Thursday, March 6, 2014

Bluetooth Speaker Chronicles

On March 1, Best Buy had a great deal on Apple iPhones (offering $150 for trade in on working iPhone 4S). I traded in both of my iPhone 4S for two 16GB iPhone 5S models.

My kitchen audio Logitech Speaker (model s715i with 30 pin connector) did not have support for the new Lightning connector or Bluetooth, so I had to replace it.



I was looking for a Bluetooth Speaker with the following features:

  1. Highest Sound Quality
  2. Small Size / Portability
  3. Built-in battery (for using outdoors)
  4. Lightning Connector (if possible) to charge my iPhone 5S
  5. Price under $300

I decided to get a new speaker with either Lightning connector or Bluetooth. After reading many reviews, consulting forums, and Consumer Reports, I settled on Sony RDP-XF300IPN Wireless Speaker Dock.

My evaluation criteria is subjective, but I run the usual gamut of songs on each speaker, to see how it handles heavy bass and vocals.


The sound on this Sony dock was fantastic, but the speaker is a bit deep and I wanted to find something a bit narrower for out Kitchen counter top. I liked all of its features, from the built-in Bluetooth, Lightning connector, FM radio, OLED display, and remote control.

Pluses:
  • Bluetooth
  • Lightning Connector (for iPhone 5S charging and playing)
  • FM Radio
  • Aux in (3.5 mm)
  • OLED Display
  • Remote Control
  • Many DSP Surround Modes
  • Excellent, modern styling
  • Built in battery for playing without power
  • 40W Power
  • On sale on Amazon at $148
Minuses:
  • Fairly deep
  • Lightning Connector does not work well with iPhone 5S cases
  • Power brick is bulky
The Sony sounded very clear with excellent highs and a nice bass response. Being too big, I thought of looking for something smaller for my kitchen.

With that in mind, I first purchased the TDK A33, to see if I can do better than the Sony.




The TDK was highly praised by Consumer Reports and many Amazon customers. I tried it in the store and liked it. However, when at home, I compared it to the Sony, it was immediately obvious that the Sony was superior overall. The TDK A33 is small, has wonderful highs, but the bass is seriously lacking.

I think Consumer Reports over-rated this speaker. It's not nearly as good as the magazine makes it out to be.

Pluses:
  • Bluetooth
  • Weatherproof
  • Aux in (3.5 mm)
  • Very Small brick
  • USB port for charging devices
  • Inexpensive ($150)
Minuses:
  • Weak Bass response
  • Ugly
  • No Remote
  • Disconnects from iPad devices randomly (needs full reset to reconnect)

It also looked a bit dated in design. I decided to return it.

Next, I tried the new Bose Soundlink 3, the latest Bose Bluetooth speaker. It was highly praised on Amazon.com and on many forums.


The Bose is quite small and looks nice on the counter top. However, it costs more than the Sony and does not sound overall as good (especially in the treble section). However, the difference was not as great (as with the TDK).

Pluses:
  • Bluetooth
  • Aux in (3.5 mm)
  • Nice size
  • Good styling
  • Built-in Lithium battery
Minuses:
  • Muddy Treble (not as good as Sony)
  • No Remote
  • No charging port
  • Expensive ($299)
Since it was not any better than the Sony and much more expensive, I decided to return it.

Now, the only remaining speaker worth trying is the Sony SRS-BTX500. It's much narrower than the RDPXF300IPN, so it may fit better on the counter.

Pluses:

  • Bluetooth (v3.0)
  • Aux in (3.5 mm)
  • Shallow Depth
  • Good styling
  • 3 Surround Modes
  • 40W of Power
  • NFC
  • USB Port for charging devices
  • Hands free Speakerphone
  • On Sale on Amazon for $199
Minuses:
  • Very wide
  • No Remote

The Sony SRS-BTX500 works well on the kitchen tower. It's much thinner and smaller than the RDPXF300IPN.