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.
Last month I praised the JBL Xtreme 2 as being one of the brawniest Bluetooth speakers out there, and now comes EcoXGear’s EcoXplorer, a smaller cousin of their mighty EcoBoulder. Indeed Grace Digital and its EcoXGear subsidiary have established a record of producing quality merchandise at low prices. The EcoXplorer weighs five pounds more than the JBL but costs only slightly more than half as much: $169.99 USD.
JBL’s recent speaker updates recall David and Goliath. Last month we had the tiny Clip 3; this month it’s the brawny Xtreme 2 -- a loud-playing, 5.3-pound behemoth ideal for tailgate and pool parties.
Some companies like to come up with all-new models every year; others continue to refine and upgrade successful basic designs. JBL, one of the latter, released the original Clip Bluetooth speaker in 2015. In 2016 came the Clip 2, which added waterproofing, and now we have the Clip 3, with a sturdier build, longer playing time on a full battery charge, and a rainbow of colors to choose from. JBL has eliminated a feature that some buyers might miss, but at $59.95 USD, the Clip 3 is still a legitimate choice in a very small Bluetooth speaker.