I still marvel when I flick through the Spotify app on my phone and think that I can listen to any one of over 18 million songs in that moment. Since I switched mobile providers, I can even stream the music over the internet to my car as I drive to and from work - which really feels like living in the future.
I occasionally get a hankering to pick up a bluetooth speaker, but sadly prices tend to be high and sound quality is disappointing, especially when compared to a good old fashioned wired speaker.
The idea of the bluetooth speaker is a good one. A self-contained box with speaker cones and a battery that I can wirelessly send my tunes to, wherever I happen to be. The smaller ones are the most tempting. Something that you can throw in a bag and take anywhere to enjoy, or move between rooms and the back garden at home.
The trouble is, very few of them are enjoyable. It’s basic physics really - these gorgeous little boxes are just too small to generate a nice, bassy, full sound that can get the heart pumping.
Or are they?
The Jawbone Jambox is a bluetooth speaker I can imagine that the characters of ‘The Lego Movie’ would have in their bags. Despite only measuring 15cm by 4cm, it’s got a real chunky look to it, with the rubberised plastic top and base gripping a wrap-around speaker grill that has been stamped into hexagonal shapes. I like it.
Being this small means it’s nice and portable and in the box you get a faux-suede case that will protect it in your bag - but it’s probably just a little too bulky for a pocket. In fact there is a bit of weight to it as well, but it helps it feel like the well made thing that it is and it won't jump around on the table-top.
Setup is simple. The power switch on the side can be held up for a few extra seconds and lights will start to flash - at which point your phone or bluetooth enabled MP3 player will be able to see and connect to the speaker, ready to send over those tunes.
The Jambox is also a conference speaker. There’s a microphone on board, so it can handle and share your calls with your party. It works well, but if you don’t want to do this, you can disable the headset function in your phone’s bluetooth settings and leave it to just deal with the music.
So now, the all important question. How does it sound?
My first impression can only be described as “wow”. This little box thumps out the bass! The makers have clearly gone all out to make a big sound with the low frequencies booming out and it’s definitely a triumph in that respect. Que up something boombastic and aggressive like Knife Party’s ‘Bonfire’ and the electronic bassline will work its way through you in a way I’ve only ever thought possible on bigger systems.
Pleased with how it handled the big beat sounds, I wondered how it would handle something a little more acoustic. ‘Helplessness Blues’ by the Fleet Foxes is all about soaring harmonic voices with some lovely acoustic guitar. It makes my spine shiver and yes, the little lego-like block achieved that same shiver! Time to up the anti. Classical.
Concerto for Oboe and Strings by Vaughan Williams is a beautiful piece with lots going on - but for the first time, my ears were disappointed. I started to realise how the Jambox was achieving its impressive bass - there isn’t much else.
Switching to a more complex electronic track, The Alcoholic by Royksopp, it was immediately apparent that the top end of the track (the high frequencies) was more or less lost and the mid-range was very muddy. It was hard to pick out individual instruments and detail and even the bass itself, although big, was lacking in detail.
The Jambox represents quite an achievement. It punches a lot of low sound out of a very small box, and if for you it’s all about the bass then this is the best bluetooth speaker I’ve heard for the money. For me, I’d sacrifice much of that punch for more detail, but that’s because I enjoy picking out the detail of a track and with the other kit that I have to listen to music on - I’d notice its absence. This version is quite late in its life, so maybe the successor will improve in this respect.
To throw in a bag, take to your mates, or put in a young person’s bedroom, Jambox’s Jawbone is a solid buy and handles certain types of music really well. However, if you’ve got a bigger budget and would be prepared to pay your way beyond the compromise, I’d still hold out for a Bose Soundlink Mini.
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