FOR Evocative looks; sturdy build; impressive tonality; loud AGAINST Lack of sonic cohesion; bulky
Anyone with even a passing interest in what still gets called rock ’n’ roll cannot fail to be familiar with the Fender brand. Few are the guitar heroes who haven’t at some point sported a Fender Stratocaster or Telecaster. Few are the big bands that haven’t taken to the stage in front of a wall of Fender amplification. As brands go, Fender is one of the music world’s more evocative.
Fender has no real pedigree where domestic equipment is concerned. Mind you, neither did Marshall (an equally iconic brand in guitar amplification), but that didn’t stop it from launching a range of consumer-focused products, of admittedly variable quality. Fender quite obviously fancies a piece of the action – which brings us to this, the Monterey Bluetooth speaker.
Whose side are you on?
Styled on Fender’s classic guitar-amp range, we reckon it will split customers into two camps. The first is Guitarists, who will see the Monterey’s looks as a trivialisation of their art and craft. The second is The Rest Of Us, who will be thrilled at how much like a little Fender guitar amp the Monterey looks.
Not that it’s little by the standards of Bluetooth speakers. The Monterey weighs in at around 7kg, and at 25cm tall it cuts quite an imposing figure. It’s mainspowered only, so no pretence that the Monterey is a go-anywhere portable device. It’s a hefty thing, wrapped in leatherette and with a textured grille, just like the company’s guitar amps.
The pro design cues keep coming – the top panel has three of the classic ’witch-hat’ rotary knobs for volume, treble and bass control and a hugely satisfying toggle switch to turn power on and off. It’s the type of switch you can authentically throw.
The panel also features a blue ‘amp jewel’ light indicator of power status, a 3.5mm analogue input, a source selector and a button for Bluetooth pairing – the Monterey features aptx Bluetooth capability. Around the back there’s a socket for kettle-lead mains power and a pair of RCA inputs.
Under the skin, the Monterey features a claimed 120W of amplification, powering two 12.5cm woofers and two 25mm tweeters.
When switched on, and when wireless pairing is achieved, the Monterey gives a little guitar-strum of acknowledgement – a pleasing, if slightly cheesy, touch.
We get underway with a Tidal-viaiphone-7 file of Flamin’ Groovies’ Shake Some Action and the Fender immediately reveals itself as an up-and-at-‘em listen. Drums punch purposefully, bass guitar is deep and textured, and vocals are insistent. There’s decent detail retrieval on display, too, with background maracas given just as much attention as the echo around the edge of vocal harmonies.
Throughout, the Monterey motors along at a clip, as if it’s in a race with itself to get to the end of the song. It’s an assertive presentation but not overly aggressive – the overall tonal balance is warm.
It’s not mindlessly attacking, though. Ease back with a listen to Rumer’s take on P.F. Sloan and the Fender does good, informative work with her impeccable vocal while the distant pedal steel guitar shines benignly in the background.
What the Monterey cannot manage is timing. Whether handed a rigorous test like Thundercat’s frantic Uh Uh or an easier examination such as Byetone’s Plastic Star, it can't get differing elements of a recording on to nodding terms – let alone integrate them into a coherent whole. Consequently tricky rhythms never quite flow and bass sounds disrupt rather than dictate tempi.
In many ways the Monterey is a likeable device. It looks – to us, at least – brilliant, it’s capable of unlikely feats of volume and its tone is friendly. That may be enough for some, but we can't overlook its inability to time with skill. For us, it makes the Fender a diverting alternative to the best Bluetooth speakers around but not a serious rival.
It might not be portable, but the Monterey’s specs and pro looks count in its favour
The guitar-amp look extends right down to the rotary controls and on/off switch