Portable speakers: brash and beautiful
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.
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.
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