By Jim Bray
Bluetooth speakers are everywhere these days, and with good reason. They offer wonderful portability and convenience, connecting you to your tunes regardless of where you are and, in many case, offering you wonderful sound quality under the circumstances.
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I've reviewed many such speakers over the years, from audiophile-quality versions (as much as Bluetooth can be audiophile quality) such as Bose's SoundLink Mini to solar powered units such as the Etón Rukus. Most have at the least been intriguing, and all have at the least been very convenient.
Into this fray come three new choices, one from the worldwide powerhouse LG of South Korea, and the other two from the U.S.-based DreamWave, a company of which many people may not have heard before. LG's is a very small unit that focuses on portability and convenience, while the DreamWave's two samples appear to focus more on portability, durability and flexibility.
None of the three gave me the audio "eargasm" of the Bose I still use as a reference unit, but all perform very well in their own right - and one of them may even point the way toward perpetual motion!
P5 aims for P1…
The LG is smaller than the Bose, and lighter, so it'll take up less room in your carry-on luggage, table or whatever. It's also smaller than either of the two models DreamWave sent. Smaller used to mean "not as good" when it came to sound quality, but this LG puts the lie to that with audio that's better than you might expect. It was certainly better than I expected.
The $149 (CAD) "Music Flow" P5 is a two channel unit, like so many of these speaker system, which means it has two channel stereo capability built in. That said, LG has designed the system so you can put two of them together to form a stereo pair and thereby maximize the two channel separation that's nearly nonexistent in a single unit because the speakers are so close together in their enclosure.
This isn't meant as a dig at LG, and it's no big deal. And having only a single P5 made for a more "apples to apples" comparison with the single units that DreamWave sent.
The LG weighs just over a pound, which makes it heavy compared to some of its competitors though quite light compared to the reference Bose (which feels like it has a slab of concrete inside it). It's just over two inches wide and deep and six inches wide, a minimal footprint that could come in handy.
Besides Bluetooth, you can also connect the P5 via an auxiliary input that gives you a wired connection. Why, when Bluetooth is so convenient? One reason is audio quality; Bluetooth, as mentioned above, isn't considered an audiophile interface and so (if you have a decent cable) you could achieve better sound using the wired connection. That's assuming you care.
I tried it both ways and the audio snob in me preferred the wired connection, but not enough that I'd drag an extra cable around with me.
As mentioned, the P5's real advantage is its size; I took it on the road with me in late October when I attended the Canadian Car of the Year TestFest, using it in my hotel room, and it was perfect in that application, sounding very nice at the low volumes required in such a venue.
LG claims 10 watts per channel for the four ohm P5, which might be anemic in a real home system but which works fine in this instance, driving the speaker to a sound pressure level (according to LG) of 82 decibels. Now that's what I'm talking about! That worked out well on our back deck, where the P5 gave us good quality streaming that would have been loud enough to annoy the neighbours had they shut off all their trucks, quads and other noisy stuff long enough to hear it.
LG also claims 15 hours of listening time on a charge, with 2.5 hours recharging time. Pairing to my Bluetooth devices was simple.
Riding the Wave…
DreamWave has a line of six portable speakers ranging from the $299 (USD) Tremor to the $40 (USD) Bubble Pod. According to their PR person, the speakers are "meant to last and provide the highest quality sound through parties, outdoor adventures, tailgates, and any other event you could think of that calls for music."
They sent me the second from the top Survivor ($280) and the "tied for second from the bottom" (via price) $150 Harmony (there's also a $150 "Explorer").
Let's start with the smaller Harmony. It's an interesting unit the maker says puts out 16 watts and plays "louder and longer" than its competition. It also will work with your phone to take calls hands free, pausing your music for the duration of the call and picking up again afterward. That's a handy touch I see more often with car Bluetooth systems. The Harmony is said to be meant for indoor use, but when I dared take it out to our deck the speaker police didn't show up to bust me.
It's a big of an odd-looking duck - but that "ugly duckling" of a cabinet turns into a beautiful swan when you fire it up. Bass output is good, and the overall performance was very musical.
The Harmony also has an auxiliary input jack, and like the LG and others in this class its buttons (power, volume up and down, Bluetooth) are mounted in a row along the top surface, where they're easy to get at and to read. Pairing is easy and so is the Harmony's operation.
Another nice touch is the Harmony's "rubberish" base, which not only protects the surface on which you mount it but which also can help prevent it from sliding around if you're playing tunes loud on a slippery surface such as the glass top of the table on our home's deck. The unit seems to be built very well, too, and it comes with a nice velvet carrying case.
The Harmony's larger size means it won't pack as compactly as the LG, but it's still pretty good. It measures about 2.5 inches high and deep, and just over nine inches wide. It does play louder than the LG, but in the venues I tried it the extra volume wasn't really important.
It could be important if you're using DreamWave's Survivor in its natural element, though. This is easily the biggest of the three and it's meant for those on the go - for example tailgate partiers, for which venues this just could be the perfect party speaker.
The "boombox-like" Survivor is positioned as "not just a Bluetooth speaker, but a potential lifeline," because besides its music playback ability (30 watts of power!) it also comes with a 400A emergency car battery jump starter cable the manufacturer says is powerful enough to start a seven litre V8 engine. Not only that, it features a 110 lumens LED flashlight with an "SOS flash" setting and a power bank you can use to charge mobile devices.
I chuckled when I saw the car jump-start stuff because it was something I never in a million years expected to find on a Bluetooth speaker! And when I thought about it I came to the conclusion that DreamWave may be onto a new energy source here: plug the Survivor into your car via its cigarette lighter adapter for power, attach its jumper cables onto your car and fire it up - and the loop you've formed may be the closest thing I've ever seen to perpetual motion!
Okay, I'm kidding - but it is a pretty neat example of flexibility.
The sound quality is, well, loud enough for tailgating or frightening away game when you're hunting (the latter of which may not be the best way to use it…). I don't think the audio quality is quite in the league of the Harmony or LG, but it certainly is good enough for its mandate. I wish it came with a little carrying case like the Harmony does, if only to hold its jumper cables and cigarette lighter adapter, but no one asked me.
It's also a little hard reaching the connections because they hide behind a panel on the unit's end; you have to pull it up to reveal the power, USB, jumper cable and auxiliary inputs. It isn't a big deal, however.
The cap at the other end holds giant sized controls for power, volume, Bluetooth - and the flashlight sits in the centre.
DreamWave says the Survivor is also Water/Dust/Sand/Snow resistant, which probably explains why the interfaces are hidden behind the removable panel.
Any of these Bluetooth speaker systems can do the job for you, depending on what your needs. The LG is the smallest, while the DreamWaves are the most flexible. All sound very good (LG and Harmony nearly a tie, with the Survivor a reasonably close third), and should serve their owners well.
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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