Everywhere you turn, somebody is coming out with a new Bluetooth speaker with a “fun” design — shaped like animals, cones, or even old-timey radios. So are there any Bluetooth speakers that don’t suck? We reviewed the upcoming Braven BRV-X speaker, and it was pretty good, if a little pricey.
It’s safe to say that at some point, most consumer speakers will be Bluetooth-enabled. That’s not to say you still won’t be able to hook them up via wire, but you will have the option not to as well. So be prepared; those Beats Pill commercials are probably only the beginning.
That said, there are some nice products being developed. The one company that caught our attention however, was Braven, who specializes in not just making Bluetooth speakers, but systems designed to work together or as individual units giving you complete control over your listening experience across your entire home or on a per speaker basis.
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Hands-on with the BRV-X
The Braven BRV-X is your everyman’s every day speaker. It’s rugged and chunky and kind of reminds me of holding a mini football, which is appropriate because this speaker is just as well off accompanying you to a tailgate as it is at home on the coffee table.
Clad in a thick, grippy rubber coating and housed in a strong, high-impact plastic casing, along with durable metal grating and a tough water-resistant screw cap, the BRV-X is shockproof and built to be rough and tumble but still sound sweet regardless of conditions. It’s basically a little sonic tank, and even kind of resembles one.
On top are controls: +/- have dual functions, allowing you to increase/decrease volume, or you can press and hold to skip forward and back.
On the other side is a power button and the multiuse arrow button capable of pairing devices, pausing and resuming playback, as well as answering and ending phone calls.
Adorning each end are metal posts through which you can lace the included nylon strap, allowing you to sling it over your shoulder, a door knob, or shower curtain rod.
The BRV-X is water-resistant. In fact, the company bills the BRV-X as the “first true outdoor speaker”, so while you can’t submerge it, it can stand up to “rainfall, water jets, and water splashing.” Basically, you can pretty much take it everywhere except the bottom of the pool.
The BRV-X paired easily with whatever we threw at it including an Apple iPhone 5s, Nexus 7, and Nexus 4. Moving it from device to device proved to be simple and painless. Further, if you have a device with NFC (Near Field Communication), you can simply touch it to the BRV-X and pair it instantly.
Unscrewing the water-resistant cap reveals a nicely packed set of ports and battery status indicator lights.
The BRV-X has two audio modes — indoor and outdoor. Essentially, indoor gives you a more bassy, rich sound, while outdoor eschews lower frequencies in favor of loudness, so you can hear it over crashing waves, passing cars, and noisy conversations.
For devices such as old iPods and laptops that aren’t Bluetooth-equipped, you can plug them into the auxiliary port using the included 3.5 mm stereo connector cable.
The speaker also offers the ability to jack in a USB cable, allowing you to power your tablet or phone so you can dance all night. Or, if you’re in a pinch and need to add some juice to your phone’s dying battery, you can charge it off of the speaker’s 5200 mAh battery.
Battery life will obviously vary depending on how hard you push the speaker, i.e. how loud you play it and whether you’re charging anything off of it. The company quotes 12+ hours though, and I found that easily obtainable.
Bluetooth range as well was excellent. I noticed no interruptions as I moved from room to room with my tablet. You can expect an effective range of about 33 feet, though it’s not like either the speaker or your phone are hard to carry around with you, so range is unlikely to ever be an issue.
Speaking of Sound
So the most important question is of course, how does it sound?
Overall, the BRV-X represents whatever I listen to on it pretty well, especially stuff that caters to the mid-range. There’s some bass, but it lacks the oomph to cause any kind of wall rattling or promote anti-social tendencies. It doesn’t get super loud either, seemingly more content to sound nice rather than drown out the world.
It provides clean, rich sound, durability, and convenience. It is ideal for someone living in a dorm, small apartment, or in a small office environment where you might want music in your office without disturbing your boss next door. Best of all, you can quickly pair your BRV-X with another BRV-X for true stereo sound.
Finally, you can use the BRV-X’s conferencing capabilities. Simply press the “answer-end” button and you have a noise-cancelling speakerphone, which is a step up from my phone’s tinny little speaker.
From Speakers … to Distributed Audio
While the BRV-X is a cool and powerful little device, it represents a mere tip of the audio iceberg compared to what Braven is doing with their other products.
The company proudly demoed their “Vibe” distributed audio system at this year’s CES, and suffice-to-say, it really packs a lot of versatility and convenience, allowing users to share music across multiple devices and platforms.
The Vibe system not only allows you to assign Braven speakers to groups, function as a whole, or function as individuals, you can also add any existing Bluetooth speaker you already own.
Basically, the Vibe system consists of the “Vibe Station”, an all-in-one hub/speaker that connects to your wireless network and Bluetooth-enabled device.
Then you have “Vibe Replay”, which are basically additional speakers (minus the hub) that you can add to your Vibe Station(s) for more sound. Then there’s the “Vibe Link” that connects to your wireless hub and allows you control your existing Bluetooth speaker(s) with it.
Finally, the Braven Vibe App – compatible with iOS, Android, and Windows – gives you pinpoint control over your music and output, allowing you to manage your devices, control various sources, divide speakers into zones or groups, as well as stream different content to any one speaker, zone, or across the whole network.
During the demo, Braven’s technician was able to seamlessly move songs and playlists from zone to zone, playing Madonna on one and Jay-Z on another, or combine zones allowing you to quickly pipe the same song through the whole system. Pretty neat and exciting to be able to have that kind of ultimate control over your listening experience, while not being tied to a desktop or rack unit.
The Good, The Bad, and the Verdict
In the end, the Braven BRV-X is just a speaker. That said, over the course of the few weeks that I’ve used it, it has proven to be a nice little thing to have around, particularly when watching videos on tablet and laptops, listening to music in rooms other than where my desktop computer sits, and conducting conference calls.
But all of this is subjective, so how does it really break down? What about it is good? What is bad? And where do we rule on it?
- Built to last and take a beating; water/weather resistant
- Crisp mid-to-upper range sound quality
- Two sound modes allow you to switch between indoor and outdoor environments
- Noise-cancelling speakerphone
- Long battery life/charging station
- A little light in the bottom; bass lacks punch
- Industrial tank-like design may not appeal to the fashion-conscious
- Pricey, especially for one (1) small Bluetooth speaker
The BRV-X, despite its small size and throw-anything-at-it design, is a fairly high-end piece of stereo equipment. With an MSRP of $229.99, it isn’t cheap. So, while you’re not going to mind tossing it in your backpack or cringe if it gets knocked off the picnic table. You will mind if you lose it or it gets stolen (though the same could be said for the $199 Beats Pill).
For that price however, you do get a nice, clean, consistent sound (not too bassy) in a tough little, weather-resistant shell that you can take anywhere. Plus, with two sound modes, you’re assured that no matter where you take it, you’ll probably be able to hear it. Add to that 12+ hours of battery life, the ability to charge your other devices, and call conferencing capabilities, and you do see a nice return on your investment.
The company has stated that the BRV-X will be available around the middle to end of February. More information on Braven and their line of products can be found by visiting their website.
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