Bluetooth Speakers Back-Country Tested - Conclusions and More Pix

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Conclusions
After hearing the improvement made to the Fugoo after the firmware upgrade, and the bass response of the Infinity One, the recurring thought in my head is that small Bluetooth speakers are inherently flawed, and DSP techniques are going to be used to cajole them to deliver better listening experiences. I say they're inherently flawed because their small size will severely limit bass response; small drivers producing low frequencies will distort much easier than larger drivers; being used portably will have users tending to play them loud and increasing the chances of distortion; and use in relatively loud environments (swimming pool, outdoor parties) will tend to drown out playback of quiet tunes. It seems likely to me that DSP will be used to: maintain a fairly constant volume even with playback of music of differing levels; compress songs with wide dynamic range for playback in loud environments; expansion of tunes that are over-compressed; dynamic limitation of bass level to reduce bass distortion at high playback volume; and use of internal speakerphone mic to monitor external noise levels to adjust all parameters above for optimal playback.

It seems to me that audiophiles need to look at small Bluetooth speakers and understand that we'll never really see an "Audiophile" version of this type of product. With only one speaker we'll not hear any stereo imaging; with the small size we'll never get real bass response; and with the typical use paradigm of Bluetooth and streaming or low-rez source files, using DSP to "fix" some of the grosser problems (song-to-song volume leveling, setting the appropriate amount of dynamic compression), it seems to me, is the most reasonable design goal. In other words, really great sound is probably not in the cards for portable Bluetooth speakers; but reliably good performance with a variety of sources and in differing use environments is certainly within reach.

Closing Thoughts
Infinity One ($299) - For me, the extra $100 spent on the Infinity One would be well worth the price. It's ability to deliver a significantly thumpy bass outdoors in a package this small seems unique in my experience to date—very cool. I'm pretty good at breaking stuff, so the confidence inspiring Infinity One build quality is very comforting. Highly recommended.

Fugoo Sport ($199) - Before the firmware upgrade, this speaker sounded honkier than the UE Boom...after the upgrade it was clearly more neutral and even sounding. This is a dandy little device and will likely be my go-to recommendation for a general purpose small Bluetooth speaker. Waterproof to 1 meter; 40 hours battery life; speakerphone functionality; and a nice clear sound. No, doesn't have the bass response of the Infinity One, but the sound quality is as good, or possibly marginally better, otherwise. A solid recommendation.

Ultimate Ears UE Boom ($199) - Been using this one for a year, and it's a good little speaker. Though it sound slightly honky relative to the Fugoo, it remains a satisfying listen. The ability to get two Booms and use them as a stereo pair is quite unique, and if you're looking for a stereo speaker for your laptop at home or office that can do double duty as a portable speaker, the Boom may be just right for you. At this point, however, I think my primary recommendation would be the Fugoo Sport above.

Soundmatters FoxL V2 APTX ($199) - The very, very small size of the Soundmatters FoxL makes it virtually impossible to get much bass, but I have to admit with its passive radiator it does deliver more bass than I expected from this tiny package. The place where the FoxL does better than any other speaker in this round-up is a sense of coherent and even response from the central mids through treble. On axis, the sound of the FoxL is quite good. Unfortunately it's fairly directional and doesn't do well off-axis or in attempts to fill a room with sound...nor could one reasonably expect a device this small to do so. I think the Soundmatters FoxL V2 makes an ideal traveling companion for business travelers who want to live with a carry-on bag only and is strapped for space. Position the FoxL for on-axis listening, spend a little time getting used to the sound without a lot of bass, and you'll have a dandy hotel room listening experience.

Random Other Vacation Pix
Didn't take a lot of pix on the trip, but there were more than I've used so far in this article. Here's the leftovers.

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Planning the trip to include a gas stop every 150 miles can sometimes get a bit tricky in back-country Montana.

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First stop in the wild, atop the Gravelly Mountain foothills looking down at the Madison meandering through the valley. A haze of smoke from the fires in Oregon was visible.

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Selfie with bovines.

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Light to sound conversion at work.

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Black Butte in the Gravelly Mountains.

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Lamb chops with hand picked sage. Yum.

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See? Yum!

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Front porch view from Horse Prairie cabin. The first Appalousa horses bred by the Nez Perce were from around here.

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The view of Lake Como from the porch of Woods Cabin was an ever-changing scene.

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Dunno why these stand-up paddle boats are so popular. If I'm on a boat, I want room for a seat and a cooler.

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The great room at Woods Cabin.

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Back after a successful scouting mission for more firewood.

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Beginning of the end, last night of the trip at Kading Cabin.

That's it! Hope you enjoyed the pix.

COMMENTS
Seth195208's picture

..for a couple of Montana boys. I got one for you. Try Gustavo Santaolalla. Just kidding!

veggieboy2001's picture

Thanks for sharing your motorcycle getaway (again).

As far as those paddle boards,it's supposed to be easier on your back than a kayak, and good for promoting balance. My wife & I will probably give it a try soon.

Impulse's picture

I remember reading the previous article but I don't remember if you ever shared what kinda headphone you take on a trip like that... Are you just enjoying the company too much for anything besides IEM (for riding?) or do you pack a rugged pair of small on ears or something like that?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Didn't take any headphones. Generally I don't listen to music while riding...just like to enjoy the scenery and moving through it. I do sometimes listen when road riding long distances on my FJR. In that case I'm currently using the HiFiMAN RE-400
Claritas's picture

Looks like you had a blast. "Selfie with bovines" -- love that title. Thanks for sharing.

zobel's picture

Looks the same as it did 32 years ago today when my wife and I had our wedding reception there. Yep its our anniversary today, so it was nice to see the place today. Thanks for the pics.

bronson's picture

your photos of the great outdoors, looks like you had a heap of fun :)

bronson's picture

your photos of the great outdoors, looks like you had a heap of fun :)

cel4145's picture

"In other words, really great sound is probably not in the cards for portable Bluetooth speakers; but reliably good performance with a variety of sources and in differing use environments is certainly within reach."

I did my own little test of <$150 range bluetooth speakers last fall, listening to half a dozen at home, and another dozen in stores in the where I could either pair the device with my phone or use the line in.

About half the way through the process, I realized was going about it wrong, trying to evaluate each speaker critically by standing right inf front of them. As you point out, they are meant to be used in a variety of environments, and in poor placement locations. Portable bluetooth speakers are meant for background music when the listener(s) are doing something else, not critical listening. We have headphones for that :)

oluv's picture

Interesting allegations about sound improvement of the Fugoo after the firmware update.

I also got a review unit recently with an older firmware. I did audio recordings as well as measurements with both the old firmware and then repeated everything with the recent firmware again.

Apart from a slight increase of overall loudness and also less distortion on top volume, I have not noticed any difference in sound. Neither from my audio recordings nor from the measurements. The Fugoo sounds still like it did before. It also measures quite well, with a bit of an upwards tilt towards treble, thus making the bass sound a bit conservatite although it reaches quite deep for a unit this size (down to 70Hz with still usable 60Hz).
Neither I noticed any loudness compensation, just bass reduction at higher levels. I did measurements at 45, 55, 65dB etc, and the curves are all parallel with bass reduction just starting to become visible in the 75dB measurement.

a comparison video which demonstrates the difference in loudness between old and new firmware:
http://youtu.be/VZZp40DtaRE

ibiza's picture

I work as a skipper at a boat charter business in Ibiza and I keep dropping expensive phones in the water. This year I've tried a couple of bluetooth devices (they also fall in the water) and they're awesome. I can even walk around the boat without fearing to drop the phone.

Downforce's picture

I purchased an open box FoxL Purist directly from Soundmatters for $119 (price is currently down to $99) based on a Stereophile review. Look for the outlet section under the "Shop" heading on their homepage, it is rather well hidden. Loved it and it sounded great for about 2 years, when it developed static and noise, even with no source plugged in via the 3.5mm input. The warranty for open box items is a brief 90 days. The battery life is claimed to be up to 12 hours, but mine never lasted that long. Also, while the power/charger and 3.5mm audio inputs are labeled, they look quite similar and are easy to confuse. Ensure you turn on the speaker (it lacks an Auto Off feature) and reduce the volume before connecting it, otherwise it will be very loud and could suffer damage.

kadege46's picture

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