Dienstag, 16. September 2014

Review: JBL Charge 2 - the failed new benchmark!

I am actually quite surprised about the lack of rumors or reviews regarding the new JBL Charge 2.
The old JBL Charge was one of the most popular speakers with hundreds of reviews on from many enthusiastic owners claiming it to be the best portable speaker around. I personally found it pretty mediocre, sounding like a typical canny small speaker, with a strange boomy upper bass. Even the much smaller FoxL sounded more mature overall, although it was not able to reach the high volume of the JBL.
Instead of the JBL Charge, I would have probably even chosen the UE Boom, despite finding that one pretty average too.
But meanwhile the new JBL Charge 2 was announced or not really announced, as any "official" announcement is still missing, maybe they wanted to wait for the IFA. But the first units are already available on and, and I managed to grab one because I was really curious to see and hear if there are any improvements over the old model.

Dienstag, 9. September 2014

First impressions: JBL Charge 2 - the new king? of distortion!

After the announcement of the JBL Charge 2 and the Infinity One I asked Harman if they would send me review samples. They didn't but instead responded about the Infinity One to be not released in Europe at all, but rather be a U.S. only model. Strange decision, but as meanwhile at least the Charge 2 became available here, I simply ordered a white one to try it out and satisfy my curiosity.

All I can say: JBL should have sent it to more beta testers than they obviously did, because as it is now the Charge 2 seems unusable, at least for anyone who wants to listen to music, not noise!
Maybe my unit is defective, therefore I already ordered a replacement and will hopefully get this soon to have a direct comparison and be sure if not all of them are like that.

But judging the unit I currently own, which I assume to be alright, there seem to be considerable problems with either sound-processing, the amplifier or whatever. Apart from that, the sound is indeed great if not even best in class and a huge improvement over the old Charge, although not in all aspects. I will cover that more in detail with my final review. As for now I only want to demonstrate the problems my JBL Charge 2 unit suffers from.

As I sometimes like to listen to music at low levels depending on the situation and mood, I wanted to try out if the JBL Charge could deliver enough sound for my needs. The first thing I noticed was, that it didn't sound that overwhelming at low levels. The Charge has only 15 dedicated volume-steps, exactly like the Fugoo, volume control is synced on both the speaker and streaming device, at least with an iOS device. When controlling volume through the speaker, it seems as if there were 30 steps, but you can only hear a jump of volume every second step. Unforunately the speaker becomes too loud too quickly. Step 5 is already as loud as 50% on the Soundlink Mini. Nevertheless within the very first volume steps the sound remained a bit flat only to become more punchy at higher levels. Compared to a Sony SRS-X3 that I reviewed here, the Sony managed a much more profound sound down to lowest levels while the Charge 2 sounded more canny at comparable loud(soft)ness settings. But the more worrying fact was, that the sound became really strange at low levels. The bass sounded as if it couldn't come through and aside there was some distinct noise and interference artifacts, that I first thought to be the influcence of a mobile phone network, Wifi, or even Bluetooth. Later when I could narrow down the problem and try different solutions to solve it, I realized that it was not solvable. The artifacts which I thought to be interference were even present with the iPhone set to flightmode and with music playing through line-in.

The other problem I heard was some severe distortion on particular tracks that are mastered with a very high gain close to 0dB. Strong peaks like that from a bassdrum start to get a scratching sound. First I thought it to be a problem with the drivers, the passive radiators etc. But this distortion was noticeable at lower levels as well. I thought that because of the synced volume, the input gain through Bluetooth was maybe set too high causing this distortion. But when trying to listen through line-in while lowering volume on both speaker and player to prevent any clipping, funnily the distortion remained exaclty the same as if it was "baked" into the track directly, which of course is not the case, because any other speaker plays these tracks perfectly. To further test this issue I played some sine-sweeps and heard that particular frequencies or frequency changes seem to cause these artifacts. I guess the sound processor is responsible for that, as it maybe tries to process bass adequately, but fails, who knows!

You can hear or download quite an extreme example here. This is an MP3-file of a close mic recording from about 15cm with the JBL Charge playing at volume step 4/15. I switch over to the Fugoo 2 times in this file, and you can hear that beside all the grumbling background noise the JBL has also a much higher overall noise floor compared to the Fugoo. Both speakers were recorded in exactly the same way with the volume more or less matched, which was about half way on the Fugoo thus not that low anymore.

I also prepared a video which demonstrates the problems of the JBL Charge 2 with some selected tracks. To show how the music should sound in reality I also recorded the same with the Bose Soundlink Mini and the Fugoo using equivalent loudness settings and switching between the speakers.
My only hope is that my unit is indeed defective, otherwise the JBL Charge 2 would be a complete fail!

UPDATE: Meanwhile I was able to test another brand new unit, but also on YouTube several other owners confirmed the same issues with their JBL Charge 2. This would lead to the conclusion that indeed all units seem affected. I already contacted Harman on this problem and am curious to hear what they will answer and what kind of fix they might offer!

Montag, 8. September 2014

Test: Fugoo Bluetooth speaker - der aktive Lautsprecher für Aktive!

Ich habe nach einigem "Betteln" nun endlich direkt von Fugoo ein Testgerät zur Verfügung gestellt bekommen. Dass ich das Gerät nicht selbst gekauft habe, soll meine objektive Meinung dennoch nicht beeinflussen. Ich fand den Fugoo seit seiner Vorstellung bereits extrem interessant, bloß war er bisher auf dem europäischen Markt noch nicht erhältlich. Aber die Kombination aus Design, Features, extremer Robustheit und einem vermeintlich guten Klang, ließ den Lautsprecher beinahe perfekt für Outdooraktivitäten erscheinen. In der Zwischenzeit konnte man sich den Fugoo sogar direkt über nach Deutschland oder Österreich liefern lassen, aber die Gefahr war mir dann doch zu gross, ob ich damit überhaupt zufrieden sein würde, ob mir der Klang gefallen würde, ob er laut genug sein würde etc. Eine Rücksendung wäre wohl dementsprechend teuer geworden. Mittlerweile ist er aber sogar schon auf zur Vorbestellung gelistet, wobei nur noch die eigentliche Verfügbarkeit offen ist.
Die meisten Testberichte zum Fugoo sind zwar positiv, aber es gibt immer wieder extrem negative Bewertungen, die dem Lautsprecher zu wenig Lautstärke nachsagen. Andererseits gibt es auch genügend Testberichte zu Geräten, die im Grunde für die Tonne sind, und trotzdem sich die Leute begeistert darüber auslassen, wie phänomenal dieser Lautsprecher um 20 Euro doch sei, und was für ein "Klangwunder". Somit blieb mir nichts anderes übrig, als den Fugoo selbst auszuprobieren, um mich von seinen Qualitäten zu überzeugen.

Donnerstag, 28. August 2014

First impressions - Fugoo Bluetooth speaker!

I just received the Fugoo speaker yesterday so my own review will be coming up soon. Unfortunately it is going to be in German this time, sorry folks, but there are already some great and detailed reviews of the Fugoo in English, like that from Gadgetmac, Mashable by Brent Butterworth, Tom's Guide etc. but Fugoo is currently starting to offer their speaker in Germany for the first time, though any German review is still missing, so I will hopefully be the first one to close this gap!

As you can see my son is already pretty excited about this new toy. He even managed to drop it once, but  there is no need to become worried, as the speaker is extremly rugged and well protected inside the "Sport"-jacket. I also received a "Tough"-jacket which looks like a tank. Of course I will test this too, although I am a bit afraid of my floor getting damaged if my son manages to drop it again inside this one.

My first impressions are very positive indeed. Although I immediately became annoyed by the much too loud voice-prompts, you can deactivate them completely with some button presses. There are lots of different combinations to enable different modes, you probably have to learn them by heart, but the Fugoo can do lots of things, the limiting fact is that it has only 3 main buttons and the power-button, so look forward to some finger-acrobatics.

The sound is pretty smooth. It is by far not as heavy as on the Bose Soundlink Mini, but the Fugoo sounds more natural with very clear mids and perfectly tuned treble. There is plenty of bass, reaching quite deep, it is not as boosted as on the Bose, but the Fugoo nevertheless never sounds anemic. You really get a sense of punch and there is "real" bass, unlike most other portable speakers I have tried, including the JBL Charge, UE Boom etc. I think the Fugoo can compete pretty well with bigger speakers as well, becaues when I directly switched between the Fugoo and the Soundblaster Roar, I preferred the much more open and less boomy sound of the Fugoo, without that much upper bass, but with more low bass instead compared to the Roar.
As the Fugoo is nearly omnidirectional you don't need to care about placing or aiming it at you. It sounds just good, wherever you put it, even on the floor from above it sounds gerat, regardless if you are listening from behind or from the front, as it has all drivers spread to all sides.
Volume control is synced with the player, which is great because you can also control start/stop and track skipping directly from the speaker, if you intend to use it mounted on your bike with your phone hidden somewhere in your pocket for example.
The only thing I noticed is that maximum volume might be a bit low for some. Currently it is by far not as loud as the Bose Soundlink Mini for example, but I still have an older Firmware (01.00.14) installed, so I will hopefully be able to compare it with the latest 01.00.46 firmware which is claimed to improve sound quality and overall loudness! I will try to prepare some comparison videos as well as detailed frequency response measurements. Of course there will be also a comparison to the Soundlink Mini, and maybe the UE Boom, but after having listened to to the Fugoo for some minutes only, I can already claim by now that the Fugoo is just a class above the UE Boom with a much more mature sound, while the UE Boom can play considerably louder, but just sounds like a tin-can speaker, not a grown up system!

Please be patient and give me some time to prepare everything!

Mittwoch, 13. August 2014

Review: Soundfreaq Pocket Kick - more style than substance?

There are so many portable Bluetooth speakers on the market right now, that it is really hard to follow all of them. Apart from the big boys like JBL, Sony, Bose, etc. I sometimes ask myself if I might be missing something not trying out some of the cheaper ones, most of them being no-name brands designed and built somewhere in Asia.
What is still missing though is a really pocketable speaker with good sound. With "good" sound I mean something really outstanding that manges to wipe the floor with all other offerings. Similar to what Bose did in the Jambox-class when they announced the Soundlink Mini, just smaller and more pocketable.

Dienstag, 12. August 2014

Infinity One - the better Pill XL?

Harman Kardon which meanwhile owns some known audio brands like AKG, JBL, Lexicon, Mark Levinson and Revel will now also launch new products for their Infinity brand, one of them being the Infinity One Bluetooth speaker.

JBL Charge 2 out now!

JBL already offers the new Charge 2 speaker without making a song and dance about it.
It is not yet available in any other stores except JBL's own online store and Crutchfield. There's no known availabilty for Europe either...

The new Charge 2 has dual passive radiators to the sides, and it seems it has dual drivers facing to both the front and back of the speaker making it nearly omnidirectional. The bass-response is claimed to be 75Hz, which is quite a gain over the 150Hz of the original JBL Charge speaker.

Now this could finally be the real contender for Bose's Soundlink Mini, with more features, better outdoor usability and hopefully better sound too? The old one was rather a bad joke to tell the truth.

Sonntag, 10. August 2014

Review: AudioXperts EVA BLU - the portable Bluetooth speaker with wooden flavor

I am going to review a speaker which probably most of you will never be able to buy or even hear in person because AudioXperts as a company doesn't exist anymore! The EVA BLU was originally announced to cost 399$, but now there only seem to be some units left for the German market, with some dealers even offering prices below 200€, so hurry if you still want to get one or just read my own impression if it is worth at all.

Samstag, 2. August 2014

Measuring speakers, a first apporach

I hope there are some readers out there who appreciate my work of doing speaker reviews and comparisons. I am not really sure, because the comment sections remain mostly silent, therefore it is not easy for me to judge if I should evolve my reviews even further, or if it would be just wasted effort.

Experiencing "sound" is mostly a matter of subjective and personal taste. Describing sound to someone else is even harder, espcially for me being a non-native speaker.
Therefore I introduced my first comparison videos 1 year ago, which were still very clumsy and not recorded that well. But I continued to improve the recordings as well as optimize my whole recording setup. My idea was that two or more speakers could be compared pretty well to each other by just listening to them, without having to write a single word. When hearing two speakers on your own and noticing the change in sound when one switches over to the next one, this would be the most objective sound comparison I can provide. Of course everyone listens with different speakers, or different headphones, so everyone will be hearing something else, but the relative difference between two speakers will always remain the same. I also doubt that my recording microphone is as linear calibrated as it is claimed to be, thus there will always be some deviation from the pure original sound already starting with the microphone. But as long as both speakers are recorded in the same way, with the same microphone etc. they should still be comparable pretty well.

Dienstag, 29. Juli 2014

Review: Jawbone Mini Jambox - the better Jambox?

We all know that the Jambox is just a piece of overpriced garbage... well the truth is, the original Jambox was nevertheless something like a game-changer for the whole portable speaker market.
Up to then all portable speakers were either small and sounded tinny, or they were too large to really be called "portable".