Being music addicts, we need access to our tunes in the bedroom, living room, boardroom and dorm room - - - even outdoors, if possible. With that in mind, we took a look at five wireless speaker systems and weren't disappointed.
On the surface, they all have the same features: Bluetooth connectivity, awesome sound and, in all but one case, portability. But there are several features that also make them "unique."
The most expensive of this quintet is the Minx Air 100 from Cambridge Audio ($449).
The Minx Air we played with offered WiFi and Apple AirPlay connectivity in addition to Bluetooth, plus:
- Internet radio, with access to thousands of stations
- Support for aptX, which delivers CD-quality sound via Bluetooth
- Its Balanced Mode Radiator (BMR) speaker drivers vibrate horizontally delivering a wider range of sound than conventional drivers that pulsate "in and out."
- Five presets, which eliminate the need to access a smartphone app to change channels for Internet radio
- Access to 20,000 Internet radio stations using the free Air app
- A bass port integrated into the speaker's handle, which acts as a subwoofer to enhance bass
At first we thought the enhancement of the "thumping lows" using the bass port would be overwhelming and, truthfully, a bit annoying. To our surprise the enhancement proved to be a welcome addition to the sound experience, proving to be subtle rather than annoying.
The folks at iLuv let us play with two new speaker systems, the SyrenPro ($129.99) and the MobiRock ($199.99).
The SyrenPro is fine as a standalone portable speaker, but really shines when it is linked to another SyrenPro, which is controlled by the first - - - or base - - - unit.
Basically the speaker is designed to deliver true stereo, or simulated surround sound, throughout the room. It can also be taken outdoors and give you up to four hours of sound using a built-in battery.
Other features include:
- It's waterproof and UV resistant
- Its design allows it to deliver 360-degree sound
- There are voice prompts to aid you with pairing the speaker to your mobile device and a second speaker
- There's an aux-in port to accommodate devices that don't offer Bluetooth compatibility
- jAura sound enhancement technology balances the full range of sound, from treble to bass
As with all of the others in this group of speakers, the SyrenPro delivered better sound quality than we expected from a portable speaker.
The MobiRock speaker adds NFC compatibility to Bluetooth making it easier to pair your mobile device to the speaker system. NFC is also known as near field communications, which, when enabled on your smartphone or tablet, can link your device to speakers, etc. without needing to enter a code or go through the pairing process. Simply put, and NFC-enabled allows another device to "see" it when it is within range.
The MobiRock can also charge your phone wirelessly, using Qi technology, which is showing up in many of the new smartphones and tablets. You can also purchase Qi adapters.
Basically, the MobiRock offers all of the features found in the SyrenPro (except for the ability to link to a second speaker), but there are a couple of other features that set it apart:
- Top mounted, back lit touch controls for power, volume, track changes and Bluetooth and NFC pairing
- An USB charging port for devices that can't be charged wirelessly
The Albergo Clock Radio with Bluetooth from Tivoli Audio ($249.99) is a bit more than your standard AM/FM radio.
By combining the standard features of an AM/FM clock radio with Bluetooth, the folks at Tivoli have expanded its capabilities, allowing you to stream your favorite tunes to the device.
The radio is also customizable. The one we played with was a pre-production unit, so it didn't come with any of the variety of designs now offered by Tivoli. In addition the Albergo offers the following features:
- A remote control that allows you to change stations, adjust volume, access the radio's station presets and other functions.
- A telescoping antenna to receive FM signals
- The ability to set the clock automatically by tuning into an FM station that offers Radio Data System (RDS) technology. This is the same technology some radio stations use to transmit the names of songs to radios, etc.
- You can set the alarm using either the remote or the alarm button on the radio
- A built-in equalizer and other options can be accessed by pressing the Menu/Select button on the radio or remote
Last, but the most fun to use, are Pulse by Sengled light bulbs featuring JBL sound ($169.99). Essentially, this is a pair of LED bulbs with built-in JBL speakers. You just screw them into an overhead light socket, pair them with your device and you get great sound.
Truthfully we were amazed by the sound quality these bulbs delivered, rivaling any of the other speakers featured here.
Like the SyrenPro, you wirelessly connect to a "master" bulb that controls what is played through its so-called "slave" bulbs. This includes track selection, volume and all of the other controls you'd expect from a portable speaker system.
The big difference here is the Pulse master can control up to eight additional bulbs, enabling you to play your music in multiple locations.
Other features include:
- You can control the speakers and lights using a downloadable Android or iOS app.
- These are LED bulbs, which mean they consume less energy than conventional light bulbs
- The bulbs "dim" to a lower wattage when the speakers are activated, but you'll hardly notice a difference
- You can assign one of six different audio settings via the built-in equalizer function, and launch media players such as Pandora, Spotify and others using the smartphone app
- The bulbs are rated at a life expectancy of 25,000 hours
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