Streaming and Bluetooth Speaker Measurement Beginnings

The Urge to Measure
I haz it. I just can't give up on the idea. If I'm going to review stuff I've simply got to have some sort of measurement. Maybe it's a disease, but I've got it.

I've got some Bluetooth and network streaming speakers in the house, and while I've got no problem figuring out which ones sound good to me, I can't help having this urge to measure them. I don't think anything particularly complicated is required; a simple frequency response measurement should do. I gave Ben Faber, CEO of Faber Acoustical, a call, told him what I wanted to do, and asked if I could play around with his iOS acoustic measurement software a bit. He pointed me toward Signal Scope Pro. It's a cool measurement app featuring FFT and 1/3 octave spectral display, oscilloscope, sound power meter, and signal generator, with numerous controls to set up each function. I leave you to explore the web site for full info on the app as I'm only using it in a fairly simple mode.

For these tests I simply attach either my Galaxy S3 or Apple MacBook to the speaker via Bluetooth, AirPlay, or whatever network streaming protocol the speaker normally uses, and then play a pink noise track. I then position my iPhone with Thumb Tack mic at the edge of my diningroom table one meter away from the streaming speaker which is position at the edge of another table to reduce any reflections, and take a measurement.

There are ways to take higher resolution measurements if I used the generator in the Faber Acoustical apps, which is synchronized with the analyzer in such a way as to produce rapid measurements without a lot of time averaging, but unfortunately it can't do it over Bluetooth, which is the most common way to communicate with this type of speaker. So, for the moment, I've opted for this simple method. Another cool thing about it is that I can go to a big-box store and measure the streaming speakers there with little trouble using this method. A good way to dig through a bunch of these gadgets quickly.

I know it's not earth-shaking news, but I took some measurements on a big handful of streaming speakers today in preparation for an upcoming review of the Creative Soundblaster Roar SR20, and thought you just might like to have a look.

JBL Flip ($99)
140327_Blog_BoomboxMeasurements_Graph_JBLFlip
140327_Blog_BoomboxMeasurements_Photo_JBLFlipDuring a little break in the action when I was at Harman last year learning about their headphone target curve research, I asked Sean Olive which of their Bluetooth speakers he liked. He pointed out the Flip saying it was pretty good for a hundred bucks. It's a little honky sounding, but much better than most other BT speakers the size of a Coke can. Not much bass though...as you'd expect from something this size.

UE Boom ($199)
140327_Blog_BoomboxMeasurements_Graph_UEBoom
140327_Blog_BoomboxMeasurements_Photo_UEBoomI really like the Boom and have reviewed it here. It's definitely more coherent and neutral sounding than the Flip. The measurements show it as a bit smoother in response, but in listening it seems like the difference is greater. I also hear the Boom as having less bass than the Flip, though the measurements show them as somewhat similar.

Creative Soundblaster Roar SR20 ($199)
140327_Blog_BoomboxMeasurements_Graph_SoundblasterRoarSR20
140327_Blog_BoomboxMeasurements_Photo_SoundblasterRoarSR20I definitely hear more bottom end in the Roar than the previous two, and while it doesn't sound honky like the Flip, it does sound more uneven and less coherent than the Boom. The measurement looks like it's got more deviation from flat than the Boom, but less variance than the Flip, so I guess there seems to be a moderate correlation so far. The strength of this little gadget is all the features, which makes it well worth while for some people despite its so-so sound quality. Review soon.

Soundcast Melody ($449)
140327_Blog_BoomboxMeasurements_Graph_SoundcastMelody 140327_Blog_BoomboxMeasurements_Photo_SoundcastMelodyI reviewed the Soundcast Melody earlier this year here. You can see some bass appearing with this somewhat larger boombox, and frequency response is fairly even relative to the previous units. I can also begin to see a trend with a slightly warm tilt on all the responses except the Flip so far. Not sure if this is from the speakers themselves or room reinforcement. I'll probably go out in the back yard and take a few measurements again just out of curiosity. If the room is adding some warmth, then measurements at stores might not translate directly. We'll see.

Cambridge Audio Minx Air 200 ($499)
140327_Blog_BoomboxMeasurements_Graph_CambridgeMixAir200 140327_Blog_BoomboxMeasurements_Photo_CambridgeMixAir200Getting up in cost now, and this baby's got much more bass umph than the previous units. Response is quite even and flat until about 10kHz. I mentioned this product in my Cambridge Audio CES 2014 spot here. It uses balanced mode radiator drivers. Very basically, a BMR driver acts just like a normal speaker at low frequencies, pistoning in and out, but higher frequencies excites modal vibrations annularly from the center of the driver. (For more info look here, then here.) The advantage of this type of driver is that it maintains a wider dispersion at high frequencies, and that, it seems to me, would be quite beneficial for a speaker that's intended to sit in one place a fill a room with sound. I did indeed hear better off-axis treble dispersion with this speaker and speech intelligibility was good any where in the room, but the treble as a whole both on and off axis was a little lifeless.

Bluesound Pulse ($699)
140327_Blog_BoomboxMeasurements_Graph_BluesoundPulse 140327_Blog_BoomboxMeasurements_Photo_BluesoundPulseIn terms of straight-up fidelity the Bluesound Pulse is my favorite of the bunch. I was quite surprised to see the tipped up treble of these measurements. I guess I hadn't noticed it before, but after seeing these plots I do hear the upper-treble as fairly pronounced with this speaker. The thing is, it's sort of intended to produce high quality background music for your home and I think adding a bit of high treble lets it have some air and sparkle even when less than optimally positioned in the room. I also would have though these had more bass from my listening. I've got a number of Bluesound products in the house right now, and boy, is this a cool system. Review soon.

Philips Fidelio Sound Spheres ($799)
140327_Blog_BoomboxMeasurements_Graph_PhilipsFidelioSoundSpheres 140327_Blog_BoomboxMeasurements_Photo_PhilipsFidelioSoundSpheresWow! The Philips Sound Spheres are cool! Wife acceptance factor is huge, and for an audiophile, these things really satisfy. Looks somewhat uneven in the plot, but to my ears they're pretty good. The amazing thing is the imaging: while the image isn't as pin-point specific as a really good system, the sense of space filling with these guys is amazing. The image is well behind the speakers and fills the space floor-to-ceiling, and spreads to just outside the speakers. Yes, they're expensive, but compared to the similarly priced B&W Zeppelin they do a MUCH better job of filling a room with music. A really cool speaker for the spaces in your home that don't have a big rig (AirPlay makes them useful primarily to those who are Mac/iTunes centric), these will get a review.

End Notes
Please let me know if there are any other products in this category you have an interest in, I'll try to get ahold of them for a listen. And I'd entertain the idea of higher resolution measurements of these products if you think it would actually be more useful...the subjectivist in me thinks "they're boomboxes, it's no big deal, you know which ones sound good", the objectivist in me says, "better measurements are better, silly boy." What do you think?

COMMENTS
Bill B's picture

Looking forward to hearing more, especially about the Bluesound system (especially their non-speaker components).

blueheronhollow's picture

I'd love to see a review of the Foxl DASH7, it gets great reviews elsewhere.

http://www.soundmatters.com/foxldash/

scotto541's picture

I really want to hear from Tyll on the FoxL v2, FoxLo, and FoxL Dash.

veggieboy2001's picture

although not on par with the big boys mentioned above, for the price (I think $99 right now) the Oontz XL (http://www.theoontz.com/oontzxl.php ) has a decent SQ...especially for the $$.

Limp's picture

One producer I've been looking at for a while is Geneva.
From a European perspective one of the most interesting aspects with them is that all of their models support DAB+. They also do FM and Apt-X BT, though sadly not Air-Play.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Keep 'em coming, I'm taking notes.

wnmnkh's picture

http://en.goldenears.net/GR_Speakers

 

both includes loud speaker and bluetooth speakers.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Man, they've got a nice set-up!

BobVA's picture

  Fox V2, with and without the Fox-LO subwoofer, would be interesting.

  If you've got time, a couple of inexpensive speakers would make a nice comparision, too.  Maybe something like the Radioshack Auvio PBT-200? I impulse-bought one on sale a couple of weeks ago and have been using it relentlessly for podcast listening. 

Bob

scotto541's picture

I thought the original foxL was the best sound quality one could get in a speaker that size. I'd live to hear what Tyll thinks!

TheFiftyShades's picture

You should also do a review of the bose soundlink III 

JRAudio's picture

Hi Tyll

Even that Faber SignalScope Pro is a very good software, the weak link in your setup is your Thump Tack Mic.

I am an audio engineer for more than 30 years (you can ask John Atkinson who I am), and have also a B&K / MLSSA measurement set for loudspeaker measurements (and audio precision for electrical measurements).

I also was looking for a very small and portable loudspeaker measurement system (when I am visiting customers) and ended up the Audio Tools from Studio Six Digital. The Signal Scope Pro from Faber is also very good, no doubt about it, but you should use a better microphone and for most, a better signal path for the microphone.

On the we site of S6D you will find (as you do find also partly at the Faber site) some useful informations about the weak point microphone in.

I have also tested the MicW mic (that is for itself really good), but if you are going with this signal into the microphone input of you iPhone, this will make your results very questionable.

I would recommend using the iTestMic. This mic has a build in AD converter and the signal goes into the iDevice digitally and very accurate. Furthermore, the calibration data of the microphone are in the iTestMic and that are read out when connecting to the iPhone. So you can make very accurate measurements with that.

I really would recommend the iTestMic.

Best Regards

Juergen

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I'll look into it.

DO you have any recommendations about the signal path to the DUT? It seems to me the best way is a wire to the Aux in, but sometimes that's not available. Will the S6D software allow sending the test signals through Bluetooth?  Assuming AptX, is that a good enough resolution signal for impulse response testing? 

JRAudio's picture

Hi Tyll

For sending the signal to the DUT, I use a 3.5 mm Stereo Cinch cable (for the smallest setup), but I have also the iAudioInterface 2 (and also Version 1), that allow me to send very accurate signals in balanced mode to the DUT.

But for your needs, feeding it through Bluetooth, I am not aware, that AudioTools can send the signals of the internal generator directly via bluetooth, but you can download their signals and use the regular iOS player via BT, Or you may ask Andrew Smith (S6D) if this is possible.

I highly recommend to you the Room Impulse Response (inApp purchase) of the AudioTools. Here you can download the different test signals, for example 7s sweep, that are then used for convolution / cross correlation and with that, you can do very exact measurements. This is, besides FFT (inApp), my most favorite app in Audio Tools, or transfer function. Not forget to mention the Impedance Plot (for passive speakers). Really nice software and very accurate and reliable.

PS: And with the limiations of AptX you get exact that, what the customers get, when they use this connection to the DUT. Good enough, for some of these speakers.

PPS: AudioTools is not a "toy". With a good and cetified measurement mic and iAudioInterface2 you can measure to ANSI and IEC Type 1 certification.

Good luck.

Juergen

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I'll get another mic and play around with both FaberAcoustical and S6D, and see what comes out of it.

aficionado's picture

Bose Soundlink 2,3 and Mini. These are supposed to be some of the best sounding Bluetooth speakers on the market.

ednaz's picture

My current favorite wireless setup is the Bass Egg - although I think measuring it would give you fits.  It sounds different on every surface.  My default setup when I travel is to put it on a wood-topped night table or chest, and open the drawer an inch or so... ported bass.  My wife likes hers on a glass topped table, which sounds a little brittle to me.

The Bass Egg has its own version of holographic sound, and I've found that I use it more and more, and my FoxL Dash7 less and less.

GNagus's picture

Ive heard the Bose Soundlink Mini on several occasions, each time outside of a retail location, and have come away impressed by its sound given its size. Im considering a purchase. 

The Brady Report's picture

Dupe.    Site freaked out

The Brady Report's picture

I have owned the JBL Flip, Monster HD and recently bought the Bose and it is amazing.    I will say that you can improve the sound of the unit with different placement .    I have a small garden window in the kitchen with wire shelves and when I'm doing the dishes, I put it on one of the shelves and the bass response goes up another level...  

Great sound and the battery life is fantastic.   It does require a wall wart charger so no USB mini/micro charging like you can get with some of the others.

On another note, I have owned AudioTools from Studio Six Digital for a while and LOVE it.   Great app - not a toy and JRAudio mentioned but a great tool.

jGray91's picture

So I suggest theses three Nokia Bluetooth speakers

http://www.amazon.com/Nokia-Play-Bluetooth-Speaker-Black/dp/B0074F5DMO

http://www.amazon.com/Nokia-MD-51W-Portable-Wireless-Speaker/dp/B00A7B0KO8

http://www.amazon.com/Nokia-MD-100W-PowerUp-Wireless-Charging/dp/B00A7B0JCQ

The Play 360 seems to be the best according to Amazon ratings, followed by the MD100W and lastly MD51W. Added benefit of the MD100W seems to be Qi wireless charging for supported phones. And bigger sound I assume.

OberoFortune's picture

Hey Tyell,

I came across these quite a while ago, but I haven't ventured to order them. I did read some excellent reviews for them, but the reviews were more focused on overall functionality as Bluetooth speakers not audio quality.

Here's the store page: http://store.mipow.com/us/headset-and-speaker.html

Thanks.

veggieboy2001's picture

...If there's aever anything I have that you're interested in measuring, I'd be happy to loan it out...split the shipping or whatever. (I've got the Oontz if you can't get one & are interested).

bogdanb's picture

jbl onbeat rumble

Philips Original Radio

McIntosh Mcaire Speaker Dock - is it really worth the money?

Yamaha Isx 800 Ipod Dock - Yamaha Txs 130 Ipod Dock

penger's picture

I'm curious about the Sony SRS X9. Haven't really found any reviews since it's been released.

headphonista's picture

Harman Kardon - Aura

Marshall - Stanmore

Bose - SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III

Bose - Soundlink Mini Speaker

Boston Acoustics - MC100

JBL - Pulse

JBL - Charge

Jawbone - Jambox

Jawbone - Mini Jambox

Jawbone - Big Jambox

Braven - 570

Braven - BRV-1

Logitech - UE Boombox

Logitech - Z600 Bluetooth Speakers

Sony - SRS-BTX500

G-Project - G-Boom

Grace Digital ECOXGEAR ECOXBT

Grace Digital - Bluetooth Speakers

Cambridge Soundworks - The OontZ

Cambridge Soundworks - The OontZ XL

Samsung - DA-E750

scotto541's picture

I had the original FoxL BT Speakers and I really loved them. I think you'd find them remarkable for their size. I'm super interested in the FoxL v2 to see if it's possible to improve on the sound quality at that size. I also am really interested theit portable subwoofer, the FoxLo. Maybe coupling the FoxLo with their new smaller FoxL Dash.

richard.38's picture

I have to say the the fidelo's are very goodlooking, and i believe you when they sound good. I bought the headphones from fidelo, though nobody had revieuwed them and also nobody made any ads for them, but the revieuws where good, bought them for 250 and a real nice sound, sturdy built, which i like and then i'm amazed that there's so little attention for philips.Everybody buys standard pioneers , and beyerdynamics, akg, but those philips headphones are great, offcourse again no extra earpads available. But measuring bluetooth, is as allways not done, without the right equipment , which i as engineer micro-electronics, but i had my studio-gear and dj-stuff, before the streaming upcoming. And whatever everybody says, wifi and bluetooth offcourse degrade your signal, just check with a cheap app and mic on an ipad, all the carrier frequencies .
In holland we now have the drone invasion ,but instead of the gear we use, they just use the wifi channels... But bluetooth has offcourse different protocols, depending on the usage, but like wifi, the radiation factor play a big role(depending also a lot on the quality of component used) and when streaming audio it get's chucked in piecies, encoded, put in a frame ,so you send a lot off overhead, which can cause delay, and it's nice for short , say a couples of meters, otherwise for sure the errors increase a lot, but the speed and quality of the receiver,and how good is the encoding processor, makes most of the quality, but you loose allways from a wire... Which the hifi companies finally admit with wifi and bluetooth, on the otherhand; Since it used with active crossover and amps close to the speaker, you gain quite a lot ,compared to passive crossovers. Quite amazing they still use passive ones, if you ask me. But measuring it ...if it sounds good....
Wifi degrades in the evening, just because way more persons in the neighberhood go online, besides the fact that i'm not at homo, so 2 computers also come online, offcourse you can amplify your signal ....yes it's forbidden, if you do it's to strong, too bad.

scotto541's picture

I've use a couple of FoxL products and found them to be superior for the size. I'd also like to see how they'd stand up to the Creative Sound Blaster Roar and Roar 2

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