When most people hear the term “Bluetooth”, they think of the flashing blue cellular phone headsets sticking out of people’s ears like the one I use every day. Over the past few years, Bluetooth technology has extended from headsets and speakerphones in cars to connecting keyboards and mice to computers and now to external speakers.
I had previously used a Bluetooth speakerphone connected to my cell phone in my car to extend my hands-free drive but was very disappointed in the quality of sound. So, when I was asked to do a review and comparison on some Bluetooth speakers, I didn’t have any high expectations of sound quality.
Boy, was I wrong!
In this comparison, we’ll be looking at 4 different speakers you can connect to your Bluetooth-enabled phones and/or devices:
- foxL v2 by Soundmatters
- iClarityHD by Monster
- JAMBOX by Jawbone
- VoiceStation 500 by Polycom
foxL v2 by Soundmatters
The foxL (pronounced fox-ul) v2 speaker is a small handheld speaker that connects to any Bluetooth-enabled device. The speaker is a little over 5 1/2 inches but only 2.2 inches tall and 1.4 inches wide. It feels like holding a Wii remote or similar sized device. There’s a small fold-out stand on the back to prop it up and a black mesh grill on the front housing a microphone and 2 speakers.
I first paired it with my iPad and started the last Star Trek film. I was blown away by what I heard! The sound from the highs and mids were very crisp and clear and the bass was very respectable for such a small device. Soundmatters even includes a small rubber mat to place under the device so that the bass doesn’t rattle the speaker off whatever surface you have it on.
I, then, paired the foxL with my iPhone 4 and conducted a few speakerphone calls. The sound was very clear with little background noise and persons on the other end could hear me clearly. A small rubberized button on the top offers a one-touch solution for answering or ending calls. The Bluetooth has a nice 25-30 foot range and paired well with the iPad and iPhone but after many attempts, I was not able to connect to my MacBook Pro.
The original foxL v2 version (2010) shipped with only a 5 hour battery life but the v2.2 models (2011) now can hold up to 8 hours of charge. Charging can be done by Mini-USB or an AC wall charger.
In addition to Bluetooth connectivity, there is also a standard 3.5mm audio jack for your non-Bluetooth devices and an extra subwoofer input should you so desire to add one.
This device is comparatively priced at $199 making it a higher-end model then other speakers, However, I was quite taken with the incredible clarity and sound of the foxL and would recommend it to anyone who needs a portable sound solution and wants to add some “oomph” to their device.
The iClarityHD is a very small and compact Bluetooth speaker. While the size might fool you, the sound quality will show that this isn’t a device to be taken lightly. The iClarityHD is a little over 2 inches tall, 4 inches wide, and 2 inches deep and is shaped more like a battery charger or iPod docking station. The front contains a sturdy plastic grill that houses two 35-mm full range drivers along with a passive radiator sub-woofer. Along the back is a power switch, 3.5mm audio in jack and a mini USB charging port. I must note that this is the only way to charge this device and USB is usually a good deal slower to charge then by using an AC adapter. However, hooking this up to your laptop or other mini-USB port overnight shouldn’t be too much of a hindrance.
I tested this out on my iPad and MacBook Pro and was impressed with the sound quality. Crisp highs and full-range mid sounds enveloped me along with a nice bass boost. At high volumes I detected a very slight hum but I also had it at maximum volume. This speaker is probably better suited for enjoying in quieter settings. This small problem would probably be solved by an external power source should they include one in a future model. The Bluetooth has a 33 foot range and paired easily and quickly with every device I tried.
Once I paired the iClarityHD with my iPhone 4, I enjoyed several speakerphone conversations with friends who were unaware I was on a speakerphone. The built-in mic with advanced noise-canceling blocked a lot of background noise and the sound quality was very good. It still had a speakerphone sound as most speakerphones do but that didn’t distract from the conversations.
Monster also promotes this speaker as a hands-free car kit. Although I didn’t test this feature, I can see how the size of the speaker would work well in a vehicle, although I wonder if lack of a AC/DC charging port would be an issue. Having only a 5 hour battery life, it would need to be charged often but is portable enough to transport back and forth.
With a lower price point of $119.95, the iClarityHD offers excellent portable sound for your compatible devices as well as a clear speakerphone for your hands-free conversations.
JAMBOX by Jawbone
The JAMBOX is a larger speaker then the previous two at 6 inches long by 2.25 inches wide by 1.38 inches tall. It comes in multiple colors: blue, gray, red and black and is shaped more like a small block. The top and bottom appear to be a molded rubber which gives this device some good staying power so it won’t slide off your desk as the bass is kicking along. The top houses up/down volume buttons as well as a multi-function button to play/pause music or answer calls. On the side, you’ll find an on/off switch, a 3.5mm audio port and a micro USB port. The JAMBOX uses audio prompts to tell you the battery level and when the JAMBOX is successfully connected.
Now that I have all the specifics laid out, the sound of the JAMBOX is AWESOME! From the minute I turned it on even the startup tone vibrated with a beautiful bassy tone that told me this would be a treat to test. I did the usual tests on my iPhone, iPad and Macbook Pro. The explosions during Star Trek were loud, crisp and clear while the bass vibrated the desk. I had the speaker centered on a stand over my MacBook Pro and the stereo sound from both channels was amazing and distinctive. Even at maximum volume, I heard no distortion so I could see using this at larger gatherings and being able to hear it quite nicely.
The Bluetooth has a 33-foot range and connected to all my devices quick and easy. After I connected to my iPhone, I made the obligatory phone calls to friends and recieved similar input as the other speakers above. Little to no background noise was heard on either end and callers were impressed with the quality. The multi-function button made it easy to answer/hang up/redial as well as accessing my Voice Control features on my iPhone.
Being a slightly larger (but still quite portable) speaker, the battery life is rated at 10 hours and can be charged with an AC adapter or micro USB. The JAMBOX also can be used with Jawbone’s MyTalk software which you can use to personalize audio prompts and other features as well as update the firmware when needed.
The JAMBOX comes in at a $199 price point but the awesome sound quality makes it worthwhile to me and is definitely on my “to-buy” list. (My wife was so impressed, she even approved it!)
VoiceStation 500 by Polycom
If you have been in any type of corporate atmosphere, you have probably seen Polycom products as they are known for their clear sound and quality. The Voicestation 500 is different then the previous speakers in that it is purely a speakerphone. It can be connected via landline or Bluetooth. It can also be connected to PCs using VoIP software or even Skype. This versatility makes it an ideal purchase for a home office or small business.
The Voicestation is powered by an RJ-45 cord that plugs into a power brick. Other connections available include a 2.5mm applications port which enables you to plug in a headset connector cable for mobile phones which may not be Bluetooth-enabled. A data port is also available to plug in a modem or fax machine and an additional port will allow for call recorders. On top of the Voicestation you will find a 19-key telephone pad which also includes a mode button to switch between land-line and Bluetooth calls although I found in my test that to make calls from your cell phone you will have to use the cell phone keypad.
Sound quality was excellent! I made a few Skype calls via my Mac and Bluetooth calls via my iPhone. Background noise was non-existent and callers on the other end sounded close by. They could hear me clearly as long as I didn’t get more then 7 feet away but this range actually helps the noise cancellation features. If you need more range, Polycom has other models that can extend up to 20 feet or so.
Priced at approximately $329 from the different sources I found, the Voicestation 500 is a great investment for the small meeting room or any home office.
So which to choose?
These products were all great for what they were designed for and one should obviously choose based on their needs.
If you are purchasing a speakerphone for a business conference room or home office to make phone calls with, the Polycom is an excellent choice for its price point and functionality.
If you want a speaker mainly for listening to or watching media on your Bluetooth devices and don’t mind paying a bit more for better quality sound, the foxL or JAMBOX won’t disappoint.
However, if you want a lower-priced option that is excellent for travel and produces good sound and phone calls, the iClarityHD is a great choice.
Bluetooth speakers are a relatively new product over the last year or so. As new speakers and other technologies are released, GeekBeat.TV will be sure to get our hands on them and give you more options to consider.