Streaming music files used to be for listeners who cared more about quantity than quality. Times have changed. In the past ten years, various streaming services have begun offering files in resolutions of CD quality or above. At $189 USD, Audioengine’s B-Fi multiroom music streamer offers a simple, inexpensive way to receive and distribute CD-resolution files. The B-Fi has dramatically changed the way I listen to music.
The Portable is the latest member of JBL’s Link line of Wi-Fi speakers. It’s distinctive in that you can lift it right out of its charging dock and carry it anywhere in your home that your Internet network is available. It seemed a bit costly at its original price of $179.95 USD, but for this summer JBL has halved the price, to $89.95.
Midsummer -- the perfect time for a Bluetooth speaker that can, um, go with you anywhere. But unless you, er, go for a behemoth, such as Grace Digital’s EcoBoulder, you’re liable to find the sound of most smaller speakers somewhat anemic when you use them outdoors. In addition, most of them lack convenient handles.
Nothing gets me started in the morning like a brisk shower, especially when accompanied by Vivaldi or Vampire Weekend -- and it’s surprising how many waterproof shower speakers are now available to assist me. I recently reviewed the Jensen SMPS-626; and now it’s the turn of the new DuoTen.
Having reviewed many Bluetooth speakers, I’ve found that my experience of them falls into categories. From unboxing to setup to use, I’ve found some that were interesting, some demanding, some surprising, and a few that left me perplexed. Only a few of those experiences were joyful, but one of them was the Kanto TUK ($799.99/pair, all prices per pair, USD), which I reviewed in August 2019. Kanto also has a line of smaller, much cheaper Bluetooth speakers, the YU models, each of which looks promising: the YU2 ($219.99), YU4 ($329.99), and YU6 ($399.99). Now Kanto has introduced a scaled-down version of the YU4 with the most basic of model names: YU ($249.99/pair). Have they got it right again?
“My background is as a designer/musician,” said Hiro Ogura, CEO of Voiz LLC, talking about his AiRadio Duo VR-80. “Since I was a boy, I loved building my own radio with a good speaker. But I did not like FM broadcasting’s compressed sound and noise and unstable signal condition -- but finally Wi-Fi radio solved the problem.” The AiRadio Duo VR-80 will fulfill many buyers’ needs, and will look gorgeous while doing so. You’ll have to balance your own needs and desires against its somewhat high price of $299 USD, and I have a few nits to pick -- but the VR-80’s superior sound, tuned by Andover Audio’s Bob Hazelwood, is certain to win you over.
Depending on their size and shape, most waterproof speakers can be taken into the shower, where they can be safely splashed. Looking for one specifically designed for use in the shower, I found the Jensen SMPS-626. This mighty mite has many appealing features, and, at only $34.99 USD, could represent true value for the dollar.
Portable Bluetooth speakers come in all sizes and shapes, but Grace Digital has come up with a unique design for its EcoEdge model -- basically, a square box with big, protruding, squared-off corners that Grace calls bumpers. In Grace’s ads, the EcoEdge’s main selling point is its claimed toughness, and it looks the part -- like a bulldog pup. At $79.99 USD, it might well appeal to a user who wants a small, virtually indestructible Bluetooth speaker but isn’t picky about sound quality.
Two months ago I gave very high marks to Tribit’s MaxSound Plus speaker. The young company then sent me a review sample of their StormBox, which conclusively proves that the MaxSound Plus was no fluke. Tribit makes quality compact Bluetooth speakers that sound good and cost a lot less than the competition -- in this case, $65.99 USD.
Experience has taught me that, no matter how small their Wi-Fi, waterproof, and/or Bluetooth speakers may be, Grace Digital consistently lavishes on their design and manufacture the same high level of care and quality. The EcoPebble Lite ($39.99 USD) is their next-to-least-expensive EcoXGear speaker, after the even-smaller EcoDrop ($29.99) -- the two smallest models in the ExoXGear line. But don’t sneeze at this little guy. As Grace CEO Greg Fadul puts it, the EcoPebble Lite is “tiny but mighty.” I decided to put it through its paces.