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5 Bluetooth speakers: Make your music mobile

August 24, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Big Jambox

Jawbone
Dimensions: 10.0 x 3.1 x 3.6 in.
Weight: 2.7 lb.
Price: $299.99 (direct and retail)

Jawbone has made a name for itself as the manufacturer of stylish and good-quality audio products, including its Bluetooth headsets and its Jambox portable speaker. Recently, the company added a larger, higher-end version of the Jambox, which it calls, logically, the Big Jambox.

Bluetooth speakers
Big Jambox

The Big Jambox looks like a larger version of its Jambox speaker, and in many ways it is. Similarities between the two include not only a boxy, bright design, but the ability to act as a speakerphone and to be programmed in a variety of ways through the Jawbone website. The Big Jambox comes in three colors: Graphite Hex (black), White Wave and Red Dot.

And like its cousin, Big Jambox is portable -- well, somewhat. Unlike the Jambox, it is a bit too large for casual transport; it measures 10 x 3.1 x 3.6 in. and weighs 2.7 lb. -- fine for carrying around the house or to the backyard, but it's going to make a considerable dent in your backpack. For true mobility, if you're looking for a Jawbone speaker, you'll want to go with the original Jambox.

Raised controls on top of the device include talk (for the speakerphone), pause/play, go forward and back, and raise and lower the volume (via "+" and "-" signs). Other controls on one side include a power button, a button to pair the unit, a 3.5mm stereo input, the charging/power port (according to the company, you get about 15 hours of battery use on a charge) and a micro USB port.

This last allows you to connect the speaker to Jawbone's website, where you can add one of several apps and/or voices to the unit. For example, you have a choice of several voices (and "personalities") to announce when a call is coming in or when you are turning various features on and off; you can also install software that lets you voice dial.

Much of this is available on the original Jambox. What the Big Jambox adds is even better sound. I was extremely impressed with the audio; it was full, rich, and brought a real sense of immediacy to music that I didn't get with the other speakers reviewed here.

One of the ways that Jawbone enhances the sound is with a technology it calls LiveAudio. According to Jawbone, this processes the audio in a way that you hear sound on a wider platform; as though it is coming from beyond the speaker. When I heard it during a demonstration by a Jawbone representative, it was certainly impressive, and it worked well when I tried it at home -- for a limited number of recordings. Other times, I found that it deadened the vocals slightly, and I got better sound when I turned it off. (You can turn LiveAudio on and off by holding down the "+" and "-" keys simultaneously.)

Whether or not I used the LiveAudio technology, the sound was really impressive. It could hit high volumes without distortion, the bass levels were fine without overwhelming the rest of the sound -- in short, this is a great speaker.

Speakerphone

As a speakerphone, the Big Jambox came through with flying colors. When a colleague called my smartphone, the music was interrupted by a sound vaguely like a telephone ringer, and the unit's "voice" told me the number that was calling. I took the call by hitting the talk button on top of the unit. The voice quality on either end was at least as good as with some commercial speakerphones I've experienced. Neither of us had problems hearing the other, and there was no perceptible echo.

Bottom line

The Big Jambox is not an inexpensive speaker, to say the least. Its $300 pricetag is high compared to similar products -- and if the Jambox (which costs $100 less) is anything to go by, you can't expect the price to drop anytime in the near future. But if you want a speaker to carry around the house, yard or office, and price isn't an object, the Big Jambox is an excellent choice.

Conclusions

Two of the products here, the SoundFreaq Sound Kick and the Logitech Mini Boombox, cost the same, but are actually very different. The Sound Kick is the better speaker, offering a rich, full stereo sound in a sharp-looking case -- and, in fact, is the one I would recommend if you want fine audio at a reasonable price. The Mini Boombox doesn't have auditory quality of the Sound Kick, but it is more compact (and, as a result, easier to drop into your backpack) and includes the ability to act as a speakerphone, which the Sound Kick does not.

Of the others, I would recommend the Matrix One if you want a small mobile speaker to carry around with you -- it's very lightweight and compact, and offers good sound for the price. The Jam is heavier and doesn't have quite the same sound quality, but it is sturdy and the least expensive speaker in this roundup, and might do well for a child's room.

Finally, if you want a really good portable speaker to carry from room to room, and price isn't an object, check out the Jawbone Big Jambox. It's an impressive piece of technology.

is reviews editor at Computerworld. When she isn't either editing or reviewing, she blogs at The Interesting Bits ... and Bytes; you can also follow her on Twitter (@BarbaraKrasnoff).

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