It is my dream to one day have one of those truly awesome speaker systems that wirelessly plays music to any room in your house via the click of a button. I want it to not only be easy, but sound great, and be relatively unobtrusive (remember Joey’s TV that appears as if from nowhere? Yeah, I want my music to play like that). I have days’ worth of music on my computer (when I can get iTunes to work properly), and burning a bunch of mp3s to a disc and playing it in a single room just doesn’t cut it anymore.
My dream is not unachievable, but it’s one of those “down the line” things. It is a house project yet-to-come utilizing a technology that may not yet exist (there are certainly options, but who is to say if there won’t be a better one later). I have however found that there are a whole bunch of really good interim choices… choices that let me put off my impossible dream for years (decades?) to come.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but there’s this thing out there called Bluetooth. Your phone has it; your computer has it; heck, your car and your refrigerator just might have it. What Bluetooth does (just in case you’re unaware) is to connect electronic things to one another without wires.
It doesn’t always work brilliantly though, now does it? Sometimes it’s great, my Bluetooth mouse works like a dream and rarely needs new batteries. Other times it’s horrible, my home phone has a Bluetooth thing that connects to my cell, but when I take a cell call on the home phone it sounds like the person at the other end is a million miles away and underwater.
You may have figured out where I am headed here, but those good interim choices for music dispersal I spoke of earlier work via Bluetooth. You see, you can connect your computer in one room in your home to a Bluetooth speaker in another (if that other room isn’t too far away) and suddenly have a truly great method for hearing music… all your music, not just what will fit onto a single burned DVD (and for those of us who like Christmas music, that’s huge).
Recently I got the opportunity to look at two different JBL “ultra-portable” Bluetooth speakers, both of which are priced under $100. Even better, both options—the JBL Flip and the JBL Micro Wireless—are good options for those of us who like music and don’t have a ton to spend on listening to it but still want it to sound better than it does coming out of our computer.
First up, the Flip, which has a suggested retail price of $99. If you’re into the tech specs, I can tell you that the amplifier power is 2 x 5W, the frequency response is 150HZ – 20KHz, and the signal-to-noise ratio is >80dB. What most people will find more important though is the simple English statement that it sounds really good. At less than seven inches long and with a battery that charges in about three hours and that will last almost five, it truly is easily portable and can be run without the fear of instantly dying.
I, in fact, have plans to keep mine hidden on the fireplace mantle on Christmas morning and pump out five hours of Christmas tunes (before, you know, charging it and playing another 19 hours of songs). The sound from the Flip fills a good-sized room and the music is full and rich. It is a great to listen to with a truly impressive amount of sound coming from such a small device.
The Flip also has a microphone so you can hook it up to your phone and use it for phone calls. Here, much like my cell to home phone connection, the Flip really isn’t all that good. People I spoke to sounded somewhat murky and reported a slight echo on their end. I am not sure why Bluetooth phone calls have to be so difficult (cars seem to handle them relatively well), but apparently they are.
As for the JBL Micro Wireless, retailing for $59, the device, although also ultra-portable, has different strengths and weaknesses from the Flip. First off, the Micro is smaller and only contains a single driver as opposed to the Flip’s two. It still connects via Bluetooth, but it has no microphone so you can’t take calls on it… at least you can’t if you want to be able to speak to the other person.
The signal-to-noise and frequency response numbers are the same as the Flip, but the sound is simply not as rich and full. What the Micro Wireless can do that the Flip can’t is daisy chain – you can connect together (with cables) multiple Micro Wireless speakers to add to the sound. We didn’t have the opportunity to see just how this works and if two Micro Wireless devices together sound more similar to a Flip, but it’s an interesting question.
The Micro Wireless, it must be stated, does have one other problem. Inexplicably, it doesn’t come with an AC adapter. It does come with a cord that plugs into a USB port—or a USB charger if you have a few hundred extra from your iDevices lying around—but it seems wrong for any device requiring a charge (even if Amazon does it with their Kindles) to not have an AC adapter included.
There are, as you may be aware, other ways of getting music throughout your house wirelessly (Sonos), but all the ones I’ve found are more costly than a sub-$100 Bluetooth speaker. Bluetooth speakers can’t be daisy-chained via Bluetooth meaning I only get one wireless speaker pumping out tunes at a time, but the speakers we’re talking about here are small and far superior to the one on an iPhone/iPad. Plus, maybe the next iteration of Bluetooth will allow my computer to run to multiple speakers at once (a guy can dream can’t he). For now, I’m thrilled with the Flip and pleased with the Micro Wireless, and that’s enough.