The speaker can (but need not) be set on an included dish-shaped base – sort of like a flower pot sitting on a saucer, but with a twist: the speaker and base couple magnetically. In addition, the bottom has an adhesive disk on the underside that can be exposed so to actually mount the bottom vertically, then pop the speaker in. The adhesive might peel off paint, so a DBEST reseller recommended it for use on such surfaces as metals (refrigerators), glass (windshields) and plastics (dashboards of a car). He said also that it would take a flathead screwdriver or something much like remove it. I didn’t test the adhesive.
The Eiffel has an aux in jack, but no aux out jack. Also noteworthy: the speaker diaphragm mechanism is partially exposed. That signifies that if you happen to transport it, you may want to make use of the enclosed cloth bag to guard it from damage.
Purists will note that these are mono speakers, as are most Bluetooth speakers. For those who want a stereo speaker, the handsome JBL Flip (available in black and in white) is a good choice. It really moves air – translation: great bass – and doesn’t distort even on the shockingly high max volume. Like the iHome, this unit uses a charger with an old-style round plug rather than a USB plug charger; this is frustrating, for the explanations noted above. There are not any track skip buttons; a minor point. Still, JBL is noted for prime quality speakers, and this unit does not disappoint in that regard.
The Flip is a speakerphone in addition to a speaker, but the sound on the opposite end is a bit muffled. Also, although you can answer the phone by pressing the phone button on the speaker, I discovered it was not possible to hang up the phone this way on the S4. (Presumably it is going to work properly with older phones; the S4 uses Bluetooth 4.0.)
JBL also offers a unit at a better price with similar sound but fewer features (no speakerphone): the JBL Charge, available in your choice of boring grey or fun lets-go-to-the-beach green or blue. Unlike the Flip, it charges using a USB charger; it also has a USB out charging port so you need to use the unit to charge your phone. In keeping with the specs, you get 12 hours of listening time from the Charge vs. 5 hours from the Flip. Perhaps that accounts for the value difference. Once again, the unit offers great JBL-quality sound.
Both the Flip and the Charge have aux in jacks, though not aux out.
If you’re looking for stereo in a more budget oriented unit, the iHome iBT24 will fit the bill. It is a playful looking rubberized neon green brick (also available in funky purple and blah! gray). There’s an on/off switch but no volume or track skip controls, so you will need to make those adjustments on the phone itself. It loud and bassy, but in stereo. It includes aux in and aux out jacks.
The JBL and iHome speakers are each single units with two speakers. What if you need some stereo separation? Here, one in all a small variety of choices is from DBEST, the attractive PS4003BT, available in various colors of soft-touch plastic. The sound is not as bassy because the bem or even the Eiffel, let alone JBL’s units (which, after all, are higher-priced), but mids and highs are good. The units connect to each other via a wire; the wireless part is the connection between the phone and one of many speakers.
Perhaps you’d rather listen to music through your private home stereo. As mentioned above, the bem and iHome speakers can be used as a bridge for this purpose, but you might prefer a dedicated device, such because the Monoprice Bluetooth music receiver. It plugs into the RCA line-in connection in your stereo using the included 3.5mm-to-RCA cable. (RCA cables are the old-style standard for analog audio: two separate plugs, one for Left and one for Right.) It’s also possible to connect it to the Aux input in your stereo using a 3.5mm-to-3.5mm cable (not included, but readily available). You then easily pair the device to your phone (or to as many phones as you’d like, in response to the manual). Pairing also connects the device to your phone; each time you want to make use of the device, you go to your phone’s Bluetooth menu and reconnect (but don’t have to re-pair).
When you balk at having to return to the Bluetooth menu each time you need to reconnect), spend a number of more bucks and go for the Belkin Bluetooth HD Music Receiver. It features tap-and-pair / tap-and-connect technology. If your phone is NFC enabled, because the S4 is, just tap it against the Belkin unit to ascertain communication without going through any menus. Sometimes it took me two taps for the tap to register, but aside from that, I discovered the unit performed as advertised. Another plus: the Belkin unit supports (and includes cables for) digital coax as well as 3.5mm-to-RCA.
Another tap-and-pair unit, not tested but highly rated on Amazon, is the HomeSpot NFC-enabled Bluetooth Audio Receiver.
Ok, party time’s over. Time to go to sleep.
Wow, now it’s time to wake up. Morning always comes too soon. Let’s take a shower together, shall we? No, not you and me – we have not even met. I’m talking about you and your S4. Samsung calls the phone a “life companion” – hey, I do not make these items up – and everybody likes to take showers with their life companion. Phone+water usually = goodbye phone, so let’s consider a shower speaker and leave the phone on the sink where it could possibly stay dry.
Here’s my wish list for shower speakers: a timeout so it’ll shut itself off in case you forget to, volume buttons, loud volume, decent sound (does not need to be great considering that you won’t hear nuances in the shower anyway), track skip buttons, speakerphone, caller ID (ideally), multipoint (multidevice) pairing (for use in households with more than one person, i.e., multiple device), secure hook so it will hang on a shower head, small size so it fits in a shower caddy, and rechargeable batteries.
Sadly, no device seems to have all of it. (Manufacturers, are you listening?) I took a look at reviews of competitive units, and the Hipe is the only one that meets all of these criteria, apart from caller ID (so far as I know, no manufacturer’s units have this). So the Hipe is the one I tested. The hook flexes disconcertingly, but seems in no danger of breaking and, in any case, works fine. Alternatively, you can put the Hipe in a shower caddy (it fit easily in mine – the unit looks wider in pictures than it actually is). The sound was plenty loud and the quality was perfectly serviceable for a shower speaker. Pairing was easy, and reconnecting was automatic. All the buttons worked as advertised, and the design is attractive. If you are searching for shower tunes, I like to recommend the Hipe.
Once you are out of the shower and beginning your day, you may probably be on the move. Let’s rock out with some earphones. (Granted, these don’t fit throughout the review’s headline, “Bluetooth Speakers,” but, hey, bear with me.) I tested the a-JAYS One+. Available in black or white, it is a fashion-forward choice. The thick, flat cable resists tangling and appears great, though its bulk can create distracting “cable thump” as you progress around. The microphone includes a single multifunction button that plays or pauses music, or answers or ends a call. If you happen to download a free JAYS Android app, you may control volume and skip tracks by doing things like double clicking the button or clicking and holding. It’s a quirky approach that takes a bit of coordination, in addition to memorizing what each combination of clicks and holds means.
With reference to sound, perhaps you prefer a Bluetooth earpiece? I really like the BlueAnt Q3, a new offering that’s as light as a feather and quite smart looking. You can wear it without an earloop, which is what I prefer. It pairs easily and reconnects automatically when powered on. I found the sound crisp and clear on both ends, and the voice guidance (“Your phone is connected,” etc.) is useful. The earpiece easily downloaded my phone’s address book after pairing with my S4; when people called, the earpiece read out their name or number and then asked me say “Answer” or “Ignore.”
Oh, another thing in regards to the Q3: it appears to be a minimum of somewhat waterproof. It was in my jeans when i threw them into the washer, and it still worked when I discovered it – fortunately before putting everything in the dryer. The headset was off on the time, and the battery was depleted, both of which probably helped. In any case, do not do that at home (or on the laundromat).
I also like the BlueAnt S4 car speaker. It features the identical great user interface because the Q3 and the sound is loud and clear. I have never tried washing it, however, and don’t intend to.
Get out of that car and grab your bike. Now it is time to rock out with the aptly-named Scosche boomBOTTLE. Available in your choice of boring gray or beachy cyan (blue), magenta (pink/red), green and yellow, this tough, weatherproof (e.g., splash resistant, not waterproof) speaker is shaped like a bottle – well, duh – and fits in most bicycle water bottle cages, the company promises. There’s also a carabineer so you may snap the thing in your backpack, and a captive port cover that protects the micro USB (charging) and aux in ports. You can also use the device as a speakerphone. The three buttons (multifunction, and volume up/down) are large and simple to use, and a female voice acknowledges “power on,” excitedly reports “connected!” and glumly informs you “disconnected,” as the case may be. The general aesthetic is very rugged and appealing, as much at home on an urban biking commute as a dirt biking adventure.
Oh, and did I mention the sound? With the boomBOTTLE, you may alert passing traffic, annoy pedestrians and terrify wildlife by rocking out at high volumes with little distortion. Overall, the sound is quite good, but not great – mids and highs are a bit of muddy, and the bass is nice but not stomach-churning. The speakers are omnidirectional, and as a result, there is not any stereo separation at all – you’re very aware that the tunes are coming from throughout the speaker. That’s, there’s not as much “presence” as I would wish. But when you are outside on a bicycle, who cares? The boomBOTTLE is a perfect choice for 2-wheeled travel.
Back from our bike ride and the day’s still a scorcher. What better strategy to enjoy global warming than a dip within the pool? You’ll be able to take your tunes with you, too, because of the Grace Digital Ecoxgear ECOXBT, available in black, red or industrial orange. It’s waterproof, and – yes – it floats. Indeed, it floats with the speaker side up. It offers volume control but, like many of the speakers reviewed here, doesn’t have track skip buttons. It charges using a mini USB port, not micro USB. That port, and the aux in, are behind a removable port cover. There is a lanyard to save lots of the port cover from getting lost, but there is no attachment point on the body of the speaker. That is a design misstep: it means it’s a must to attach the lanyard to the adjacent (right) handle, which looks unsightly and interferes with using the handle to carry the device.
A bigger concern is that the ECOXBT’s sound is somewhat tinny and thin. It didn’t wow me. But if you need tunes that can float amidst the fun in the middle of the pool, the ECOXBT fills the bill.
Now it is evening, and time for a more refined look and sound. I ditched the casual attire and checked out the iLuv MobiAria, whose name is a bit confusing since it’s neither mobile nor quite up to the demands of an aria. It is, however, an elegant sleek black plastic unit. The opposite speakers reviewed up so far are all compact, portable, battery-operated units; not so the MobiAria, which sports an 8″ x 13″ front face and plugs into the wall. The controls are all soft-touch regions on the highest of the unit, with no indentations or mechanical mechanism; again, classy. The unit can be at home in an adult living room.
Those controls include track-skip in addition to volume control and play pause; there’s an aux in; and there’s also a USB charging port output to maintain your phone juiced up because it beams music to the speaker. Unique among speakers I reviewed, the iLuv includes NFC tap-and-pair / tap-and-connect (like the Belkin music receiver reviewed above). Pairing and connecting work well, but disconnecting does not always. Once i disconnected my phone from the MobiAria and attempted to connect to another speaker, I found myself disconnected from the MobiAria but unable to hook up with the opposite speaker. I had to shut off Bluetooth on the phone altogether, then re-enable it, with a purpose to hook up with the other speaker. Meanwhile, the MobiAria, which has voice response, kept surreally repeating in an insistent British female voice, “Your phone is connected.”
As befits its likely target market, the iLuv is less bassy than most of the other units above, and offers nice mids and reasonably good highs, with little to no distortion even at maximum volume. It isn’t essentially the most crisp speaker on this planet, but it’s not bad either. A part of what you’re paying for is the convenience of NFC, which is great when it really works.
Speaking of paying, let’s move now into the terrain of audiophiles, which for many people this can break the bank. But for those lucky enough to have the ability to spend around $400 on a wireless speaker, there’s the Wren V5PF, available in bamboo or rosewood. These are real wood cabinets, not veneer. Adding to the elegance – there’s that word again – is an attractive swoop shape to the unit, form of like a re-imagined Nike logo, plus handsome gray fabric covering the speakers. The Wren would fit right in on a Mad Men sidetable, next to a decanter of scotch and a set of fine crystal tumblers.
The stereo sound this unit pumps out is delightful: vibrant midtones, crisp highs, and bass that’s good – translation, less bassy than the party hearty speakers reviewed above previous to the MobiAria. Also just like the MobiAria, this can be a plugin unit, not a portable, battery operated one. There’s an aux in and a USB charging port output.
The buttons are a slight disappointment. For one thing, there are volume controls but no track skip. Also, the buttons are mechanical. This detracts a bit from the sophisticated look of the device. Much more bothersome – to me at the very least – is the gunmetal gray plastic trim that stands in for brushed metal.
The device omits NFC pairing – and, in truth, omits Bluetooth pairing altogether. Huh? That is because it would not use Bluetooth at all. This speaker uses a distinct technology: Play-Fi, a technology that connects your phone and the speaker via your WiFi network. There’s also an AirPlay version for iPhone and iPad users (it includes a remote, unlike the Play-Fi version, and is again available in bamboo or rosewood), and the corporate says that a Bluetooth version is coming soon. Wren says that Play-Fi yields higher quality sound than Bluetooth, unless your phone includes aptX Bluetooth – which the S4 does, as do the SIII, the HTC One and numerous other recent smartphones. According to the company, Play-Fi also enables streaming to multiple Wren speakers at once.
As advantageous as Play-Fi could also be, it comes with a serious cost: you could have to make use of the free Wren app (or the wired aux in) to get music to your speaker. That app can play any music on your device, in addition to only a limited variety of streaming sources: Pandora, a couple lesser-known streaming services, and a pair dozen Internet radio stations. This limitation means you might want to look ahead to the Bluetooth version. Keep an eye out; for many who afford the tariff, this is a wonderful speaker.
Coming soon shall be my review of the Minx Air 200 by Cambridge Soundworks, a $600 unit.
That is it for speakers and other sound accessories. Look for my next installment, where I examine video connections for the S4, reminiscent of connecting your cellphone to a TV. Afterward will come chargers and external batteries, how to make use of your cellphone as a portable office, and then miscellaneous accessories. You’ll find all this at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-handel/.