JBL’s mammoth PartyBox 300 speaker is aptly named. It stands 27”H x 13”W x 12.7”D, weighs 34 pounds, plays really loud, and has microphone and guitar inputs for karaoke. Two PartyBoxes can be set up for stereo, and the LEDs that encircle its woofers light up with an impressive show of mesmerizing color patterns. It’s physically imposing -- but does it justify its price of $449.95 USD?
It’s refreshing to see a speaker system that has a model name instead of a number. The Tuk ($799.99/pair USD) comes from the Canadian company Kanto Distribution Inc., and is named for Tuktoyaktuk, a remote village on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, where the aurora borealis is particularly spectacular.
I remember when Grace Digital launched their first EcoXGear model -- a small, waterproof Bluetooth speaker. Now the line has swollen to more than 20 speakers of all sizes and prices, and something for everyone. One of the most recent is the mighty EcoTrek ($229.99 USD). Weighing 19.2 pounds and measuring 17”H x 15”W x 10.2”D, it falls midway between the EcoBoulder ($249.99) and the EcoXplorer ($169.99), both of which I’ve reviewed -- but the EcoTrek is the only stereo model of those three. Or you can link two EcoTreks, set up as much as 30’ apart, for two-speaker stereo.
With the increasing popularity of voice-activated speakers, JBL offers its Link series, now five models strong. The two smaller models, the Link 10 ($149.95, all prices USD) and Link 20 ($199.95), use rechargeable batteries, whereas the Link 300 ($249.95) and its bigger brother, the Link 500 ($399.95), must be plugged into the wall. There is also the Link View ($249.95), which includes an 8" high-definition screen. All include Google Assistant -- the speaker stays put, and you become the portable part of the system.
Audioengine, based in Austin, Texas, specializes in computer, bookshelf, and wireless speakers that have been praised for their natural sound. The 512 is their first portable Bluetooth speaker. As Brady Bargenquast, a founder of Audioengine, put it to me: “The goal was to use familiar industrial design cues for the size and shape, but to best the competition with the sound. So we voiced the 512 as we’ve tuned other Audioengine products, with the main challenges being battery play time, the full-range micro driver designs, and cabinet acoustics (and cost of course).”
Ah, but does the 512 meet those goals?
JBL continues to upgrade and refine its Bluetooth speakers. The Charge 4 is very similar in outward appearance to its predecessor, the Charge 3, but with significant internal differences. At $149.95 USD, it’s a good bargain in a midsize Bluetooth speaker, while allowing the Charge 3 to be sold for two-thirds its cost at Amazon.com and other retailers.
Grace Digital has built a well-earned reputation for giving great value for the dollar, and their latest product is no exception. The modestly priced Mondo+ Classic Wi-Fi radio ($249.99 USD) is built for the future, but can be enjoyed aplenty in the here and now.
Ever since the huge success of Sonos’s wireless home sound systems, other manufacturers have been trying to imitate or surpass them. Bluesound seems to have come closer than anyone, albeit at premium prices. The Pulse Flex 2i might be their smallest and least costly model, but it’s packed with features, if still pricey at $299 USD -- but those features, which include a nifty app and the ability to stream from just about any source, will make it worth that price to many.
Sbode is a subsidiary of Chinese manufacturer Shenzhen Sbode Technology Co., Ltd., and their products are sold in the US exclusively on Sbode’s own website and on Amazon.com. The M400 Bluetooth speaker, despite its low price of $49.99 USD, offers more whistles and bells than speakers costing a lot more, and even has an FM radio. I was eager to see if all of its functions actually worked, and they did. But what about the sound quality?
This fall has presented me with high-quality Bluetooth speakers of all sizes and types. Last month it was Grace Digital’s ten-pound EcoXGear EcoXplorer. This month, through an overture from Kickstarter, I’ve crossed paths with the smallest speaker I’ve ever reviewed, the NstaJam Nspire Solo, and found that, in its own way, it can deliver a quality musical experience. It makes a perfect stocking stuffer for those on your holiday list who need better sound to go with their personal devices. Moreover, buying a speaker from NstaJam benefits a number of social causes important to the company.