Bluetooth speakers

Big Jambox is like the original, only bigger. And better.

Jawbone's original Jambox ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ) Bluetooth speaker is one of my favorite iOS accessories--it looks cool, it fits in your pocket, it connects simply, and it generates amazing sound for its size. But as Jawbone vice president Travis Bogard told me, "Sometimes, there are situations where you want more sound." That, said Bogard, is why the company made the Big Jambox.

At $299, the Big Jambox costs $100 more than its younger sibling; it measures 10 inches wide, 3.5 inches tall, and just over 3 inches deep, and it weighs 2.7 pounds. In other words, the Big in Big Jambox is relative--the speaker is big compared to the Jambox (6.0 by 2.2 by 1.6 inches and 1.5 pounds), but a far cry from huge. I can comfortably hold the Big Jambox in one hand to tote it around--though, as it lacks the thick, rubber padding of the original Jambox, I'm less likely to (literally) toss the Big Jambox into a bag.

You can pick one of three colors when purchasing a Big Jambox: There's black ("graphite hex"), white ("white wave"), and my favorite--and the version I tested--red ("red dot"). On top of the rectangular unit sit six buttons, each shaped to match its function: talk/Jambox (a circle with a J on it), play/pause (a play symbol), previous and next (left- and right-facing arrows, respectively) and volume down and up (minus and plus symbols, respectively). This range of controls is a decided improvement over the simple, three-button control scheme on the original Jambox.

The talk/Jambox button, as the slash indicates, does double duty. When you're paired with a phone over Bluetooth, holding down the button initiates voice dialing (or, in the case of an iPhone 4S, triggers Siri). A quick press of the button results in a spoken update on the Big Jambox's battery status.

On the right-hand end of the Big Jambox are a glowing Power button, a Bluetooth-pairing button, a 3.5mm (1/8 inch) stereo auxiliary-input jack (for connecting a wired audio source), a Micro USB port, and a jack for the included power adapter.The original Jambox used a sliding power switch; the new button works just as well--you hold it for a second or two to toggle power on and off--and the button glows to reflects charging and pairing status.

The dedicated Bluetooth button makes quick work of pairing the Big Jambox; I connected my iPhone, iPad, and Mac without difficulty. You can have two Bluetooth devices paired with the Big Jambox at one time, though only one can be actively connected and streaming audio. When you connect an audio source to the Big Jambox's auxiliary-input jack, that audio takes precedence over Bluetooth streaming, although you can still use the Big Jambox as a speakerphone.

The included power adapter is another change from the original Jambox: The original model charged only via USB. Much like Apple's iPad, though the Big Jambox can charge via USB, its bigger, beefier battery charges more quickly using its AC adapter. (Also like the latest iPad, the Big Jambox gets very warm--in a spot on the top left--during use.) Jawbone says that it should take 2.5 hours of power-adapter charging to juice up a fully drained Big Jambox, and that charge should offer 15 hours of playback time. In my testing, these seem to be reasonable estimates.

In addition to the power adapter, the Big Jambox includes a 3.5mm cable and a Micro-USB-to-USB cable. All three match your speaker's color. On the other hand, while the original Jambox shipped with a slim carrying pouch, a carrying case is a separate $49 purchase for the Big Jambox. That case is made of a cotton-weave fabric; I didn't have one to evaluate for this review.

When I reviewed the original Jambox, I marveled at the volume such a small speaker could generate. The airtight Big Jambox houses a pair of proprietary active drivers along with a passive bass radiator, and when it comes to audio, blows its predecessor out of the water. Compared to the basic Jambox, the new version can play much, much louder than the original, and produces audio with a well implemented balance between lows and highs. And while I was impressed by the original Jambox's bass, the Big Jambox really kicks out impressive low-end presence. In addition, at lower volumes the Big Jambox uses a loudness-compensation algorithm so that sounds we perceive as quieter, such as bass frequencies, sound relatively balanced. In my listening tests, this worked well.

The Big Jambox also incorporates Jawbone's LiveAudio software, which the company unveiled for the original Jambox back in August 2011. This audio plugin simulates three-dimensional sound, and it works noticeably better on the bigger speaker. It's still an effect that works best when you're positioned dead center in front of the speaker, but the sweet spot, if you will, is now much wider--the effect is obvious even if you walk around.

LiveAudio comes with a volume tradeoff, as you get the cool 3D effect at the expense of some loudness. But as you might guess, given that the Big Jambox can get so much louder than its predecessor, the downside isn't as significant here--you can still get plenty of volume in LiveAudio mode. As I wrote back in August, LiveAudio works great with some tracks. On those, you'll be amazed as instruments and vocals sound like they're coming from beside or even behind you. With other tracks, though, the effect is less pronounced, and with a few, LiveAudio makes songs sound bizarrely compressed. You can toggle the effect by holding down the both volume buttons simultaneously.

Like the smaller version, the Big Jambox can connect with Jawbone's MyTalk service, which lets you install other voices and apps onto the speaker.

If the Big Jambox has a weakness, it's how it functions as a speakerphone. In my testing, calls sounded a bit quieter than I expected--though certainly louder than the iPhone's speaker once you crank up the Big Jambox's volume. Folks on the other end of the line knew that I was using a speakerphone right away, and reported that I actually sounded a smidgen louder using the iPhone's built-in speakerphone. So the Jambox's speakerphone works acceptably, but it's not great.

Macworld's buying advice

If you're looking for a compact speaker system, my buying advice is pretty straightforward: Buy the Big Jambox. It's a great choice if you want a Bluetooth speaker, a portable speaker, a speaker with battery life that can last as long as your iPad and laptop combined, or a small speaker with killer sound.

(The Jambox will be available for pre-order on Jawbone's website beginning May 1. It will go on sale at the Apple Store, Best Buy, and select other retailers on May 15.)

This story, "Big Jambox is like the original, only bigger. And better." was originally published by MacCentral.

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