, Stitcher Radio or any other app. It was a joy to listen to podcasts while wandering around my apartment and it was fun to use the speaker system as a mini-home theater while watching movies on my iPad too.All of that great sound comes courtesy of two 8-watt speakers and a 12-watt subwoofer, but the Disco is packing more than just a quality sound system. It also features a built-in rechargeable battery that allows you to take it with you just about anywhere. The tech specs say that the battery is good for anywhere from 3 to 10 hours, depending on volume, and in my testing I was routinely getting 8-9 hours on a moderate setting. That’s plenty of time for most single-day outings, but you’ll want to pack the charger along with you if you take it on a trip.

While I found the Disco to be a high quality product, with better sound than I was expecting, I do wish it were a bit more portable. It is slightly more than a foot in length and weighs in at 2.5 pounds. As someone who likes to travel light, that’s a bit on the heavy side for my liking. I love having it around the home and for day trips in town, but I’m not sure I’d want to add it to my suitcase or backpack when I’m heading out for a longer trip.

SuperTooth saw fit to include a speaker cable and a decent carrying case in the box, but I wouldn’t have minded having a remote control as well. While most of the time you’re controlling the music and volume from the phone itself, it would have been nice to be able to pause, skip tracks and control the bass booster from across the room too. Once you get accustomed to wirelessly controlling your audio, it is a bit jarring to have to cross the room to adjust a setting.

All of that said, this is one of the better portable Bluetooth speaker systems that I’ve come across, particularly for the money. The SuperTooth Disco carries an affordable price tag of just $149, which is actually a steal for a device with these features and high quality sound. In fact, I’ve used systems from competitors that cost much more but didn’t sound nearly as nice.

If you’re looking for a great way to wirelessly listen to your favorite music, podcasts and streaming audio, either at home or on the road, then the SuperTooth Disco is a great option. Simply put, you’ll have a very hard time finding anything else that sounds this good in the same price range.

Giveaway: Win one of five iMainGo 2 portable iPhone/iPod speaker cases

Do you like music when you travel? Listening to your tunes on headphones is fine when you are on a plane, but once you get to your hotel room (or the beach), it is nice to have a bit more volume. This is where the iMainGo 2 speaker case can help.

This compact battery powered speaker protects your player too – and thanks to its clear plastic back, you can still control your tunes. The iMainGo 2 will definetely receive a mention in our upcoming gift guides – but this is your chance to win one for yourself. To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment telling us the first song you’d love to listen to on the iMainGo 2.

  • The comment must be left before Wednesday, November 24 at 5:00 PM Eastern Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • Five winners will be selected in a random drawing.
  • Each winner will receive one iMainGo 2 portable speaker (valued at $39.95).
  • Click here for complete Official Rules.
  • Open to legal residents of the 50 United States, including the District of Columbia who are 18 and older.