Took a day off today and spent some time researching bluetooth hi-fi, and I’ve got one big question that begs an answer: Why is one tiny little bluetooth speaker more expensive than a high-quality 2.1 speaker system coupled with a high-quality bluetooth receiver? This makes absolutely no sense to me, no matter how I look at it.
Let’s take an example. If you search for popular bluetooth speakers that have reasonable sound quality, you’ll stumble across many reviews of either the Bose Soundlink II (from $299) or the so-called Jawbone BIG Jambox ($295). They generally get very positive reviews and are praised for their high quality sound for their small sizes. Let’s be clear about that, btw: these speakers are tiny. Maybe I’m getting old, but when I was in my 20′s, you’d have a hard time finding any stereo system where one of the speakers were as small as a “BIG” Jambox or a Bose Soundlink.
Now, for significantly less money than one of these tiny bluetooth speakers, you could get a high-quality 2.1 speaker system with built-in amp (e.g. the very powerful, though admittedly not so sleek Pioneer system priced at $145) and then plug in a small bluetooth receiver — the uPlay Puck is supposedly a great one (£60), but there are cheaper ones for around $30 too. You now have a bluetooth speaker system for roughly $200 that will sound significantly better than any $300 all-in-one bluetooth speaker currently on the market.
I tried both the BIG Jambox and the Soundlink II today and the sound was admittedly impressive given the size of the speakers, but these speakers just can’t compare even with an old Creative 2.1 computer speaker system I bought some ten years ago for around $75!
So why are these tiny (and tinny) bluetooth speakers so incredibly expensive for what they are? Is portability really that important to people? Or is it just the relative novelty of this all-in-one speaker form factor that makes people want to pay a premium for being able to carry the speaker around and to bring it with them on vacations? Don’t get me wrong — I too like the idea portability, but to a slightly lesser extent. I would like the ability to move the speaker between e.g. the bedroom and kitchen, and maybe even the patio on a hot summer day. But there are limits to how much I’m willing to sacrifice audio quality, and besides, I would have no problem carrying the speaker around even if it were 5x as heavy as one of these tiny speakers.
My specific needs would be something equally self-contained and simple as the Bose Soundlink II (meaning one single unit) but with significantly larger speakers built in. Something like a 4-5 kg heavy unit that I could still carry around from room to room but without the big sacrifice in sound quality. Battery would definitely be a bonus, but not a hard requirement. And please, no AirPlay or other nasty proprietary solutions — I’m perfectly happy with bluetooth as long as it has that 3.5mm input jack for those moments when I feel pickier about my fidelity. It should definitely support the apt-X protocol over bluetooth though — this was another thing I learned today: there are different types of bluetooth audio codecs and apt-X is much closer to CD quality, but is unfortunately still pretty rare in dedicated bluetooth speakers (neither the BIG Jambox nor the Bose Soundlink II has support for it, for example).
So basically, take a 2.1 sound system and a little bluetooth receiver and a little battery and put it all in one beautiful case. But here’s the catch: it shouldn’t cost much more than its tinier siblings, because frankly, the technology exists already and is, as I’ve already demonstrated, very inexpensive.
Is this all too much to ask for? Has anyone else gone through the same research and had the same questions as I have here? Is there a compromise out there that doesn’t come with pointless AirPlay support and proprietary iDevice docks that I’d never use? Are there any sound systems with bluetooth support that are reasonably portable but still prioritize sound quality and don’t cost a fortune? I’m not asking for a system that would rival my home cinema — just something that sounds good and is fairly portable (in the 1980′s sense). If you have any advice, please leave a comment in the comments section of this post!