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Brane X review: a portable smart speaker with incredible bass
1:00 pm | March 10, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Wireless & Bluetooth Speakers | Tags: , , | Comments: Off

Brane Audio Brane X: Two-minute review

Brane Audio’s Brane X has managed to achieve the unthinkable in the mostly mundane realm of the best wireless speakers, which – to be clear – is full of models that don’t leave much of an impression. Some are good, some are okay, and many are bad. But the Brane X makes an impression. 

The main way the Brane X impresses is by delivering bass output extending into the sub-bass range. That’s unheard of for a portable speaker. Still, the Brane X isn’t an ordinary portable speaker, but one with proprietary Repel-Attract-Driver (R.A.D.) technology that uses a magnet array to cancel out air pressure within the speaker’s enclosure. This allows big bass to be generated from a small woofer in a highly compact box, and it needs to be heard to be believed.

Aside from its sub-bass output capability, the Brane X comes off as a normal-looking portable wireless speaker. It has a lunchbox-like form, complete with a carrying handle, and an unassuming design. Its built-in battery carries a charge for up to 12 hours of playback time and requires three hours to fully recharge. The IP57-rated speaker is dust and waterproof, making it ideal for both indoor and outdoor use.

Wireless streaming support includes Wi-Fi, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, and Bluetooth 5.1. An app lets you configure bass and custom EQ settings, and it can also be used to group multiple Brane X speakers for multi-room playback. Controls to adjust volume and bass level are located on the speaker’s top surface, and there are built-in mics for Alexa voice control.

Sound quality is where the Brane X makes its mark by delivering a notably dynamic and detailed sound for a portable speaker. Hip-hop, techno, rock, and even classical music are equally well served, with the speaker’s deep bass providing a strong foundation for other layers in music mixes. Voices, in particular, sound natural – something that benefits both music and podcasts – and the Brane X also manages to convey a sense of stereo separation and depth.

The catch with the Brane X, and you probably saw this coming, is that its performance comes at a price. At $599 (around £475 / AU$915), it’s more expensive than other premium portable speakers such as the Sonos Move 2 ($449 / £449 / AU$799). That factor makes the Brane X a tough sell if you simply want a portable speaker for casual outdoor and indoor listening, but if you’re looking for one with best-in-class sound quality, the Brane X is it.

Brane X review: Price and release date

Brane X smart speaker on table

The Brane X has a lunchbox-like design with a carrying strap for toting it around (Image credit: Future)
  • Released December 2023
  • Currently available only in US
  • Priced at $599 (around £475 / AU$915)

The Brane X is currently sold exclusively through Brane Audio and is only available for shipment in the US. International shipments will start in late 2024 according to the company’s website.

At $599 (around £475 / AU$915) the Brane X is very much on the pricey side for a portable wireless speaker, though it has sonic tricks up its sleeve that the competition lacks. To put it in context, you can buy a Sonos Move 2 for $449 / £449 / AU$799, which gets you a portable wireless speaker with a similar feature set plus twice the battery life. You can also spend quite a bit more on the Bang & Olufsen Beosound A5 ($1,099 / £899 / AU$1,950), a portable wireless speaker that generally looks similar to the Brane X, but has a more attractive design that’s typical for that brand.

Brane X review: Specs

Brane X smart speaker on table showing top controls

Capacitive touch controls are located on the speaker's top surface (Image credit: Future)

Brane X review: Features

Brane X smart speaker on table next to Sonos Move

The Sonos Move 2 (at left) was used for a comparison in our Brane X (at right) listening tests (Image credit: Future)
  • Wi-Fi, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, and Bluetooth support 
  • Voice control using Amazon Alexa
  • Built-in battery provides 12 hours playback time

Brane Audio’s Brane X streams music wirelessly via Wi-Fi, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, and also supports Bluetooth 5.1. A Brane app is available and can be used to select low, medium, and high Bass presets for best sound (most likely dependent on where the speaker is located), create a custom 5-band EQ setting, and store speaker groups for multi-room playback on multiple Brane X speakers. There are four built-in microphones for voice control, which is carried out using the Alexa voice assistant.

The driver array of the Brane X consists of two 0.75-inch tweeters, two 2-inch mid-range drivers, and a 6.5 by 9-inch (165 x 229mm) woofer. Four class-D amplifiers are packed into the compact speaker, for a total of 200 watts of power. A built-in battery allows 12 hours of playback at a reasonable volume level, and it can be fully recharged in 3 hours.

I would be amiss to describe the bass driver in the Brane X simply as a “woofer,” since the company applies unique technology to it to achieve extended bass. Woofers in conventional speakers generate bass by moving forward and back in an enclosure. That movement is driven by the passage of magnets on the woofer’s voice coil through a magnetic field, and it affects the air pressure within the speaker.

Brane Audio’s Repel-Attract-Driver operates similarly to a regular woofer, but in this instance, additional magnets are used to cancel out air pressure within the speaker. The cancellation effect allows for the use of a smaller woofer, along with a smaller enclosure, enabling Brane Audio to generate powerful sub-bass from a lunchbox-size speaker.

  • Features score: 4.5/5

Brane X review: Sound quality

Brane X smart speaker on table  showing back panel

The speaker's rear panel features a power on/off button and 3.5mm audio input (Image credit: Future)
  • Excellent bass extension and substantial output
  • Well-balanced sound with natural voice reproduction
  • Can play cleanly at party-like volume levels

The Brane X may be compact, but there’s nothing small about its sound. After reading about this portable speaker that’s capable of not just substantial bass extension, but also substantial sub-bass output, I was ready for something different and upon first listen I got that.

Getting straight down to business, I streamed Boom by Tiësto, Sevenn, and Gucci Mane to the speaker from Tidal HiFi via AirPlay. This is a track with bass to spare, and if the Brane X could handle that, it would pass the test. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my mouth flapped open when I heard the deep, pounding bass put out by the Brane X, which wasn’t far off from what I expect to hear from a hi-fi system with a capable subwoofer. The speaker’s extended dynamic range also allowed other elements in the mix to come through clearly, especially vocals, which had a natural, unstrained quality. Pushing up the volume to, naturally, satisfy my curiosity about how loud the Brane X could play, it went up to party-like levels without distorting or sounding congested.

Radiohead’s Desert Island Disks features a spare acoustic guitar that’s played over a low, pulsing beat. On my regular portable speaker, the Sonos Move 2, that beat comes across as more of a tap. When I played the song on the Brane X, however, it had a surprising low and full quality that dynamically anchored the sound and allowed for details in vocals along with the song’s more subtle ambient elements to come across clearly.

Even classical symphonic music fared well on the Brane X. When I streamed Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition – The Great Gate of Kiev, as played by the Cleveland Orchestra, on Tidal HiFi, the tympani rolls were conveyed in an appropriately thunderous manner and the volume sweeps of strings sounded smooth and convincing. Comparing the Brane X’s performance here again to my reference Sonos speaker, the Sonos came across as comparatively flat-sounding, with no sense of low-end muscle in the percussion and double basses.

Given the Brane X’s hi-fi prowess, it seemed almost weird to set it up in my kitchen in the spot normally occupied by my Sonos Move, where it is used mainly for listening to news and podcasts. When I did, I found I needed to dial down the bass in the app for best sound in the new spot. That done, the Brane X made voices sound completely natural, with none of the strained quality that can typically be heard when listening with low-cost Bluetooth speakers. Brane Audio’s portable may have been overkill in this setting, but I certainly wasn’t eager to swap it out.

The only sonic quirk I encountered when using the Brane X was a faint level of noise when the speaker was turned on but not being used for playback. This didn’t exactly bother me, and in most cases when I had the speaker turned on it was streaming audio, which fully masked the noise, but it was there nonetheless.

  • Sound quality score: 5/5

Brane X review: Design

Brane X smart speaker on table  showing bottom moiunted woofer

The Brane X's bottom-mounted woofer (Image credit: Future)
  • Basic, unassuming design
  • Carrying strap for portable use
  • 1P57-rated dust and waterproof

There’s nothing particularly fancy about the Brane X’s design. As noted in the Features section of this review, it’s about the size and shape of a lunchbox. A rubber carrying strap is attached for toting the speaker around, and the black plastic top surface contains capacitive touch controls to adjust volume and bass level, as well as toggle the microphones on and off and set up Bluetooth and Wi-Fi pairing mode. A black mesh grille covers the speaker’s full front surface and sturdy rubber feet are provided to secure the speaker and allow clearance for the bottom-mounted Repel-Attract-Driver.

The Brane X’s back panel features a power on/off button and a 3.5mm aux input for connecting sources like a disc player or turntable. You’ll also find an input here for the speaker’s large, bulky external power supply and a QR code to access the Brane Audio website. With an IP57 rating, the Brane X is both dust and waterproof, making it a solid option for a workshop and a pool party.

  • Design score: 4/5

Brane X review: Value

Brane X smart speaker on table  with sonos move in background

(Image credit: Future)
  • Expensive compared to the competition
  • Unique among portable wireless speakers
  • Has sound quality to back up the high price

With a $599 (around £475 / AU$915) price tag, the Brane X is undoubtedly expensive, making other premium portable wireless speakers such as the Sonos Move 2 look like a bargain in comparison. But the Brane X sounds better and certainly delivers better bass than the Sonos Move 2, which is its top competition. There is nothing quite like it on the market, a factor that enhances its value.

Suppose you’re looking for a compact portable wireless speaker that doesn’t sound like a compact portable wireless speaker, but a regular stereo system with a subwoofer instead. In that case, the Brane X is your only option. Yes, it’s expensive, but it has the sound quality to back up the high price.

  • Value score: 3.5/5

Should you buy the Brane X?

Buy it if…

Don't buy it if…

Brane X review: Also consider

Brane X smart speaker review: How I tested

Brane X smart speaker on deck railing outdoors

(Image credit: Future)
  • Tested with music streamed from Tidal HiFi and Apple Music via AirPlay
  • Used Sonos Move 2 for comparison during listening tests
  • Tested over several weeks of both casual and critical listening

I tested the Brane X using a range of different music genres from hip-hop to classical and also used it for everyday listening to news internet radio stations and podcasts. During my testing, which lasted for several weeks, I moved it around to different rooms in my home and also gave it a listen outdoors.

I used a Bluetooth wireless connection from my iPhone for casual listening but switched to AirPlay 2 for critical listening during my review. Most music tracks played during my test were sourced from Tidal HiFi, with some played from Apple Music. For a direct comparison with a competitive speaker, I used a Sonos Move 2, switching between both speakers using the same music tracks to make a subjective listening comparison.

My audio reviewing experience extends back over two decades, and during that time I have tested everything from full surround sound speaker systems to subwoofers and soundbars. 

You can read TechRadar's review guarantee here.

  • First reviewed: March 2024
Tribit StormBox Flow review: simple and effective with an incredible battery life
1:00 pm | February 3, 2024

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Wireless & Bluetooth Speakers | Tags: , , | Comments: Off

Tribit StormBox Flow: Two-minute review

The Tribit StormBox Flow is a neat portable Bluetooth speaker that packs more of a punch than you’d expect. It’s certainly not stylish but if you look past that and appreciate how simple it is to use, it’s pretty good value for money.

The Tribit StormBox Flow sounds far better than you’d expect. At high volumes it struggles for clarity, but at more comfortable levels for your ears, it sounds crisp with some strong bass booming through. 

That’s further helped by the companion app where you can adjust the EQ to your desired needs or you can just pick out a preset option with some reasonable choices available. It’s all simply laid out even if the app also lacks the wow factor. 

Other useful features include being able to charge your phone via the Tribit StormBox Flow if you’re stuck for power. Also, you can pair it with another Tribit StormBox Flow for stereo sound which works well. 

Priced at $79.99 in the US and £79.99 in the UK, it’s a little cheaper than other rivals among the best Bluetooth speakers in this price range, but there are some design differences in comparison to these.

There’s IP67 waterproofing to help it rival the best waterproof speakers and a robust build with tactile buttons for easy tapping. A strap on one end means you can grab it easily too, although it is a little weightier than some of the competition.

That’s the thing about the Tribit StormBox Flow. It ticks all the right boxes but it won’t stir up excitement. Not everything needs to be exciting and the Tribit StormBox Flow is certainly dependable. If that’s what you need, you won’t be disappointed.

Tribit StormBox Flow review: Price and release date

The Tribit StormBox Flow on a bench

There are plenty of physical controls on the speaker itself for power, volume and more.   (Image credit: Future)
  • Released in August 2023
  • Costs $79.99 / £79.99
  • Available in the US and UK

The Tribit StormBox Flow was launched in August 2023 and is available to buy across the US and the UK. It's priced at $79.99 and £79.99 respectively, but the speaker is already discounted at third-party retailers like Amazon. 

Like much of Tribit’s range, the Tribit StormBox Flow is well-priced, costing a little more than budget offerings such as the Tribit Stormbox Micro 2, while being cheaper than mid-range options from JBL like the JBL Flip 6

It’s heftier than some of the most portable Bluetooth speakers like the Stormbox Micro 2, but it’s still fairly easy to grab and take places with you.  

Tribit StormBox Flow review: Specs

Tribit StormBox Flow review: Features

Tribit StormBox Flow control app

The Tribit control app lets you switch sound modes and customize EQ settings.  (Image credit: Future)
  • IP67 waterproofing
  • Companion app and EQ button
  • Can pair with other Tribit Stormbox Flow speakers

The Tribit StormBox Flow is designed to be taken around with you easily. It has a loose handle on one side so you can easily grab it. It could also be hooked on certain things including a tree. Because yes, the Tribit StormBox Flow is designed for the outdoors. While it doesn’t look massively robust, it offers IP67 waterproofing. 

It’s reasonably lightweight too although not quite ‘I didn’t realise it was in this bag’ level of light, such as the Nokia Portable Wireless Speaker 2. Battery life wise, it’s incredible. It has a massive 30 hours of playtime, which probably makes up for a tiny bit of extra bulk.

Bluetooth 5.3 helps here and also means drop-outs simply don’t happen. The speaker supports the AAC and SBC codes, although not AptX, but this isn’t really the kind of speaker you’re buying for exceptionally crisp sound (although, as we’ll see shortly, it’s still pretty good).

The Tribit StormBox Flow also pairs up with another speaker so you can enjoy stereo sound. It’s simple to set up via a couple of buttons. There’s an EQ button so you can rotate through an XBass and audiobook mode. More functionality comes from the Tribit app which allows you to create your own EQ settings as well as use one of six presets. It’s also possible to check battery life via the app with the time dipping a little if you enable XBass. It only drops to around 20-24 hours though, which is still more than good enough for most situations.

Finally, you can use the USB-C port to charge up your phone which is useful when you’re in a jam.

Features score: 4 / 5

Tribit StormBox Flow review: Sound quality

Tribit StormBox Flow on a bench

The Stormbox Flow is built to withstand being dunked under water for a small amount of time and is completely dust tight. (Image credit: Future)
  • 25W drivers
  • Volumes goes high
  • Muddy audio after a certain point

The Tribit StormBox Flow manages to go surprisingly high when you crank up the volume. For a little speaker, it’s going to boom out amongst the pool party you’re having or if you’re simply relaxing at home. The bass is the most impressive part although it does turn into a bit of a mess if you crank things up too high.

Still, the Tribit StormBox Flow is packing a punch here. Pair up two speakers like I did and it’s surprisingly compelling with a wide soundstage. I enjoyed hearing Queen’s Under Pressure all around me. Listening to Taylor Swift’s 1989 album was also suitably vibrant, offering some smooth mids. 

It’s an enjoyable listen all around. Just don’t be surprised if you lower the volume a little more than usual. Also, stick with the XBass sound mode where possible for the punchiest sound. 

Sound quality score: 4 / 5 

Tribit StormBox Flow review: Design

Tribit StormBox Flow on a bench

It's simple design, means the Stormbox Flow isn't the most of exciting of speakers.  (Image credit: Future)
  • Tactile buttons
  • EQ buttons
  • Simple design

I’m not a huge fan of how the Tribit StormBox Flow looks because it’s so simple and straightforward – it somehow manages to look less exciting than even the Bose SoundLink Flex, which costs $70 / £70 more than the Stormbox Flow. However, while far from a designing dream, it does all work suitably well.

On the top are all the buttons – power, Bluetooth, volume, EQ and a button for pairing up with another speaker. Each is raised ever so slightly so you can identify which is which without looking. Having a way to adjust the EQ without the app is useful even if it’s restricted to only a couple of predefined options. 

The power button is a little finicky about how long you need (or don’t need) to hold it down but I have a sneaky feeling that’s more my fault than anything. On the side is the USB-C port, which isn’t obscured by a flap or similar to ensure waterproofing. It’s still fine though and doesn’t cause any issues.

Design score: 3 / 5 

Tribit StormBox Flow review: Value

Tribit StormBox Flow on a bench

It's reasonable price tag means you can quite easily consider buying two to unlock the multipoint pairing feature.  (Image credit: Future)
  • A little cheaper than some of the competition 
  • Robust design
  • Unassuming 

The Tribit StormBox Flow is that device that will surprise you. It looks very unassuming and not exactly as stylish as something like the JBL Flip or Bose SoundLink Flex range but it works well. 

Also cheaper than the JBL Flip 6, the Tribit StormBox Flow makes up for its lack of looks by making it more affordable for you to buy two, while also still being pretty loud. You just might not be showing it off to all and sundry.

Should you buy the Tribit StormBox Flow?

Buy it if...

Don’t buy it if...

Tribit StormBox Flow review: Also consider

How I tested the Tribit StormBox Flow

Tribit StormBox Flow on a desk

(Image credit: Future)
  • Tested over 10 days 
  • Used the speaker individually and paired with another 
  • 10 years of audio equipment reviewing experience

The Tribit StormBox Flow was my trusty companion throughout the last 10 days. It was by my side while I worked in my home office and thanks to its portable nature, I took it with me when I headed to the living room and kitchen for extended periods of time. 

Different locations meant I could compare the Tribit StormBox Flow against the noise of my dehumidifier, the neighbours’ never-ending construction work, and more regular noises like the air fryer ticking away in the kitchen. 

The Tribit StormBox Flow’s music choice was powered by my iPhone 14 Pro. I used a mixture of Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube to listen to. Mostly, I listened to various genres of music including pop, rock, jazz, classical, and a few other random choices. 

I also checked out how well the Tribit StormBox Flow sounded when listening to podcasts and other more talk-focused content like Twitch and YouTube videos on my phone. 

  • First reviewed January 2024
Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8 review: a luxury high-end speaker with a premium price to match
8:00 pm | December 16, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Wireless & Bluetooth Speakers | Comments: Off

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8: Two-minute review

The Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8 is, in many ways, about as Bang & Olufsen a product as it’s possible to imagine. As far as its broad functionality is concerned, it’s ‘just’ a wireless speaker with a fairly unremarkable specification (if you ignore the ‘Mozart’ platform that offers a degree of technological future-proofing). It doesn’t do anything that any number of more affordable alternatives can do.

What very few alternatives can do, though, is look quite so decorative, so elegant and, yes, so expensive while they’re doing, though – in fact, I can really only think of Devialet’s ‘Phantom’ range of speakers that have anything like the visual drama of the Beolab 8. So if you want a speaker that looks, as well as sounds, the part, stick with me…

Play to its strengths and the Beolab 8 is an energetic and energising listen, able to balance considerable attack against deft detail resolution with real skill. Where the most visceral aspects of music-making are concerned, this Bang & Olufsen is one of the best wireless speakers around. If you try to lumber it with some more soothing, less lively content, though, you’ll find it’s rather intolerant. And no matter what you listen to, don’t listen to it at big volumes – that can skew the speaker’s sonic balance a little.

There’s an elephant in the room, though – and just because it was introduced early on, that doesn't make it any less elephant-like. The Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8 is stunningly expensive compared to the best wireless speakers, which means you’ll have to do some negotiating with yourself before any of the other stuff becomes a consideration…  

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8 review: Price and release date

The Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8 on a table

(Image credit: Future, Simon Lucas)
  • Release date: November 2023
  • Price: $2,749 / £2,199 / AU$4,499

The Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8 is on sale now, and it sells for a minimum of $2,749 in the US, £2,199 in the UK and AU$4,499 in Australia. That’s for the ‘natural’ aluminium chassis with grey ‘mélange’ grille and table-stand though. 

Things being what they are at Bang & Olufsen, of course, it’s possible to spend plenty more than this if the fancy takes you. The version I’m testing, for instance, is in ‘natural’ aluminium with slatted natural oak cover and table-stand – and it sells for £2,699 in the UK.

It’s worth noting that the Beolab 8 has very little price-comparable competition, even at its most affordable. It’s really only Devialet (a company just as distinctive as Bang & Olufsen, at least in some ways) and its bonkers Phantom wireless speaker that competes in anything like the same area of the market.  

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8 review: Features

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8 app screenshots

(Image credit: Future, Simon Lucas)
  • 300 watts of Class D power
  • 24bit/192kHz DAC
  • Wired and wireless connectivity 

As seems only reasonable, given the asking price, the Beolab 8 is a sensibly and thoroughly specified device. Your options for getting audio content on board, for instance, are numerous. There are wired and wireless options available, naturally. Dual-band wi-fi and Bluetooth 5.3 (with SBC and AAC codec compatibility) take care of the wireless stuff, and you also get the option of Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast and the ‘Connect’ versions of both Spotify and Tidal

On top of this, the control app features access to Bang & Olufsen Radio, which brings a huge number of broadcasts from around the world into the Beolab 8’s orbit. There’s DLNA compatibility too, so any content on a local server is available too. Wired connectivity runs to a couple of Ethernet sockets and a USB-C input, all of which are just slightly fiddly to access at the rear of the cabinet.   

No matter how you access your content, though, it’s pored over by a DAC chipset of 24bit/192kHz resolution and compatibility with most worthwhile file formats. It’s then delivered by a 15mm tweeter, 76mm midrange driver and 136mm bass unit – the Bang & Olufsen has a total of 300 watts of Class D power available, with the bass driver taking 200 watts of that and the remaining 100 watts divided equally between the other two drivers.

Before you get to the point of actually listening to music, though, the Beolab 8 would like to optimise its performance to your specific environment. There’s an ‘advanced room compensation’ routine available in the control app - it takes next-to-no time to maximise the output of the speaker. ‘Adaptive bass linearization’ [sic] does something similar, but with greater emphasis on the possibly problematic low frequencies. After that, it’s simply a question of deciding which of the ‘beam width control’ options (‘wide’ or ‘narrow’) you prefer – and then you’re in business.

During the early part of 2024 Bang & Olufsen will introduce a feature of interest to those who are running a couple of Beolab 8 as a stereo pair. ‘Fluid sweet spot’ intends to use the position of your smartphone to optimise the stereo image to suit, which sounds like an intriguing idea.

The Beolab 8 is built on Bang & Olufsen’s increasingly ubiquitous ‘Mozart’ platform, which gives it compatibility both forwards and backwards. Because the platform is adaptable and modular, the Beolab 8 has been proactively designed to be easily upgradable  to take account of new technologies not currently on the radar. And because ‘Powerlink’ is part of the ‘Mozart’ platform, the Beolab 8 is compatible with Bang & Olufsen audio and video products dating back three decades and more. 

Controlling the Beolab 8 can be done in a couple of (well-implemented, reliable) ways. The glass top-plate is home to some illuminated capacitive touch controls – they’re woken by a proximity sensor. Here you can take care of ‘play/pause’, ‘volume up/down’, and ‘skip forwards/backwards’ - and it’s also where you can access your four presets, and where you can initiate Bluetooth pairing.  

The real action, though, lies with the Bang & Olufsen control app that’s free for iOS and Android. It remains one of the more useful and better-looking examples of its – and it covers every eventuality. For instance, EQ adjustment is available both via ‘bass’ and ‘treble’ sliders and via the lovely ‘target’ graphic alternative. Playback controls, software updates, forming a stereo pair or creating a multiroom system, running the ‘room compensation’ calibration routine, accessing presets, switching between ‘wide’ and ‘narrow’ sound dispersal characteristics… you name it, the app has it covered.

There’s no voice control available here, though. Given how effective the control app and the touch controls are, it’s not a massive miss - but then again, I can’t help but think that All This Money ought to buy as many niceties as are available…

Features score: 4.5 / 5

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8 review: Design

A close-up of the Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8

(Image credit: Future, Simon Lucas)
  • 290 x 189 x 165mm (HxWxD)
  • 4.1kg (without stand)
  • Several stand options

Obviously, whether or not you enjoy the design of the Beolab 8 is very much a matter of taste. But there are some aspects of ‘design’ I feel able to discuss without fear of contradiction.

For instance, there’s no arguing with the impeccable nature of the way this speaker is built and finished. It’s hard for a piece of audio equipment of this sort of size to justify its asking price where the look (and, for that matter, the feel) is concerned, but Bang & Olufsen has nevertheless given it a shot. At 290 x 189 x 165mm (HxWxD) the Beolab 8 is big enough to look purposeful, but small enough to be either decorative or discreet depending on your preference. 

As mentioned, the £2,199 I quoted at the outset buys you a speaker in ‘natural’ aluminium with a grey ‘mélange’ grille, sitting on a table-stand. Of course, you may prefer the slatted oak grille of my sample (it’s a finish that features on quite a few Beolab models) - this can be yours along with the ‘natural’ aluminium finish for £2,699. This is also the price that ‘gold tone’ with light oak grille or ‘black anthracite’ with dark oak grille will set you back. 

There are also options where stands are concerned. A wall bracket and a floor stand are both available - and both make a lot of sense if you’re running a stereo pair of Beolab 8 or (for the extraordinarily well-heeled) using them as rear speakers in a surround-sound set-up. The wall bracket (which can also be a ceiling bracket) adds £100 to the price, the floor stand is an extra £200. 

Design score: 4.5 / 5

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8 review: Sound quality

Close up of speaker in the Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8

(Image credit: Future, Simon Lucas)
  • Detailed, energetic sound
  • Good low-frequency presence and control
  • Can get a little toppy at volume

Has your Beolab 8 calibrated itself to your specific environment? Have you experimented with ‘wide’ and ‘narrow’ beam width? Investigated your B&O Radio preferences and given the control app access to all the music you have stored on a common network? Well then, you’re good to go. 

A 24bit/96kHz FLAC file of Los Campesinos’ You! Me! Dancing! gives the Beolab 8 ample opportunity to explain a fair bit about the way it goes about things, and the news is almost entirely positive. From the get-go, the Bang & Olufsen strikes a balance between ‘forcefulness’ and ‘deftness’ that brings the song vividly to life.

It summons impressive low-frequency presence, for example. Bass sounds are deep, properly shaped and textured, and carry plenty of fine detail regarding tone and timbre along with a serving of straight-ahead punch. Control of the bottom end is good, which means rhythmic expression is confident, and the speaker maintains the momentum of the recording in fine style. Bass sounds stay carefully in their lane, and leave the midrange alone to get on with doing its thing without sticking their oar in.

‘Its thing’ turns out to be communicating in a pretty direct and eloquent style. There’s an absolute stack of character and attitude in the tune’s vocal line, as well as some endearingly approximate technique, and the Beolab 8 makes it plain without sounding in any way analytical or judgemental - it’s an engaged and engaging listen where singers are concerned, and it allows a stack of detail to emerge. There’s an articulacy to the way the Bang & Olufsen handles the midrange that’s by no means a given in any speaker – even one as optimistically priced as this one.

The story is similar at the top of the frequency range, at least where detail levels, control and insight are concerned. The top end attacks with crisp determination - there’s about as much brightness to treble sounds as is acceptable, but unless you’re really pressing on in terms of volume everything remains disciplined. If you enjoy bigger volumes, though, the top-end reproduction here gains quite a lot of ill-deserved confidence, and the result is a skewing of the frequency balance towards the top - and there’s hardness and edginess there as a result.

The entirety of the frequency range is quite smoothly integrated, with scant suggestion of handover at any of the crossover points. The Beolab 8 is a quite spacious and well-defined listen, able to describe space between the competing elements of a recording while maintaining focus at the same time. Dynamic headroom is considerable, and the distance it’s capable of putting between the quietest and the loudest moments in a recording is considerable. It’s similarly attentive to the more minor, but no less significant, dynamic and harmonic variations apparent when listening to an unaccompanied voice or solo instrument.

There’s a definite sensation of directness and positivity to the sound the Beolab 8 makes, no matter the attitude of the music it’s playing. In most circumstances, this works just fine - it’s not as if the speaker is feral in its delivery, but it most certainly knows how to attack. On occasion, though, its determination to impose its ‘up-and-at-’em’ attitude bumps up against recordings that require a gentler, less forthright touch - something like a 24bit/96kHz FLAC file of Arooj Aftab’s Last Night, for instance - and the result is a compromise that doesn’t really suit either party. 

Sound quality score: 4 / 5

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8 review: Value

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8 from above

(Image credit: Future, Simon Lucas)
  • Priced beyond its performance...
  • ...but Bang & Olufsen customers tend not to mind
  • Looks as distinctive as it sounds

Obviously you can buy comparable sound quality for a fair bit less than this. So the question of ‘value’ really rests on how much you enjoy the Beolab 8 aesthetic, and how much you admire Bang & Olufsen’s commitment to premium materials and individualistic design (as well as its determination to make its products both future-proof and compatible with its older models). 

Value score: 3.5 / 5 

Should I buy the Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8?

Buy it if...

Don't buy it if...

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8: Also consider

How I tested the Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 8

(Image credit: Future, Simon Lucas)
  • Tested in different positions in my home
  • Tested with a variety of digital audio file types…
  • …and with a variety of genres of music

I used the Beolab 8 for well over a week, and it occupied quite a few different positions in my home during that time - always on its table stand, of course. As the review makes plain, this speaker has its preferences as regards the type of music you ask it to play - but it turns out to be admirably unfussy about the quality, or resolution, of the digital audio information you feed it. And as long as you don’t position it on a shelf with another shelf directly above, it’s not all that bothered about where you place it, either. 

Read more about how we test

First reviewed in December 2023

Majority Oakington review: a DAB radio, CD player and Bluetooth speaker audio package
4:22 pm | November 29, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Wireless & Bluetooth Speakers | Tags: , , | Comments: Off

Majority Oakington: Two-minute review

The term ‘all-in-one audio system’ gets bandied about a lot to refer to a speaker that has multiple uses but Majority has taken the term to heart with the Oakington as there’s very little it can’t do – or play.

The Majority Oakington lets you play from CDs, tune into FM, DAB or DAB+ radio, plug in a device via an aux cord or USB cable, and connect via Bluetooth to stream music. This Swiss army knife of a music machine is only missing Wi-Fi streaming and it’d fill out the bingo card of all the modern ways of listening to music (sorry, vinyl fans, but I said ‘modern’).

This range of features is impressive enough when you consider its £159 ($200 / AU$300) price tag – that’s a great price for a device this versatile, especially with the Oakington boasting the design flair of a designer speaker of 10x that price.

Perfect it is not, however. There’s no one massive flaw with the Majority Oakington, but I did butt up a few little quirks and kinks that stop this being an otherwise glowing review.

The Oakington is a little complicated to set up and use, which admittedly only means that it’s harder to use than a simple press-and-play speaker, but I did have to spend some time poring over the instruction manual when using the device. 

That is to say, people who are technophobic might find the Oakington a little overwhelming. I've tested countless audio devices for TechRadar, including some of the best DAB radios and best Bluetooth speakers, and I'm slightly ashamed to admit that a large number of problems I had with the device were solved by randomly hitting different buttons until something worked.

Jumping between all of the Oakington's audio inputs did raise another annoying issue, and that's that volumes varied quite a bit between them. I'd barely be able to hear Bluetooth music and then deafen myself when jumping to DAB. Am I being dramatic? A little, and I don't want to seem to accentuate the negatives, because overall this is a handy multi-functional device with just a few teething problems.

Majority Oakington: Price and release date

The Majority Oakington's remote by its volume dial

While you can connect your phone to the Oakington to stream music, it also comes with a handy remote.  (Image credit: Future)
  • Released in 2018
  • Originally priced at £159 ($175 / AU$265)

The Oakington was first released in 2018 and it’s remained a popular entry in Majority’s line-up of digital radios ever since.

The device originally cost £159 ($200 / AU$300). But five years after its release, it’s generally sold for £139 ($175 / AU$265), which is the price that every online retailer sells it for at the time of writing and so we’ve reviewed it with this lower price in mind. Just note that Majority mainly ships its products in the UK, and while it does offer a few products in the US, we couldn’t find the Oakington on sale there.

That’s a fair price for this speaker given that it doubles as a radio and a Bluetooth speaker. For context, our top-rated DAB radio, the Roberts Revival RD70, currently goes for £179 (roughly $225 / AU$340). While you can of course get any old DAB for a fraction of the price, this all-in-one audio tool justifies its price when you consider it’s also a Bluetooth speaker, CD player and so on.

However, if you’re interested in the Oakington, you might also want to check out Majority’s Homerton 2, which costs the same amount and has Wi-Fi for extra connectivity like Spotify Connect and other Wi-Fi streaming apps. 

Majority Oakington review: Specs

Majority Oakington review: Features

The rear ports and buttons of the  Majority Oakington

The Oakington has a vintage look and comes in two color choices: (yes, you guessed it) oak or walnut.   (Image credit: Future)
  • Long list of connectivity types
  • Mains connection but AAA batteries for remote
  • Tricky set up process

As previously mentioned, the Majority Oakington has a long list of ways to listen to audio. You can connect it to your phone for Bluetooth, extend the antennae to catch some FM, DAB or DAB+ channels (the latter ensures that it’s future proof), plug in either an aux or USB cable to listen to tunes or simply pop in a CD. Such a wide swathe of listening options puts the Oakington in good stead for people who like variety.

As you’d expect, audio quality varies by input, as does volume – more so than you’d expect for such a device. When I first set up the DAB channels I’d just been listening to Bluetooth by streaming music and had to crank up the volume pretty high to hear anything streamed that way. Suffice to say, turning the radio on resulted in a really huge volume increase. This continued through the testing period when changing inputs, which means you’ll have to have your finger on the volume rocker on the remote or ready to spin the dial on the machine itself if you like to change input a lot. It’s easy to switch input thanks to the remote, though. Depending on what you’re switching to, the Oakington will sometimes take a few moments to get its act together to actually switch over.

Being a mains-powered speaker, you don’t need to worry about battery life here… except for the remote, which takes two AAA batteries. You get two with the radio, but once those run out you’ll need to pick up some more.

There are more features on offer here too. You can use the Oakington to charge your phone or another device via its USB port, which is particularly handy if you’re streaming music from the device. There’s an alarm function that turns on your music at a certain time, perfect for people who like to wake up to the radio. There’s also a headphone port that you can use if you want to listen quietly – however, there’s a catch on this last one. You can’t use headphones that have a built-in microphone which, in this day and age, is the vast majority of them. In fact, I don’t own a single pair of headphones that don’t have a microphone (and I test audio; I’ve got many), which limits this functionality somewhat.

Given the broad range of features, the Majority was a little finicky to set up. As I’ve already mentioned, I spent lots of the testing time glued to the manual, especially when setting it up and using the extra tools like switching to the aux input. This stops becoming an issue the more you use the speaker, but it’s worth pointing out if you’re not a tech-head.

Case in point, that has cropped up as I’m writing this – the remote has a few easy-to-press buttons to play from CD, Bluetooth, radio or USB, but to listen from the aux cable, you have to press the button on a different row of the remote simply titled ‘audio’. Or, like me, you can simply start pressing random buttons on the device until the aux-in starts working.

One feature missing from the Oakington is any kind of voice assistant, which is far from a deal-breaker but is worth flagging given how commonplace they are in Bluetooth speakers. If you want Alexa or Google to tee up your next song, you’re going to have to forget it.

  • Features score: 4.5/5

Majority Oakington review: Design

The Majority Oakington's volume dial.

You can use both the dial on the Oakington itself or the remote to adjust volume. (Image credit: Future)
  • Classy wooden design in two colorways
  • Not too big, but has top-mounted dials
  • Remote works most, but not all, of the time

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but in my eyes, the Oakington is a good-looking device – definitely more so than lots of its rivals. It comes in two color options, light or dark brown, with both using a wooden look to fit naturally into lots of home decor.

The front of the device offers two speakers, a small LED screen, eight buttons and a CD slot. The top of it has a dial that you can rotate to change the volume or press in as the device’s ‘select’ button, and the back has the power port and switch and four separate input or output jacks (more on these later).

Despite what pictures suggest, it’s not too big, measuring 40 x 20 x 13 cm and weighing just shy of 4kg. It’s not a portable device per se – nothing with a power cable really is – but it won’t take up too much space in your home. We wouldn’t recommend stacking other things on top of it though, not if you want to be able to change the volume without the remote.

Onto that remote: it gives you all the functions you need, with more functions than on the body of the Oakington, but I’d say it’s possibly too big and complicated for the device it controls. In the testing time, I was frequently having to consult the manual to work out how to enable simple tasks.

Some other reviewers have called the remote’s connectivity spotty, and this was the case for our review sample too – I’d sometimes have to press a button twice to have it pick up the signal. Saying that, I didn’t find it too much worse than most remotes that come packaged with TVs or similar devices. 

A more annoying issue was that the Oakington has 32 volume levels, and as I’ll get into later, the volume varied a lot by input, so I found myself changing it a lot. On the remote, this can mean lots of hammering at the volume up or volume down button to have an audible difference – in these circumstances, I’d end up eschewing the remote and utilizing the rotating dial on the device since it was much quicker. It just involved standing up! 

  • Design score: 3.5/5

Majority Oakington review: Sound quality

  • A good rather than great listen
  • CDs or Bluetooth streaming lacked bass
  • EQ presets offer minor tuning adjustment  

The front of the Majority Oakington

(Image credit: Future)

The Majority Oakington provides good audio, but it falls short of ‘great’ for a few reasons. It doesn’t quite stack up to many Bluetooth speakers on the market, but if you’re only planning to use it for, say, FM radio functions, then that won’t matter to you.

When listening to a CD or Bluetooth streamed music, the lack of bass is palpable – if you want thumping bass then you might have to look elsewhere. You can adjust the EQ with a control on the remote, but this didn’t seem to have a huge impact in tests. There’s an EQ button as well that cycles through presets: normal, class (which we presume is meant to be classical), pop, rock and jazz, but the changes between each sounded pretty minor.

As mentioned before, I had trouble with the wildly variable volumes of different inputs, and for some the max volume was too low. Bluetooth music maxed out at such a low volume that I couldn’t make out the song at the other end of the same room, and couldn’t hear songs from one room over. To reiterate, that’s at maximum volume, so this is only good news for your neighbors.

The lopsided balance is easy to criticize but it’s not a deal-breaker here, and I can see some users finding the sound of the Oakington just fine. That’s particularly true thanks to the sound stage which, bass aside, provides a lot of depth. 

  • Sound quality: 3.5/5

Majority Oakington review: Value

The front of the Majority Oakington at an angle

The Majority Oakington offers good value for its all-in-one solution and price point.  (Image credit: Future)

Given that you're getting about five devices all packaged into one with the Majority Oakington, it's pretty easy to recommend as a good-value audio device.

Of course, you could get each of those five devices separately for a much lower price, but Majority crams them all into one body and at a price lower than all of them combined. I'd call it a good value device for the features and audio props you get.

  • Value score: 4/5

Should I buy the Majority Oakington?

Buy it if…

Don’t buy it if…

Majority Oakington review: Also consider

How I tested the Majority Oakington

  • Tested for two weeks
  • Tested with a range of audio inputs

I used the Majority Oakington for two weeks prior to writing this review. This was mainly split between Bluetooth streaming and DAB radio (as you can see from the images in this review!) but I made sure to spend time testing the other inputs too. 

A lot of the testing time was spent scratching my head while staring at the manual. I should also flag that I moved the Majority about in my flat quite a bit, partly to test its signal and audio power in different locations, but mainly just to find a spot where I could play Bluetooth music and actually hear it. 

I joined the TechRadar team in 2019 and spent several years testing just about every kind of tech under the sun (though my primary role was in the phones team). Since leaving to join TR's sister site What to Watch in late 2022, I've continued to provide tech reviews for TechRadar including headphones, running earbuds, portable speakers, smartphones, robot vacuums and more. 

First reviewed in November 2023

JBL Authentics 500 review: a speaker with Dolby Atmos chops to rock your socks off
6:00 pm | October 29, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Wireless & Bluetooth Speakers | Tags: | Comments: Off

JBL Authentics 500: Two-minute review

The JBL Authentics 500 sounds more like an IndyCar Series race than a loudspeaker, but it’s actually the name of the newest premium Wi-Fi speaker with Dolby Atmos support from audio powerhouse JBL.

Launched alongside the more affordable Authentics 200 and 300, this is one of the best wireless speakers for people who are willing to toe the edges of their budget, without splurging too far. 

It’s one of the priciest speakers JBL has put out, and at the time of writing it heads up its line of Wi-Fi speakers (which doesn’t include the wallet-melting and LED-bedecked PartyBox line).

In terms of audio quality and features, there’s a good reason for this price. The Authentics 500 has audio chops that’ll rock your socks off, with sharp treble and bass that’s so ground-shaking that the speaker could be picked up by a seismograph.

You’re getting the connectivity tripartite here (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and wired, with bonus USB-C connection in the US) and built-in functionality with a range of different music streaming apps: Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, Chromecast, Amazon Music and more all have easy shortcuts and tie into the device.

The third-party collaboration extends to smart home assistants, and the JBL is so smart that it can actually run two assistants at once. This might just sound like a way to use each assistant for what they’re good at; letting Alexa control Amazon Music or Google to find web results, but it’s actually a vital tool for tech fans who have a diverse tech ecosystem that isn’t exclusive to one range.

So the JBL Authentics 500 ties cozily into a smart home and will please audiophiles with its excesses. So why have I only given it four stars out of five? Well, because it can be so damn fiddly to use!

The set-up process was quite a pain, because it involved wading through pages on the app store to find the exact right app and twiddling my thumbs while a massive firmware update was installed. And while connecting to the speaker was often a breeze, the app definitely wouldn't concur, as it sometimes couldn't sense the speaker even when the device in use was literally playing music onto it.

This may seem like a minor gripe, but speaker apps can be rather divisive for music fans, so featuring one that doesn't work perfectly might raise eyebrows. There's no doubt the Sonos Era 300 offers a simpler experience and similar audio quality for less – but it doesn't have as many features as the JBL.

JBL Authentics 500: Price and release date

  • Released in September 2023
  • Costs $699.99 / £579.99 / AU$999

The JBL Authentics 500 was announced alongside its 200 and 300 siblings at IFA 2023 at the end of August 2023, and went on sale shortly after.

The 500 costs $699 / £579 / AU$999, so it’s certainly not a cheap speaker – it’s the priciest of the brand’s current Wi-Fi speaker range, narrowly sliding above the Boombox 3. For context the Authentics 200 costs $349 / £299 / AU$499 and the Authentics 300 goes for £379 / $449 / AU$599.

Some of the close competitors to the JBL Authentics 500 you’ll find include the $449 / £449 / AU$749 Sonos Era 300 (which TechRadar gave 4.5 stars in our review), the $799 / £699 / AU$1,199 Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin (five stars in our review) and the $699 / £599 (roughly AU$900) Bang & Olufsen Beosound Emerge. 

This isn’t too premium as a speaker though, and most brands have one or more offerings in the four-figure range if you really want to splash out.

The JBL Authentics 500 on a gold table

(Image credit: Future)

JBL Authentics 500 review: Specs

The JBL Authentics 500 on a gold table

(Image credit: Future)

JBL Authentics 500 review: Features

  • Lots of tie in apps and assistants
  • Bluetooth 5.3 or Wi-Fi streaming or 3.5mm aux-in
  • Buggy companion app

The Authentic’s set-up process wasn’t exactly a breeze. While my first few days of testing solely utilized a Bluetooth connection to the speaker, which was simple, most of the device’s features require you to pair with the JBL app. That first hurdle is the biggest, as there are 10 different JBL-named apps on the Play Store, but it’s JBL One that you’re looking for. 

When I finally found the right app to install, the speaker told me it’d take 20 minutes to install firmware updates. After that, it decided to crash several times when trying to set up the voice assistants. Not exactly ideal.

My issues continued through the testing period. Occasionally, when I was streaming music from a phone via Wi-Fi, the JBL One app wouldn’t be able to connect to the speaker, even when Bluetooth was enabled. This meant I couldn’t play with the equalizer or control the music through the app itself.

The app is pretty useful when it works, though. You can use it to set up Wi-Fi streaming, set a ‘Moment’ or favored prompt that you can enact by pressing the heart button on the speaker (like a beloved playlist), play with the speaker’s equalizer, and enable voice assistants. 

The equalizer gives you a little more control over sound than the on-speaker dials, letting you tweak mid as well as bass and treble, but there’s no way to set or change presets.

Various screenshots from the JBL One app

(Image credit: Future)

The ‘Moment’ button lets you quickly draw from a range of music services including Amazon Music, Tidal and Napster, but curiously missing is Spotify. Spotify Connect is available for Wi-Fi streaming though, as is AirPlay 2, Amazon Alexa, Tidal Connect and Chromecast. 

A neat feature on the Authentics is that you can enable multiple assistants, like Alexa and Google Assistant, making this a useful option if you have multiple product ecosystems on the go.

Overall, the list of features and tie-in apps here is really neat. Whichever music service you use, you’ll be covered.

As stated, you can use the JBL either via Bluetooth (5.3, nice and reliable!) or Wi-Fi, giving you a range of ways to listen, with Wi-Fi streaming built into a lot of music apps these days including the ever-present Spotify. I never had any issues with either of these options in terms of dropping or cut-outs, though Bluetooth could sometimes take a while to pair, so I’d recommend you opt for Wi-Fi purely out of convenience. If you are still suspicious about wireless connectivity, there’s also a 3.5mm aux jack you can use.

  • Features score: 4/5

The JBL Authentics 500 on a gold table

(Image credit: Future)

JBL Authentics 500 review: Sound quality

If you want the short version, the JBL Authentics 500 sounds fantastic.

The bass is the killer here, thanks going to the 6.5-inch subwoofer hidden on the underside of the box for this miracle of music. Unlike some bass-heavy speakers, the element didn't overwhelm the other aspects of a song, instead underlining the rest of each tune. Balance in speakers like this is never a guarantee, so the JBL was pleasantly surprising.

That means the treble remains crisp and clear, no matter what kind of thumping bassline a song normally has. I did find that the top-mounted treble dial seemed to have very little effect, though, with the bass dial having more of a palpable impact on music.

Unfortunately bass does tie in to one audio issue, though the real culprit is the app's lack of sound profiles. The prominent bass became too dominant in certain types of audio, particularly when I used the speaker for podcasts (or other spoken word content) or movies. This could be fixed by changing the dials on the speaker (or in the app, if it wanted to work), but sound presets could make it much easier.

The speaker supports Dolby Atmos Music, the surround-sound tech that makes music and movies sound fantastic, but only for certain apps like Tidal. 

The max output on the Authentics 500 is 270W; in my general testing period, I never got even close to its volume limit, thanks to just how loud it was. Turning the dial up to full won’t just annoy the neighbors, but people several towns over.

I found this out the hard way (the neighbor part, not the hyperbole) when I accidentally knocked the volume dial up to about 70% volume with a toe: even at this level, my neighbor had to come around to have a word. That is to say, this is a loud loudspeaker, and no matter the size of your home, you won’t be straining to hear tunes. 

Another minor gripe is that there only seemed to be a few volume levels; when you turn the dial, each new volume tier (indicated by a new section lighting up on the dial) ratched up the noise by a noticeable margin. I spent a good while turning the dial just a few degrees one way then another, trying to find a Goldilocks spot, before realizing that one didn't exist. I was stuck deciding between music a touch too loud, or a touch too quiet, which is a first-world problem if ever you've heard one, but a problem nonetheless.

  • Sound quality: 4/5

The JBL Authentics 500 on a gold table

(Image credit: Future)

JBL Authentics 500 review: Design

  • Classy ’70s-esque design
  • Three main dials for volume, bass and treble
  • Big body and heavy

The JBL Authentics 500 is a big speaker; it makes its 200- and 300-named siblings look like they need to head back to the gym, and while that heft hints at its impressive speaker functionality, it does make this a challenging piece of kit to fit in your home.

Measuring 17.6 x 9.4 x 2.2 in / 447 x 240 x 255 mm, this is a piece of gear that you can’t just leave on any book shelf or window ledge (and weighing nearly 8kg, not all surfaces might support it!). Before buying the speaker, you should probably work out where it’ll sit on your house, and make sure you’ve definitely got space for it.

Not only is your home placement important to check that it fits, but you should also ‘vibe-check’ your home to make sure the speaker fits in with your decor. This is certainly a classy-looking speaker, with a black body and gold trim, and it could be as much of a fashion statement as it is a musical device if you want to channel some old-school cool. It's based on JBL's 1970s-era speakers.

Despite being such a big speaker, the Authentics 500 has a rather barebones set of buttons atop it. That’s mostly a good thing: it’s clear to see which is the dial for volume, bass and treble, the Bluetooth pairing and favorites buttons are clear and the pause/play function is easy to spot too. Privacy fans will also enjoy the physical slider which turns off the microphone, to make sure you’re not being listened to.

That slider is on the back, joined by the power port, 3.5mm audio jack, a USB-C port and an ethernet port, so you can get your internet wired if you’d rather. This USB-C port lets you input music digitally, but only with the US models of the speaker.

What’s missing is a power button: the instruction manual simply shows a picture of the power cable under the ‘Power On/Off’ heading, implying that the only way to turn the speaker off is to unplug the thing. When I wanted to use my phone’s onboard speakers I either had to manually disconnect the Bluetooth or turn the speaker off at the wall, which was rather annoying; a simple power button or switch would be appreciated.

  • Design score: 4/5

The JBL Authentics 500 on a gold table

(Image credit: Future)

JBL Authentics 500 review: Value

This has so far been a pretty glowing review of the JBL Authentics 500; perhaps the elephant in the room (other than the speaker itself, the chunky monkey!) is the speaker’s price.

This isn’t a cheap speaker, and you can get similar features and decent audio quality from the more affordable JBL Authentics 200 and 300. Plus they’re smaller, and in the case of the 300, is portable with a built-in battery.

So buy this if you’ve got the funds to cover its extra cost, but it’s certainly not the value option compared to its siblings.

Compared to other speakers, you can get the Sonos Era 300, with similar Dolby Atmos support and nearly as many speakers (but no subwoofer) for notably cheaper. But considering one of our criticism of that speaker was that we wanted more bass, and considering the extra connection options of the JBL, the extra money is warranted.

  • Value score: 3.5/5

Should I buy the JBL Authentics 500?

The JBL Authentics 500 on a gold table

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if…

Don’t buy it if…

JBL Authentics 500: Also consider

How I tested the JBL Authentics 500

The JBL Authentics 500 on a gold table

(Image credit: Future)

As stated in this review, when I started using the JBL Authentics 500 I solely used Bluetooth, just to test how it worked alone; then for a day I used 3.5mm for the music. In both cases, this was for testing purposes, not because I'm a luddite, and then I moved onto using the app which I've covered in detail earlier in this review.

In full I tested the JBL Authentics 500 for roughly a week. A large part of this was with my default listening app: Spotify, using both Bluetooth and Spotify Connect for Wi-Fi streaming.

I also used the speaker for a few other things; I listened to an episode of my favorite podcast 'Fall of Civilisations' (which, at four hours long, counts as some pretty intensive testing) and connected it to my PS4 to watch the new movie No One Will Save You. At several times I accidentally also played autoplaying social media videos through the speaker, but this wasn't an intended part of the testing experience!

For some context on me; I was on the TechRadar team for several years as a staff writer and then editor. I've also tested plenty of other tech for the site, including loudspeakers and headphones since 2019.

Sony HT-AX7 review: a mobile surround sound system for projectors or tablets
7:15 pm | October 23, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Wireless & Bluetooth Speakers | Comments: Off

The Sony HT-AX7 is in a category of its own. It's a portable Bluetooth-connected surround sound system, where you can just grab the two rechargeable mini 'puck' speakers from the top of the main unit, place them behind you, and be surrounded by movie audio. Or you can just place them around a room for more diffused music than from a single speaker, Sony says.

The Sony HT-AX7 isn't promising 5.1-channel sound or anything quite so simple. It's processing your music and adding Sony's 360 Spatial Sound Mapping to create its best approximation of a bubble of sound around you, based on the location of the three units. There are two speaker drivers plus two passive bass radiators in the main unit, and a speaker in each of the satellites. The price for all this tech is pretty steep compared to your average portable Bluetooth speaker, though, at $499 / $499 (approx. AU$960).

We're not aware of any of the best Bluetooth speakers with a setup like the Sony HT-AX7's. And while some of the best soundbars have detachable and rechargeable rear speakers, as well as Bluetooth, they're far from portable. This device measures just 12 x 5.2 x 4.8 inches / 306 x 133 x 123 mm with the speakers attached.

Sony HT-AX7 on a table

The Sony HT-AX7 is more compact than you might guess. It's no larger than a loaf of bread. (Image credit: Future)

Clad in simple gray fabric, it's an odd, though not ugly, device aesthetically – kind of like a Lego brick when the speakers are on. The plastic on top has a high-quality matte feel. It bends inwards where you press the buttons for turning it on and off, activating Bluetooth pairing mode, playing/pausing (and taking calls – it has a mic), volume up and down, and the 'Sound Field' button that activates its surround-sound processing.

The two satellite speaker pucks are held on by magnets, and have a smartly designed charging system so you don't have to worry about their rotation at all. The magnets aren't especially strong, which makes them easy to grab, but also is easy to knock off accidentally. If you move the speaker too quickly when picking it up, you may lose one – I did exactly this when turning it to put it on charge. They're also easy to nudge off. However, they're built very solidly, so dropping them was no problem for me. The fabric is the thing most likely to get damaged if they hit something rough.

Sony HT-AX7 on a table with its two speakers leaning against it

The fabric covering makes the Sony HT-AX7's speakers very easy to grab as well as being good for acoustics. (Image credit: Future)

I had the Sony HT-AX7 out of its box and connected to my iPad Pro in about a minute, with surround sound following seconds behind that. Like all the best Bluetooth speakers, it's super simple – you hit the Bluetooth pairing button on top, connect from your tablet, phone (or whatever), play a movie, and position the rear speakers however you want them.

And with Sony's Sound Field tech on, it sounds good – though I was disappointed by the lack of strong rear effect at first. The volume of the satellite speakers and main speaker is controlled all together, and they were just too quiet by default. But Sony's Home Entertainment Connect app enables you to ramp up the volume of the rear speakers, and I found that increasing their volume by three gave me the impact I was hoping for.

With my iPad or phone, the effect is great – I watched lounging in bed, with the rear speakers on the head board, the front speaker down by my feet, and the tablet in my hand. But I don't actually watch like this all that often – most of my tablet or phone movie watching is done on planes or trains, with some of the best noise-cancelling headphones pulling audio duty.

So next I connected it to what most excited me: my portable projector. I have a Samsung The Freestyle (2022), and for a while I've been planning to get rid of my spare-room TV and just use the projector, but I haven't known what to do about good sound. Its own speakers aren't sufficient, but I haven't found anything that's quite right to connect it to instead – either the connection is wrong or the size is.

But the Sony HT-AX7 is ideal. It connects to the Freestyle over Bluetooth, and the HT-AX7 doesn't have to be permanently out. I can put it on a shelf when I'm not watching, and then just grab it, spread its three speakers out in a few seconds, get in position and start enjoying genuine surround sound with the projector. I'm instantly in love.

Sony HT-AX7 on a table, with its rear speaker positioned next to a Samsung projector

Obviously, this isn't actually my Sony HT-AX7/projector setup, but imagine oneself positioned in the middle of this. (Image credit: Future)

And happily, the Sony's sound is really effective when watching movies. It's got enough bass to provide meat to action or big movie soundtracks, but I found dialog easy to pick out, and it's dynamic enough to give impacts and sound effects some heft.

The soundscape feels wider than the small box across the front. Even with my projected screen hitting about 80-inches, the audio didn't feel like a mismatch compared to the screen.

There was impressively little lag over Bluetooth, and absolutely no discernible lag between the front and rear speakers – they felt like a coherent unit. I would not say the surround sound effect is as impressive as my Sonos setup I use for my TV – the rear speakers are too weedy to create a feeling of totally enveloping you (the system doesn't pump bass to them meaningfully at all, relying solely on the front speaker for that) –  but they add directionality for music and effects, and really enhanced the cinematic feeling beyond just having a speaker at the front.

As well as the all-important Sound Field mode, it has two audio modes (accessible through the app) that may come in handy. There's Voice Mode, which pushes the EQ up into higher registers to help speech stand out further, and Night Mode, which clamps down the bass and reduces dynamic range, so it's less likely to wake people in other rooms if a movie turns loud suddenly.

I can certainly imagine there are kids and students who watch a lot more movies on their tablet than I do, and for them the HT-AX7 will be a better fit in a bedroom or dorm room. For me, it's a super-convenient companion to the new breed of small projectors, and it's a total winner in that regard.

Sony HT-AX7 controls in a close up

The Sony HT-AX7's controls – there are more options in the app, though. (Image credit: Future)

However, there had to be a however. We need to talk about the music performance of the Sony HT-AX7, because that's what really causes the $500 / £500 price tag to stick in your throat.

If this were half the price, its music performance would be okay. But at this price, it's an outright disappointment. The mid-range and treble feel weighed down by the bass, and are only able to orbit it rather than express themselves freely, which makes the soundstage feel constrained.

I compared the Sony HT-AX7 directly to a Sonos Era 100, and the Sonos speaker has better balance and detail as a result. It also has a bit more energy… and it's half the price.

Now, the Sony HT-AX7 does, of course, have its party trick: you can take those satellite pucks and place them around the room so it's no longer like you have only one speaker. The sound is more diffused, great for actual parties. And in a party, no one cares about total audio fidelity. 

But as I mentioned before, the system doesn't let the satellites handle bass, so they're only spreading part of the sound around – bass still clearly pulses from the main unit. You could spend the cost of this speaker on two Sonos Era 100 speakers for sound that's dispersed around a room, or less than it on a Sonos Move 2 if you want portability. You'd get better results either way.

Sony HT-AX7 satellite speaker, showing its charging port on the bottom

The circle under the Sony HT-AX7's satellite speakers means they can charge no matter how they're rotated on the main unit. (Image credit: Future)

It's also worth noting here that there's no support for higher quality sound of any kind. No LDAC for higher-res Bluetooth, no Wi-Fi, no 3.5mm jack or USB-C audio input (its USB-C port is used for charging only).

And for TVs, there's no optical connection or HDMI connection, so you can't connect it to any TV or projector without Bluetooth. I can understand not wanting to deal with HDMI ARC here, but an optical/3.5mm input would have really raised the flexibility of the HT-AX7 for people.

The technical features it does have work perfectly, though. It has multi-point pairing to two devices, which worked totally seamlessly for me. I had no trouble switching between my tablet and projector without any connection freak outs.

And the battery life is far better than Sony's promises, in my experience, though it may depend on volume. Sony says 30 hours officially, but I got well over 40 hours, admittedly playing it mostly at only about 20% of volume (because that's all I've needed while it's in the room with me, trying to run it down while I work). Still, that was with the two satellite speakers separated and playing wirelessly too, and the Sound Field processing on. It's extremely impressive (though I don't like that the app only reports battery life in 20% increments).

Sony recommends a 45W charger for using and charging at the same time, and it doesn't come with this in the box – just a USB-C cable. However, it will charge from a lower charger (I used my 20W phone charger), it just might take a while. But you won't need to charge it often, thanks to that battery life.

I really like the Sony HT-AX7 despite its flaws. I think for the price it simply needs to be more versatile and better with music – but someone who prioritizes those is not who I'd recommend it to. As I said, get two Sonos Era 100 speakers if music is your focus.

This is designed to solve a particular problem. To be a soundbar for Bluetooth devices, without the baggage of an actual soundbar. To be the portable sound equivalent to the best portable projectors, easy to pull out for a thrilling movie night, and to tidy away afterwards. If you're a cinephile in a small space, the Sony HT-AX7 is a quiet revolution. It was for me. I just wish the price felt more justifiable, and the speakers stayed on more steadily.

Sony HT-AX7 on a table with one speaker on top, and one in front of it

The Sony HT-AX7 is the Liam Neeson in Taken of speakers, equipped with a very specific set of skills. (Image credit: Future)

Sony HT-AX7 review: price and release date

  • $499 / $499 (approx. AU$960)
  • Released in August 2023

With a price of $499 / $499 (an Australian release is still pending), the Sony HT-AX7 finds itself in the company of products like the Sonos Move 2. As a Bluetooth-only speaker, something like the UE Epicboom is still much cheaper.

But maybe we should compare it some soundbars, too. For the price, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 is a direct competitor to connect to a projector or TV, though it doesn't have Bluetooth. The Samsung HW-Q800C can actually be found for a similar price now, and that has Dolby Atmos, a wide array of speakers, and a separate subwoofer. Of course, it's huge, not portable, and really prefers to be wired, though it has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

Sony HT-AX7 review: Specs

Should I buy the Sony HT-AX7?

Buy it if…

Don't buy it if…

Sony HT-AX7 review: Also consider

How I tested the Sony HT-AX7

Sony HT-AX7 on a table, with a tablet on top, and its two speakers separated

As you can see, the Sony HT-AX7 is the perfect width for a larger iPad Pro. (Image credit: Future)
  • Tested at home, in different rooms
  • Used to stream movies and music
  • Connected to iPad Pro, iPhone and Samsung The Freestyle (2022)

I tested the Sony HT-AX7 over the course of a week in my home. As mentioned in the review, I used with my 12.9-inch iPad Pro and Samsung The Freestyle projector for watching movies, and with my iPhone for listening to music. I watched movies from Netflix, Disney Plus and Apple TV. For music, I streamed tracks from Apple Music.

For testing the battery life, I played music from my phone to the speaker, with the two satellite speakers removed, and the Sound Field processing mode on.

Ultimate Ears Epicboom review: a big Bluetooth speaker with epic talent
11:00 am | October 21, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Wireless & Bluetooth Speakers | Tags: | Comments: Off

Ultimate Ears Epicboom: Two-minute review

The Ultimate Ears Epicboom has been worth the wait for a fresh speaker from a brand that used to be huge in portable speakers – at least, in terms of sound quality. It's big, it's bold, it looks like a bunch of mug-sized Wonderbooms morphed into one glorious beast, and UE's useful Outdoor Boost button (which made its debut in the 2019 Wonderboom 2) takes pride of place on the top plate. 

So, one of the best Bluetooth speakers on the market then? For sound, correct – and that will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with our Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2 review, a speaker we rated as one of the best such options around in 2019. OK, the newer UE Wonderboom 3 didn't score quite so highly, but that's largely because there were so few updates between it and its (much) older brother, and the competition got fierce. 

The Epicboom is smaller than the talented (but rather somber-looking) 2020-issue UE Hyperboom and much bigger than the Megaboom 3. Although the Epicboom's wrist strap is ill-placed and odd given the speaker's near-2kg weight (I cannot carry it with the thing around my wrist – I'm no weakling, my palm just isn't Hulk-sized… today) it is still light enough to be grasped by its sides like a plant pot and carried to its destination. And wherever it is placed, indoors or out, you can expect meaty and prominent, zealous sound. 

Through the Ultimate Ears Boom app, you can now power it on or off using your phone, tweak the EQ, deploy Outdoor Boost, alter the volume or daisy-chain up to 150 other PartyUp-enabled Booms in a feature similar to JBL's PartyBoost or Sony's Party Chain (yes, all the big brands like to 'party'). 

The key bit is the word 'enabled' though, because if you recently bought UE's newest (by a wide margin) Wonderboom 3 proposition, it won't work, unfortunately. Why? Because PartyUp is not compatible with any Wonderboom, Blast or Megablast UE speaker. So, while you can daisy-chain your Boom, Boom 2, Boom 3, Megaboom, Megaboom 3 and Hyperboom to your heart's content, the newest speaker in that list was released in February 2020. Then again, maybe you are still using that original Boom you bought in 2013 – and I for one commend you on making that thing last… 

Any other flies in the ointment? The battery life, at 17 hours, is acceptable rather than excellent and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention two other factors at play: namely price (at $349 / £340 / AU$499, it's more than a little pricey), and connectivity.

Anyone familiar with the Logitech brand knows that UE rarely wades into premium territory with it's funky-fresh speakers. Also, as a quick internet search proves, the much bigger Hyperboom is now available for only slightly more than the Epicboom's MSRP. Perhaps more pressing here though is the smaller but similarly-styled Wonderboom 3, which will set you back a trifling $99.99 / £89.99 / AU$149. Add to this the recent Sonos Era 100, which is a lot cheaper than the Epicboom, at $249 / £249 / AU$399, and as we pointed out in our Sonos Era 100 review works with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi multi-room – there's a reason Sonos speakers feature heavily in our best wireless speakers roundup. 

What does the pricier Ultimate Ears proposition offer? Just Bluetooth connectivity, with a 55m (180ft) range, all of which does leave us wondering: is there a market for such a thing in 2023? Then again, if a speaker that hooks up to your phone's music is what you chiefly need, but you need it loud and good-looking, you've found it. 

And the reason it gets the rating it does, despite the cost and limited wireless connectivity at the level? It is one of the best party speakers for sound I've heard in some time. 

Ultimate Ears Epicboom review: Price and release date

  • Released September 6, 2023
  • Officially priced at $349 / £340 / AU$499

The Ultimate Ears Epicboom was released in early September 2023 for $349 / £340 / AU$499.

You can choose from two color options at the checkout: cotton white with 'lipstick red' accents (which is more of a coral pink hue), or charcoal black with lime. We tested the former and as previously mentioned, this shoe-box sized speaker – it's around the same size as the Bose Home Speaker 500 – bridges the size gap between the bigger Hyperboom and smaller Megaboom 3. 

For size, I might compare it to the Tribit Stormbox Blast ($199 / £229.99 / AU$319.99) which the Epicboom beats for sound, although at its price, the Epicboom is best compared to other speakers that hover around the $349 mark, including Sonos' dominant ouevre of multi-room speakers. Two words: tough competition. 

Ultimate Ears Epicboom on a navy and orange sofa, held in a hand

Yes, we like matching our nail polish and scatter cushions to our speakers. (Image credit: Future)

Ultimate Ears Epicboom review: Specs

Ultimate Ears Epicboom close-up, showing the USB-C charging port

Finally! The Epicboom is a big UE speaker with a USB-C charging port. (Image credit: Future)

Ultimate Ears Epicboom: Features

  • A 17-hour battery life
  • Plenty of useful in-app presets and features
  • No 3.5mm port or mics

UE says the Epicboom has a 17-hour battery life and in my testing this rang true – even when I played it louder than 50% volume. That quoted stamina is okay, but the older Hyperboom can go for longer, with a claim of 24 hours. The Epicboom also has a one-touch NFC feature (available for NFC-compatible smartphones with Android 8.0 or later) for that 'just hold them together' pairing magic. 

If you're using a 15W charger – you get a USB-C to USB-C cable in the box, but not the block – UE says the Epicboom will charge fully in two hours. I do miss the bright yellow cable UE speakers were once famous for, but the white one supplied here is perfectly adequate. 

Through the refreshed Boom app (updated on September 6), you can choose between different EQ presets including Signature, Bass Boost, Game/Cinema, Podcast/Vocal, and the all-new Deep Relaxation mode. You can also customize the mids, highs, and lows of the sound based on your personal preferences by dragging five different dots on the EQ tab to create your own – if, for instance, your online HIIT instructor tends to speak a little loudly as the workout gets spicier. 

As mentioned, the fan-favorite feature within the Boom app, PartyUp, lets you pair multiple compatible Ultimate Ears speakers (read: Epicboom, Boom, Boom 2, Boom 3MegaboomMegaboom 3, and Hyperboom speakers) to kick your soirée up a notch, but it's also worth noting that if you're pairing two Epicbooms, you can use PartyUp to create a (rather expensive) stereo pair. 

There are no mics under the hood and you don't get Wi-Fi support (so in-built streaming services and voice assistants are out), but the app also lets you select up to four music presets through Apple Music (iOS device only), Spotify (Android only) or Amazon Prime Music. I set the radio station Apple Music 1 as a preset and it works beautifully. 

Ultimate Ears Epicboom close-up, showing the top plate buttons

Unlike smaller UE speakers, the Epicboom's buttons are easy to navigate and understand. (Image credit: Future)
  • Features score: 3/5

Ultimate Ears Epicboom review: Design

  • A return to UE's trademark fun, fresh design
  • IP67 rating and environmentally friendly materials
  • Big – but not too big

Make no mistake: although UE's design language here is all fun, it's rock-solid in terms of build and braun. Ultimate Ears is back to being the Cali surfer dude (or dudette) of Bluetooth speakers; gone is the brutalist build of the Hyperboom – Epicboom is made from 100% post-consumer recycled polyester fabric, a minimum of 59% post-consumer recycled plastic and one thing that's hard to photograph properly is the vanilla-ice-cream-with-strawberry-sprinkles nature of this plastic. It's both classy and cute. 

Under the hood, the dual 1.5-inch drivers are coupled with a 4.6-inch woofer for bass clarity and immersive sound that'll go just above 94dB at full whack (think lawnmower loud). I can confirm that the Epicboom goes loud enough without distorting for your next garden party or medium-sized indoor event – especially with the Outdoor Boost button, which augments the treble to cut through extraneous noise, as well as those on-the-fly EQ tweaks. 

UE's trademark gigantic plus and minus buttons on the side and fully water- and dust-proof IP67 rating are here again – and yes, this one also floats if it finds its way into your pool.

One of our gripes with the smaller Wonderboom 3 was the lack of information on each tiny button's function. That is not the case here. Yes, the unit is bigger, but these buttons are far more intuitive, in that they start on the left with 'power', then 'pairing', the Outdoor Boost button, and finally UE's 'Magic button' which handles playback or your presets. And in front of all of these (closer to the big plus/minus buttons on the front-facing panel) is your NFC Connect spot. It's simple – although of course if you're nowhere near it, you can use your phone to do control it via the Boom app. 

My one issue with the design? The strap – it isn't helpful and is actually painful if you hang the entire thing around your wrist and try to bicep curl it. But that's a small thing in an otherwise delightfully classic Ultimate Ears design. 

  • Design score: 4.5/5

Ultimate Ears Epicboom, showing the wrist strap in a hand, on navy background

The Epicboom is a hefty beast and despite looking smart, this strap doesn't really help. (Image credit: Future)

Ultimate Ears Epicboom review: Sound quality

The UE Epicboom has 360-degree omnidirectional sound, so wherever you are in relation to the speaker you're getting quality audio chops. 

Niall Horan's orchestral version of So Long skips along musically, with admirable precision and timing across the frequencies in an expansive, emotive, layered mix that gives his vocals more space to shine than in almost any other rival Bluetooth speaker I've tested. Dungeon Family's Follow the Light is vibrant and as funk-heavy as it should be, with oodles of early noughties boot-shaking bass clout and energy. Jamie T's voice is textured and brimming with South London attitude as he spits out The Old Style Raiders

Honestly, even when I max out both the bass slider and the volume during testing, I struggle to make it struggle, with even my more complex, heavy playlists. 

Ultimate Ears has been holding out on us for a great new speaker, but I'm grateful for any wait that culminates in this. Like a band that broke through with a number-one smash hit, followed it up with an even better album, then cemented it with… nothing, for well over two years, Epicboom feels like that hotly-anticipated banger of a second album that confirms I was right about UE all along.

Epicboom's BOOM app, three screens on gray background

Epicboom's nifty 'BOOM' companion app offers all the control options you need from your paired device.  (Image credit: Future)
  • Sound quality: 5/5

Ultimate Ears Epicboom review: Value

Know this: within its price bracket, the Epicboom is one of the best-sounding Bluetooth speakers around right now.

Its fresh design, Outdoor mode, excellent companion app and superior sound make it a compelling proposition in the Bluetooth arena – but therein lies an issue: other things can connect to your Wi-Fi and thus will do more for less outlay (Sonos Era 100, this is you). 

The Epicboom's battery life is adequate rather than excellent and while it's a great waterproof companion for outdoor parties, I do worry whether anyone considering it might just opt for something that'll do it cheaper, like the Tribit Stormbox Blast, or pay a little extra for the Sonos Move 2 or Naim Mu-so Qb 2 and get Wi-Fi support along with all of the associated perks. 

I still recommend it for sound though – and I want to make that plain: this thing is worth every penny of the money if you value sound quality above all else. The issue I see is that when looking for something fun which you can chuck outside at the barbecue and know it'll bring the tunes, audiophile-quality sound is seldom the top priority.

  • Value score: 4/5

Epicboom's bottom section on a white table, showing its pink plastic finish

I really like the Epicboom's sprinkles-on-vanilla-ice-cream finish (Image credit: Peter Hoffmann)

Should I buy the UE Epicboom?

Buy it if…

Don’t buy it if…

Ultimate Ears Epicboom review: Also consider

How I tested the Ultimate Ears Epicboom

  • Tested for a week after a thorough run-in, listened against the Tribit Stormbox Blast, UE Boom 3 and Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 3
  • Used in the office; at home; in a friend's garden
  • Listened to Tidal Masters, Apple Music Lossless tracks and Spotify from an iPhone XR, Sony Xperia 1 IV and a MacBook Pro

As always when testing any hi-fi separate, time, energy, placement and investment is key. I tested the Ultimate Ears Epicboom in one of the larger boardrooms in our offices, my own humble apartment, a dance studio and a friend's garden (I don't have a garden). 

To test the omnidirectional sound quality, I danced around the Epicboom in ever-decreasing circles. I did of course max out the volume in the biggest office boardroom – I'm an agent of chaos – and while I stopped short of submerging the speaker in freshwater, I did check that it floats in my bathtub (not to boast, but I do have one of those). 

When testing the audio quality across the frequencies, I listened to various playlists spanning everything from pop to thrash metal on Apple Music, Qobuz and Tidal from my iPhone, but also to podcasts and albums on Spotify – plus YouTube tutorials (mostly on how to get a Thames foreshore permit to go mudlarking, if you must know) from my MacBook Pro. 

I’ve been testing audio products for five years now. As a dancer, aerialist and musical theater performer in another life, sound quality has always taken priority for me personally – but price, portability and durability are also very high on the list. 

Read more about how we test

  • First reviewed: October 2023
Marshall Middleton review: a jack of all trades but a master of none
11:00 am | October 15, 2023

Author: admin | Category: Computers Gadgets Wireless & Bluetooth Speakers | Comments: Off

Marshall Milddleton: Two-minute review

The Marshall Middleton is a great audio device that may struggle to find its way onto our list of the best portable Bluetooth speakers. That’s because it’s a jack of all trades and a master at none, sitting at the middle of the range for all the features you may be looking for. Perhaps that's why Marshall put the word ‘middle’ in the name? 

The latest speaker from legendary guitar amp brand (and also prolific loudspeaker and headphone maker) Marshall, the Middleton sits near, but not quite at, the top of the range of the brand's populous portable speaker family. It’s best described as a larger version of the Emberton 2, which we gave 3.5 stars in our review when it was released at the end of 2022.

Compared to similar-priced or cheaper rivals like the Sonos Roam or Orange Box, the Marshall Middleton is good for audio quality but not quite great. It’s certainly got defined bass and treble but the sound between the two extremes isn’t as crisp as it could be.

Many great-sounding Bluetooth speakers are big and heavy though, and the Middleton is more svelte and lightweight than its audiophile-pleasing rivals… but it’s not exactly a front-runner in that category either. It could certainly fit in a bag or car glove compartment but it does way almost 2kg – there are smaller and more lightweight alternatives.

It’s the same story with the Middleton’s features. Some useful ones are here: you can charge your phone from it, it has a wonderful 20-hour battery life and the ability to pair multiple speakers. But there’s also no microphone, it has confusing on-speaker buttons and fairly limited equalizer functionality.

It should go without saying (but we’re saying it anyway), that ‘middle of the road’ is a far cry from ‘in a muddy puddle in a ditch beside said road’, and the Marshall Middleton will likely accrue its fair share of fans.

The fact that this is a decent all-rounder in the sound quality, design and feature departments will make it a sure bet for non-fussy buyers, who want a reliable speaker but don’t want to pick an option that’s very strong in one department but weak in another.

However our best Bluetooth speakers round-up looks for the best in each category, not devices that mostly tick every box, and so this speaker could well fly under the radar.

The Marshall Middleton against a black background.

(Image credit: Future)

Marshall Middleton review: Price and release date

  • Released in January 2023
  • Officially priced at $299.99 / £269.99 / AU$499

The Marshall Middleton was announced in January 2023 and released soon afterward.

The speaker costs $299 / £269 / AU$499, which is more than the Emberton 2, so it’s a premium option. In Marshall’s seven-strong (at the time of writing) portable speaker lineup, it’s the joint second-most premium, after the feature-packed Tufton but above a series of smaller options as well as the Emberton II, the smaller version of the Middleton, which goes for $169 / £149.

At this price, the closest competition to the Middleton comes from other guitar amp brands: the Orange Box goes for $299 / £275 and aims for a similar audience, though it’s more feature-packed. The Sonos Roam, on the other hand, is a cheaper rival that we rank as one of the best portable speakers, and it goes for only $179 / £179.

Marshall Middleton review: Specs

The Marshall Middleton speaker on a black background

(Image credit: Future)

Marshall Middleton review: Features

  • Impressive 20-hour battery life
  • Aux-in and USB-C power in and out
  • Easy pairing process

While some speakers let you fiddle with the music sound profile to your heart’s content, the Middleton simply lets you add or subtract bass or treble, and you have to repeatedly tap the button on the top of the speaker to adjust it. Or, you can use the app.

The Marshall Bluetooth app lets you tweak your sound to a degree, but it’s very limited: you can change treble and bass to between 1 and 10 (no, no 0, with Marshall ignoring that handy Sumerian addition to mathematics). There isn’t equality between numbers, and if you pick the same digit for bass and treble, the former is going to overpower the latter. We’d recommend you add one or two to treble for the most balanced sound.

With a 20-hour battery, the Marshall Middleton outlasts most of its rivals, so we’ve got to give credit where credit is due. Lots of these kind of devices last for between 12 to 15 hours, so for long-lasting parties, the Middleton is your best bet.

The speaker charges via USB-C and it takes 4.5 hours to power to full. You can also use the speaker as a power bank, relying again on this USB-C out, letting you make the most of its chunky battery. 

Another port of note is the 3.5mm aux jack, for plugging in your phone or music player instead of relying on wireless. Another point for Marshall there. Speaking of wireless, it’s Bluetooth 5.1 here, which Marshall says will work within 10 meters of the speaker. In our tests that proved largely accurate, so don’t try and stray too far from the speaker if you’re paired with it. Pairing is quick and easy – not once did we have an issue.

A neat speaker feature that Marshall embraces is stacking, so you can connect multiple speakers together, and with the brand’s wide portfolio of speakers that’s especially handy. We didn’t get to test it though, due to only having the single test unit.

  • Features score: 3.5/5

The Marshall Middleton speaker on a black background

(Image credit: Future)

Marshall Middleton review: Design

  • Amp-inspired looks
  • Rugged design with IP67 waterproofing
  • Control knob is fiddling to use

Despite the Marshall Middleton being a fairly blocky device, we’re actually on board with its looks. It takes after Marshall’s amplifier line, with its gold-highlights color scheme and textured shell. It even has a mesh face like a real amp.

Of course, this is a lot smaller than most amps, given the ‘portable’ nature of portable speakers. The unit measures 10.9 x 23 x 9.5 cm, though it’s fairly heavy at 1.8kg. It’ll fit fine in your bag but it was a bit of a burden to carry around, especially when using the included carry strap due to this heft.

The Middleton has speaker grilles on the front, back and two sides, only missing them on the top and bottom. Thanks to this audio sounds great wherever you are in relation to the device, a useful feature that too many speaker makers forget about.  

Another area where Marshall exceeds is in protection – not only is the shell hardy and durable but the speaker itself has an IP67 protection, whereas many rivals stick to around IP54. This, in effect, means it’s protected against dust and particle solids, and can sit in up to 1 meter of water for half an hour – or, of course, plentiful splashes of pool water.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows in the design department though, and there was one big issue we had with the Middleton: its top-mounted controls. They’re fiddly and annoying, and after several weeks of testing, we still couldn’t use them reliably. 

Perched atop the speaker is the following: two rockers for audio and bass, a Bluetooth pairing button, a separate button we never figured out the use for, an LED slider to tell you battery percentage and volume, and right in the middle a golden control knob that you can press to pause or play, press and hold and hold to turn on and off or wiggle up, down, left and right for volume controls and track skipping.

The icons for all the different controls is hidden in the Middleton’s black patterned hide and, unless you’re in a well-lit area, it’s really hard to see what each button does. But our main gripe was with the control knob, as we found it very hard to accurately press directly down (for playing, pausing or turning off the speaker) instead of bumping it a tiny bit to the side. In effect, we frequently found ourselves skipping tracks instead of pausing them – and more than once accidentally shot the volume up when we actually meant to turn the speaker off.

  • Design score: 3.5/5

The Marshall Middleton speaker on a black background

(Image credit: Future)

Marshall Middleton review: Sound quality

  • Fantastic for bass and treble
  • Less good for everything in between

We’ve mentioned the Marshall Middleton’s sound controls, and so you know it’s heavy on the bass. This certainly isn’t a bad thing, and it means you can bring pumping rhythms to your party. The bass is crisp and textured and we’ve certainly got no bad things to say here.

Likewise, there’s definitely a solid treble showing, especially if you bring it out in the mix using the Marshall app, giving vocals or melodies a needed little boost to offset the bass.

What's lacking a little is what lies in between. Noises lying between the deepest bass and highest squeals often felt noticeably indistinct and lost in the mix, leading the Middleton to feel like it has much less of a sound stage than it really does.

Playing a rock song could give you palpable bass drum and bass guitar, rhythm and blues, and also a crisp and clear vocal range, with the guitar solo coming out when it needed to. But everything else? The rhythm guitar, the keys, the hi-hats? Well, they come out as more of an undefined mush that falls to the background. This is perhaps a case of us nit-picking, but some rival speakers give a much better imitation of being in a room with a live band or orchestra.

It's a shame given the drivers packed into this beast (two 15W 3-inch woofers, two 10W 3/5th-inch tweeters and two massive radiators). But if you do want heavy bass over a balanced audio experience, then you'll absolutely love the Marshall Middleton.

  • Sound quality: 3.5/5

The Marshall Middleton speaker on a black background

(Image credit: Future)

Marshall Middleton review: Value

Given it's price, we're not exactly out of line when we say that the Marshall Middleton isn't a value option, and there are plenty of other options (even from the brand itself) if you want portable audio on a budget. That said, there are certainly pricier options too.

What you're getting here is a fair mix of features and pretty good audio quality, enough to tick all the boxes you need. Enough to justify the price? Yeah, we'd say so, especially when you consider the durability of the thing. But that "yeah" turns into a "hell yeah" if you find it discounted in sales.

  • Value score: 3.5/5

The Marshall Middleton speaker on a black background

(Image credit: Future)

Should I buy the Marshall Middleton?

Buy it if…

Don’t buy it if…

The Marshall Middleton speaker on a black background

(Image credit: Future)

Marshall Middleton review: Also consider

Tribit Stormbox Micro 2 review
6:23 pm | July 25, 2022

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Wireless & Bluetooth Speakers | Comments: Off

Editor's Note

• Original review date: July 2022
• Launch price: $60 / £60 (approx. AU$86)
• Target price now: $60 / £50

Update: February 2024. We still rate the Tribit Stormbox Micro 2 as the best Bluetooth speaker for cheap bang-for-buck – delivering loud volume that resists distortion, and impressive bass that helps the sound to feel full, without overwhelming the well-detailed treble. The official price has risen in some regions since launch, but you can regularly find it for the target price listed above, or with even bigger discounts in sale events such as Black Friday. We haven't tested anything that's beaten it at this price so far. The rest of this review remains as previously published.

Tribit Stormbox Micro 2: two-minute review

The Tribit Stormbox Micro 2 is the latest proof that 'Tribit' and 'value' are two words that skip happily hand-in-hand down this road we call life. The Chinese audio specialist doesn't yet have the big-brand clout of heavy-hitters such as JBL, Sony, Ultimate Ears and Bose in the best Bluetooth speaker realm – and we almost don't want to shout out the virtues of Tribit's latest offering for fear that it'll join them and prices will go sky high. 

But we're duty bound, so know that Tribit's Stormbox Micro 2 cheap Bluetooth speaker takes everything that was good about the original and betters it – and that little speaker was a high-level contender to begin with.  

With a standard price of $60 or £60 (around AU$86), but already seeing a 10% discount on Tribit's own website, you simply can't do better for design, durability, features and sound quality in a cheap Bluetooth wireless speaker at this wallet-friendly level. 

As with the original 2020 Stormbox Micro, the StormBox Micro 2 is about the size of a stack of drinks coasters, and it has a handy strap on the underside so you can lash it onto a table leg, bag strap or your bike's handlebars – we even managed to strap it onto a hire car's cup holder. 

Now though, the Stormbox Micro 2 is just a little bit larger and weighs 35g more (315g rather than 280g). Like its older brother, the Micro 2 is IP67 dust- and waterproof, but its battery life is now a claimed 12 hours at moderate volumes, which is up from eight hours for the original – and remember, you'll only get five from similarly-sized options such as the JBL Go 3.

The power rating is also improved, from 9W to 10W, which means that the Stormbox Micro 2's loudness is increased. You're also getting Bluetooth 5.3, (up from Bluetooth 5.0) the chief perk here being a new Bluetooth range of 120 feet, according to Tribit. Personally, I was able to stray up to 60ft (18m) from the speaker before it lost connection to my phone – which is seriously impressive when walls and doors were involved. 

Perhaps the biggest improvement is that you can use the Stormbox Micro 2's two-way USB-C port to charge out (ie. to juice up your mobile device) as well as to charge the speaker itself, although it's standard 5W charging rather than fast charging. You get a USB-C to USB-C cable in the box, although no plug, and do note that if you own an iPhone you'll need a USB-C to Lightning cable to use the feature. 

You can also pair two Stormbox Micro 2 speakers together to get either 'Party' (read: mono) sound or create a stereo pair. Although it's a little disappointing to see you must have two Micro 2s to pair them up at all, so you can't daisy-chain other original Stormbox Micros as you can with JBL's PartyBoost tech or the UE WonderBoom 2 and original Wonderboom, say, it's a relatively small gripe at this level. 

And the sound is now beefier, crisper, more exciting and will bring even more fun to your picnic, hike or campfire. The Tribit Stormbox Micro 2 offers features you'd never expect at this price, and it's hard to imagine anyone balking at the minimalist, refined design. 

All things considered, the cheap Bluetooth speaker category has a new front-runner – and because of the Micro 2, Tribit is about to get a lot more famous. 

Tribit Stormbox Micro 2 held at an angle over a yellow table

That Bluetooth light is slightly bigger: all the better to see it with, my dear… (Image credit: TechRadar)

Tribit Stormbox Micro 2 review: price and release date

  • $60 / £60 (around AU$86)
  • Released in Spring 2022

The Tribit Stormbox Micro 2 was unveiled in April 2022 and right now it is available in black only (the first-gen model occasionally came in a fresh and limited-edition orange colorway but this was an exception rather than a rule), and although regularly priced at $60/£60, it is already discounted by 10% when buying direct from Tribit – which means it'll cost just $54/£54. 

Price cuts and Tribit are fairly common too (and we're very grateful for them) across big online retailers such as Amazon – so keep your eyes open because even at the original price, this is a supremely talented Bluetooth speaker. 

Tribit Stormbox Micro and Micro 2 side-by-side on yellow table

The first gen Stormbox Micro is on the left, the Micro 2 is on the right: note the extra height.  (Image credit: TechRadar)

Tribit Stormbox Micro 2 review: design and features

  • Compact, pocketable design with built-in bike-friendly strap
  • Cushion-shape means a large driver
  • Up to 12 hours paytime – ie. four more than the first-gen model

Every design tweak Tribit has made here for the second-generation Stormbox Micro is both welcome and adds value – irrefutable proof that a little more can always be squeezed out of even the best-value portable wireless speaker designs. 

As mentioned, it now doubles as a useful power bank (although it's a 5W charger so don't expect super-fast charging of your phone) and it's just a tad bigger and more rotund. If you think of the Tribit Stormbox Micro as a stack of drinks coasters, Tribit has simply added another coaster to the pile for the Micro 2 – and it has paid dividends when the thing is playing music. 

Visually, there's a little more flair too; the plus, minus and multi-function buttons are now white so as to show up better in low-light situations, and the blue Bluetooth light on the front edge is a little wider and easier to see, although the useful five-strong LED volume indicators are still there. On the underside, the excellent rubberized and slightly stretchy strap remains, but the rubber feet are slightly more substantial. 

And if you thought there were no microphones for speakerphone duties here, you'd be wrong – there's an integrated mic on the front corner, next to the power button, which works just fine as long as you stay relatively close to the speaker on calls. Start strolling up and down the room dictating an email and your caller may tell you to come closer a little closer and speak up. 

It's important to note that the JBL Flip 6 has none of those speakerphone/power bank features and still costs significantly more, so Tribit is performing well before it has even relayed a note. And things don't go downhill there either – but we'll get to the sound later. 

Perhaps our only gripe (and emphatically the only reason we removed half a mark) is the lack of backwards compatibility. Because the first and second-gen models look so similar (and because other firms such as JBL offer it) it would be good if you could beef up the sound by pairing old and new-gen Micros in mono – but this is not possible. 

That said, for newcomers to Tribit, at this money it is well-worth buying two Micro 2s to create an affordable wireless desktop speaker setup – we watch Carrie Underwood's Ghost Story on Apple Music Sessions on our MacBook Pro and found pleasing levels of separation and minimal lag between the music video and its sonic accompaniment. 

  • Design and features score: 4.5/5

Tribit Stormbox Micro 2 showing the strap, on yellow background

Strap this around your belt, over your bike's handlebars or even on a camping table leg. (Image credit: TechRadar)

Tribit Stormbox Micro 2 review: sound quality

  • Meaty, zealous, remarkably talented sound
  • Impressive bass performance given its size
  • Only starts to distort at 80% volume

Tribit has remained tight-lipped about the driver under the grille here, but whatever is going on inside the Stormbox Micro 2, we like – and it'll certainly go loud enough to fuel your picnic, barbecue, campfire or beach day with tunes, even at 60% volume. 

Listening to You Should See Me in a Crown by Billie Eilish is among the toughest test for a bijou speaker's bass chops we can think of, and the Tribit doesn't disappoint. Treble elements (what sounds like the dragging of a knife over a jar) and a synth scream ahead of the low-level beat are impactful, but when the bass drops it really sinks low in the best possible way, delivering a gifted, snappy, agile performance. 

Provided you don't go too loud (anything beyond 80% starts to upset the mix and bloat the bass – but that's hardly surprising given this speaker fits comfortably in your palm) you'll find yourself digging out different tracks to see what the Tribit makes of your more niche music. 

We stream The Waterboys' The Whole of the Moon and cymbal crashes, backing vocals, violins and even the cannon are given ample space to shine in a cohesive and well-handled mix that has us tapping our feet happily. For this money, it's head-scratchingly good. 

The Chemical Brothers' In Dust We Trust is a similar story: sounds fly in with ease and energy, but smaller musical articles which we might have expected would be lost in the mix given this speaker's dimensions are still layered here within its commendable tuning. 

And seeing as it's a five-star review, of course we have to put it to the ultimate classical test, don't we? Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries features all of the three-dimensional strings and soaring trumpets we could possibly hope for at this level, all held firmly in check and with a perceptible, rumbling and exciting dynamic build.

  • Sound quality score: 5/5

Tribit Stormbox Micro 2's USB-C port, on yellow background

USB-C charging port: we love to see it – only this time, you can use this to charge your phone too.  (Image credit: TechRadar)

Tribit Strombox Micro 2 review: value

  • Incredibly competitive pricing
  • A recommended alternative to bigger brands

We hope we're not over-egging the pudding by saying the Stormbox Micro 2 is incredibly good for its nominal pricing – and as such is incredibly good value. 

It's important to balance this glowing praise by saying it is not the best Bluetooth speaker ever – this tiny design cannot compete with the bigger JBL Charge 5 and its brethren, because aside from their relative size, these designs feature more power, a dual-driver design and a more significant asking fee. 

What you need to know is that for this size and price, nothing on the market comes close, across the board – and by that we mean in terms of design, durability, feature-set and sound quality. Tribit's Stormbox Micro 2 has set a new benchmark. 

It is worth noting that although Tribit does have an app (which works for the splendid Stormbox Blast and two of Tribit's earbud options), the Micro 2 doesn't get app support, so there's no scope for EQ alterations or a numerical volume indicator – but at this level, we think it would be churlish to expect such a thing. 

  • Value score: 5/5

Tribit Stormbox Micro and Stormbox Micro 2 side by side on a yellow table

The one on the right is the Stormbox Micro 2, the left is the original: shame you can't pair the two, but those accents make for easier use in low-light scenarios.  (Image credit: TechRadar)

Tribit Stormbox Micro 2 review: should you buy it?

Buy it if…

Don't buy it if…

Also consider…

Think the Tribit Stormbox Micro 2 might not be the Bluetooth speaker for you? That's cool, here are three alternatives that could offer just the design, feature-set and sound quality you're looking for. 

Tribit Stormbox Blast review
2:26 pm | July 5, 2022

Author: admin | Category: Audio Computers Gadgets Hi-Fi Wireless & Bluetooth Speakers | Comments: Off

Editor's Note

• Original review date: July 2022
• Launch price: $199 / £199 / AU$319
• Target price: $160 / £160

Update: February 2024. The Tribit Stormbox Blast is still our pick among the best Bluetooth speakers if you want something big and powerful for a great-value price. It costs about half the price of the likes of the Ultimate Ears Hyperboom, but delivers the kind of massive, weighty sound you want for a party. There have been several party speakers released since the Stormbox Blast from the likes of LG and Sony and more, but when it comes to value for money, we don't think you can do better even now. Especially if you can get it for a great sales price – we've seen it go for under $140 / £150, but if you aim for our target price above in a smaller discount, that's still absolutely worth getting. The rest of this review remains as previously published.

Tribit Stormbox Blast: Two-minute review

Let's address the elephant in the room: the Tribit Stormbox Blast looks about as unsubtle as a brick wrapped in Christmas tree lights coming through your (closed) window. It's a big black plastic cuboid, and to say that the branding, RGB lighting panels and flashing LEDs around the drivers are a little too much for our liking is an understatement. But that's where the harsh criticism ends.

The Stormbox Blast is the biggest and most powerful Bluetooth speaker in Tribit's ever-growing arsenal of portable speakers and it sounds every inch as detailed – even at higher volumes – as models from better-known audio specialists at three times the price. If it's a room-rockin' speaker you're after, this is one of the best party speakers we've tested. 

It's heavier than most of the best Bluetooth speakers out there (5.45kg, to be precise), but, unlike some of the best wireless speakers we've tested, Tribit is unconcerned with multi-room support, voice assistance or accessing your Wi-Fi for higher-quality streaming – although you can pair two of them in stereo, and there is a companion app.

Oh how we wish Tribit's talented audio engineers had run the finished article past a design team a few more times, to ask if all 32 LED lights should really flash at every beat (or were even necessary at all), but close your eyes and its 90W output, handled via two 4.2-inch 30W woofers and two 1.2-inch 15W tweeters, is not far off the performance you'd expect from a set of decent entry-level bookshelf stereo speakers.

It shouldn't sound this good for this money. It shouldn't sound this good given its appearance. It shouldn't have made us smile, nod our heads in time to James Brown's The Boss before looking up and exclaiming, "Wait, that's the Sonos Five playing… right? Right?!" But, what can we tell you? It did. And it wasn't the Sonos. 

If you can bear the idea of bringing it into your home (although, with an IPX7 water-proof rating and a 30 hour battery, you'll rarely need to charge it. It could live in the shed…) and you want a good dollop of fuss-free music, you need to know about the gifted room-filling sonic capabilities of the Stormbox Blast. 

Tribit Stormbox Blast on a blue table outside

The Tribit Stormbox Blast, with a total of 32 LED lights, certainly isn't a shy, retiring product. (Image credit: TechRadar)

Tribit Stormbox Blast review: Price & release date

  • Costs $199 / (around £163, U$290) 
  • Available from July 6, 2022

The Tribit Stormbox Blast is available to buy now (although, only just), costing one dollar less than $200. Other available regions include Germany (€230), Canada ($260 CAD) and India (₹16,999). 

In the UK however, it doesn't seem to be immediately available and indeed, our sample came with an EU two-pin charging cable, so it remains unclear whether we can expect it to launch in Britain. And that would be a shame. 

If you want something cheaper and more portable, the JBL Flip 6 or JBL Charge 5 are excellent shouts, and the Bose Home Speaker 500 or Amazon Echo Show 15 also boast voice assistant smarts. 

The Sonos Five is considerably pricier (and a Wi-Fi only home speaker) but the JBL Boombox, probably the closest product in this list for design and feature-set, would set you back $450 / £400 (around AU$650) upon its release in April 2020.

What we're saying, however you look at it, this Bluetooth 5.3, 90W beast is an awful lot of speaker for the money. 

Tribit Stormbox Blast top-plate detail

The Tribit Stormbox Blast's top-plate. Are those buttons a little big? Maybe. Or maybe they're perfect.  (Image credit: TechRadar)

Tribit Stormbox Blast review: Features

  • Bluetooth 5.3 for dual device connection
  • USB-C external charging port for your phone
  • XBass boost button

Let's begin with physical connections, because you'll find three ports on the back of the Tribit, shielded by a rubber cap: power cable (the Stormbox Blast does not need to plugged in to function, but 3.5 hours is the time it'll take to fully charge if fully drained of its impressive 30-hour battery) a USB-C out for charging your device, and a 3.5mm aux in for wired listening. 

Elsewhere, Bluetooth 5.3 is onboard for dual-device pairing and a wireless range of 40m (which is helpful if two of you are organising the playlist from the dancefloor, say) but sadly you're not getting aptX or AAC codec support; according to the spec sheet your protocols here are A2DP and AVRCP, aka the more basic Bluetooth streaming standard.

Surprisingly for today's market, the Stormbox Blast might not be the best candidate for beach listening either, since it's IPX7 rated – ie. waterproof only, rather than water- and dust-proof (you need to look for IP67 if you want both). Good for a pool party, maybe not if dirt is involved. And there are no mics and no built-in voice assistance either, unlike the Sonos Move, for example. 

What you do get, whether you want it or not, is 32 LED lights – 15 either side of the metallic grille and two behind the dual woofers, which are flanked by the two tweeters, placed in the top corners of the baffle as you look at the speaker. There are three ambient light profiles in total; one scrolls through colors for both the speaker LEDs and the volume-effect side panels, another keeps the speaker LEDs white and gives a rainbow effect to the side panels, and a third turns off all beat-driven light effects, but still fires up those side panels every time you alter the volume. It's not possible to turn all lights off, all the time, even via the Tribit app – more on this in a minute. 

The top plate is where you will probably alter this most of the time, (volume and playback can also be handled from your phone) where the seven buttons for power, Bluetooth pairing, volume, playback, ambient light show profiles and XBass are fairly self-explanatory, but we feel the need to say something about that last one. Although XBass can be deployed by pressing the button on the top plate, we would not recommend it – you can do better in the app. This button is supposed to pump up the bass, but for us it simply draws a slightly tinny veil over the otherwise talented sound. And you can do so much more! 

In the Tribit app, which feels a little sparse initially but adds value nonetheless, you can also choose from jazz, audiobook, party, classical or music EQ presets and tweak them using a five-band EQ tab – or you can customize your own from scratch. We like the jazz and music presets a lot, and although the bulk of this review is written using the pre-existing music profile, there's a lot of scope for tailoring things to your liking here. 

Tribit hasn't shouted much about its app, and perhaps it should. Although a relatively simple affair, it allows you to see the remaining battery in the speaker, which is a huge help if you're planning a shindig. 

  • Features score: 4.5/5

Tribit Stormbox Blast back, showing the three connection options, outside

Tribit Stormbox Blast's three ports are covered by a nice rubber cap and, unless you're using it to charge your phone, its 30-hour battery means you'll rarely need to pop this open.  (Image credit: TechRadar)

Tribit Stormbox Blast review: Sound quality

  • Meaty, zealous and musical sound
  • Regimented and impressive bass floor
  • Vocals textured and resonant

Want a shy, retiring sound for personal listening so as not to irritate your neighbor? You will have to tread carefully here, and it's important to note that during our tests, we found the difference of two to three volume increments was enough to go from too quiet to too loud indoors. But Tribit has made no secret of wanting to bring the party to both your ears and your body, and it has delivered. This thing can go loud. If you're worried whether one speaker will be enough for the garden party, it will here. 

Compare it to one of Ultimate Ears' bigger options such as the Boom 3 and there's no contest in terms of bass weight: we stream Snoop Dogg's Lay Low and the stop-start hip-hop riff is full, regimented and snappy through the Tribit and actually makes the UE sound lightweight and treble-centric in direct comparison – and although we realise that's not a fair comparison for size, for price, there's only about $50 in it. For our money, the smart money goes on the Tribit here. 

Our playlist continues to Poison by Bel Biv DeVoe, and vocals are textured and celebrated within a wide soundfield, where everything from the percussive riff to the walking bass is given enough space to be impactful. At this level, it's a lot – in a good way. 

Kristin Chenoweth's Taylor, The Latte Boy proves that the Stormbox Blast isn't just a one-trick pony and a bit of kit for avid for bassheads, though. Keys are three-dimensional as Chenoweth's stunning mixed belt comes through with oodles of fun and emotion. She sits a little close to the microphone here, and the fact that you can tell is a huge compliment to Tribit. 

Ghetts' Know My Ting is one of the most challenging tests of timing we could suggest for a speaker intended for Bluetooth streaming at a party, and the Stormbox Blast doesn't disappoint. Leading edges of notes are crisp and held resolutely in check. Juicy bass registers leave as quickly as they arrive, too, never muddying the layered and often intense dance mix. 

  • Sound quality score: 5/5

Tribit Stormbox Blast on a blue table outside

Those passive radiators on the side are a lovely touch, despite our reservations about the overall aesthetic. (Image credit: TechRadar)

Tribit Stormbox Blast review: Design

  • A heavy black plastic design
  • Actual speaker configuration is inspired though
  • Lights and branding may not be to your taste

This speaker is heavy – it's a brave soul that takes it on public transport because if you drop it en route, someone's foot is going to be sore for days.

Look, as we've said, we're not big fans of the light-up feature and general aesthetic here, plus it's only available in black and the branding and buttons are a little big. The big chunky plastic handle seems to lack a bit of finesse, too. 

Then again, this is a speaker built for a party, it's not intended to merge into your lounge like the plethora of demure fabric-covered spheres, cushions and oblongs currently on the market. 

And if you've got younger family members who want a house party, it may well appeal. Does the return of the original boombox sound novel and interesting to you? Well, you'll certainly be able to feel the weight of one here, and the passive rubberized radiators on the side of the unit are actually a nice feature. They don't move as much as those on the JBL Flip 6, but they're fun and they certainly seem to aid the sound dispersion and accuracy. 

What you need to know is that its innards are spot on; the four-driver configuration provides a nice wide soundstage and we wish that those drivers had taken a little more of the limelight rather than the LEDs – but each to their own. 

  • Design score: 3.5/5

Tribit Stormbox Blast on a beige coffee table, in a lounge

Tribit Stormbox Blast in your lounge? It doesn't exactly blend in… (Image credit: TechRadar)

Tribit Stormbox Blast review: Value

  • A huge dose of good quality music and bass for the money
  • No voice assistance or mics 
  • For solid, room-filling sound though, it's a no-brainer

Sonically, the Tribit Stormbox Blast isn't just good value, it's simply unbeatable value. But this is no shy and retiring speaker you can slip into the water bottle holder on your bike. When you listen to it, people will not just hear it, they'll see those lights too. 

In terms of feature set, there are a few holes on the spec sheet (no mics, no scope for multi-room integration) and the app is standard rather than exhaustive – but then again, those detailed, customizable EQ presets are something few propositions boast at the level. 

And we hope we have truly impressed upon you how good it sounds – for a cheap one-box speaker design it's truly surprising. We thought we might hate it and what we actually feel is light years away from hate. In fact we love the sound. 

We might hide it when not listening to it, you understand, but it can always be a guilty pleasure, for those nights when you're hosting a party of one – ie. you, and no guests. 

  • Value score: 5/5

Should I buy the Tribit Stormbox Blast?

Buy it if…

Don't buy it if…

Tribit Stormbox Blast review: Also consider

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