Por­ta­ble speak­ers: brash and beau­ti­ful

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - TECH -

AS SOME­ONE who re­mem­bers when vinyl records played on turnta­bles, hooked up to hulk­ing hi-fi sets were the most pop­u­lar way to en­joy recorded mu­sic, there’s some­thing al­most mag­i­cal about Blue­tooth speak­ers.

I get a thrill out of be­ing able to choose from a vir­tu­ally in­fi­nite va­ri­ety of artists and tracks, us­ing a hand-held com­mu­ni­ca­tor­cum-su­per­com­puter and “throw” the tunes through the air to a stand-alone speaker with­out the need for any ana­logue-era wires.

There’s al­most as wide a choice of por­ta­ble speak­ers as there is mu­sic to play on them and they run the gamut from cheap and nasty to scary ex­pen­sive and sub­lime. I tested two that fall into that rare mid­dle ground of of­fer­ing de­cent qual­ity at an af­ford­able price.

Volkano Blaster

Look­ing more like a shoul­der­mounted ar­tillery piece than a mu­sic player, the aptly named Blaster is to­day’s equiv­a­lent of the ’80s-era boom­box.

It of­fers sur­pris­ingly good au­dio and build qual­ity for a piece of kit cost­ing well un­der R1 000.

Pair­ing it with my Sam­sung S9 was sim­ple and quick, and I was soon stream­ing sounds to the Blaster via the Google Play Mu­sic app, although you could also get your mu­sic onto it us­ing a mi­croSD card or old fash­ioned aux­il­iary ca­ble.

The lat­ter comes with the speaker.

If you re­ally want to go retro, it has an FM tuner, so you can lis­ten to your choice of radio sta­tions, although this does in­volve plug­ging in the afore­men­tioned aux ca­ble to act as an an­tenna and tun­ing in the sta­tions man­u­ally, a fid­dly af­fair given the lack of vis­ual in­ter­face.

Sound is de­liv­ered via two 2-watt speak­ers fir­ing out of the front of the tube and a 7W rear­mounted sub­woofer and I found it, for the most, part crisp, clear and dis­tor­tion free, un­til you crank it up to full vol­ume – although to be fair, this is the case with a lot of speak­ers cost­ing five or even 10 times the price.

Claimed bat­tery life via the 1500mAh bat­tery is a rather pal­try 1.5 hours, although I reg­u­larly eked out three hours – plenty good enough for most out­door ex­cur­sions.

The faux leather han­dle makes for easy porta­bil­ity and lends a touch of so­phis­ti­ca­tion, while the sturdy plas­tic body and rub­bery end rings make for a tough, drop re­sis­tant pack­age.

At the time of writ­ing, In­cred­i­ble Con­nec­tion (in­cred­i­ble. co.za) was of­fer­ing the Volkano Blaster on spe­cial for R499, although it’s ex­cel­lent value even at the R699 and R750 I’ve seen go­ing for at other on­line stores.

Huawei SoundS­tone

If chill­ing in Zen gar­dens, rather than blast­ing ghet­tos is what you’re look­ing for in a por­ta­ble speaker, the SoundS­tone should fit the bill per­fectly.

It nes­tles in the palm of the hand like a smooth river peb­ble, while the fab­ric up­per and braided lan­yard lend a pleas­ing tex­ture to a top-notch tac­tile ex­pe­ri­ence, usu­ally only found in much-pricier speak­ers.

The au­dio qual­ity is equally im­pres­sive.

For some­thing this com­pact and com­pris­ing a sin­gle speaker, the SoundS­tone de­liv­ers noth­ing like the vol­ume or bass of the Blaster, but in its cat­e­gory it’s eas­ily on par with high-end porta­bles from the likes of Bang & Olufsen and Bose.

A bonus is that it’s IPX5 rated for water and sweat re­sis­tance, which makes it a great com­pan­ion for rainy days, beach or pool par­ties, hik­ing and cy­cling, although be sure to close the charg­ing port in wet or hu­mid con­di­tions.

Bat­tery life is ex­cel­lent, reg­u­larly ex­ceed­ing the claimed 8.5 hours and, while it’s made by Huawei, I found it con­nected as eas­ily to a range of hand­sets as it did to the Hauwei P20.

The SoundS­tone is avail­able from a va­ri­ety of out­lets for as much as R700, but the best deal I found at the time of writ­ing was on the East Coast Radio on­line store (shop.ecr.co.za) where you can get it in a va­ri­ety of colours for just R440.

Fol­low Cooper on Twit­ter @ alan­q­cooper

Volkano Blaster

Huawei SoundS­tone

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