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.
It’s impossible to discuss Grace Digital’s Mondo+ without thinking of the Logitech Squeezebox Touch. Though the Logitech was discontinued three years ago, its fans are legion, and still populate several websites on which they share ideas about how to tweak its performance and the like. The Squeezebox Touch is a great little device, and it’s still what I mostly use to stream files from my computer. The Grace Mondo+ won’t win in a head-to-head competition, no foul -- it was primarily designed for use as an Internet radio.
For this column I often select a component I’ve seen in a press release or ad that looks interesting. But sometimes a piece of equipment just lands in my lap. That was the case with Benjie’s BJ-T6HD digital music player, made by the Shenzhen Benjie Technology Company, Limited. It’s marketed under the Benjie brand, but also as the Hongyu BT1 and the AGPtek Rocker. I’ve dismissed the AGP because it doesn’t provide standard functions once the screen goes dark, an inexplicable and irritating shortcoming.
The relatively expensive ATH-DSR9BT headphones ($549 USD) are almost identical to Audio-Technica’s ATH-DSR7BT model ($299), which I reviewed in July 2017. They employ A-T’s new digital-transmission design, Pure Digital Drive. Instead of a traditional DAC feeding an analog amp, this method uses Trigence Semiconductor’s Dnote technology, in which, A-T explains, “the digital pulses of the chipset move the voice coil and diaphragm [of the drivers] forward and backward to create soundwaves heard by a listener.”
Audio-Technica is vigorously promoting its new Pure Digital Drive headphone models, the ATH-DRS7BT ($299 USD) and ATH-DSR9BT ($549). But lest you feel left out in the cold by those prices, A-T also offers the dandy ATH-SR6BTBKs for $199 -- $100 less than the ATH-DSR7BTs, which I reviewed in July, and an appealing alternative about which there’s much to like. One catch -- the ATH-SR6BTBKs are available only at selected Best Buy stores and Best Buy’s website.