Our recent review of the Parrot Wireless Hi-Fi Speaker System was generally positive, but chided (among other things) the product's relatively high price and need for separate power cords for each of the two stereo speakers. Answering both those critiques is the Parrot Boombox, which retains the Bluetooth wireless streaming functionality, but offers a more compact single-enclosure design and a more modest price tag (under $250).
The Boombox is a single box--it resembles a beefy center-channel speaker in a surround system. Measuring 6.0 by 16.8 by 9 inches and weighing 13.2 pounds, the Boombox's design is sleek and simple and we particularly liked the nice black matte finish and how the fabric speaker grille adheres magnetically, making it easy to slip on and off. Contrary to its name, however, the Boombox isn't designed for mobile use because it has no battery-power option--it must be plugged into a wall outlet. (If you're looking for a truly portable wireless Bluetooth speaker, Parrot makes the $130 Parrot Party).
Pop off the aforementioned grille, and you'll find a centered 4-inch woofer flanked on each side by a 2-inch midrange/tweeter. They're powered by a built-in 60-watt digital 2.1-channel Class-D amplifier. But the key bullet point here is the built-in Bluetooth 2.0: it includes the two key Bluetooth components--EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) and A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile)--required for decent-sounding stereo audio. AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Profile) is also onboard, so compatible devices can control volume from afar, as well. It's also worth noting that the speakers' firmware is upgradeable (via the Bluetooth link from a PC).
Because Parrot utilized the Bluetooth standard (instead of some proprietary wireless format), the speakers should be able to stream from any Bluetooth audio source that includes the aforementioned A2DP profile. While that doesn't include every Bluetooth device--many older cell phones have only the lower fidelity software profile used for monaural headsets--it does encompass a large and ever-growing list of mobile devices. As of yet, the iPhone isn't on that list, but it may eventually get the A2DP profile via a future software upgrade. As for standard iPods, you'll need to purchase a separate Bluetooth/A2DP dongle. If you don't already have one (the snap-on transmitter of the Belkin TuneStage 2 worked perfectly, as do those included with some car stereo and wireless headphone iPod solutions), Parrot recommends Ten Technology's NaviPlay--either the standalone adapter or the one included with the NaviPlay Bluetooth headphone kit. (A complete list of compatible phones and dongles can be found on Parrot's Web site.) Bluetooth streaming from PCs or Macs is also supported (a USB Bluetooth dongle is included if your computer doesn't have built-in Bluetooth support). Non-Bluetooth products, meanwhile, can still be connected to the Parrot Boombox the old-fashioned way: each speaker includes a standard red and white stereo RCA input. Of course, if you're really going to use the wired connection, you should probably buy a cheaper set of speakers.
We tested the Boombox streaming music from a laptop PC and a relatively inexpensive Nokia 5300 XpressMusic phone, as well as the Sprint Mogul. We had good luck initially pairing both the phone and the PC to the speakers. The Boombox was "discovered" and we were able to link up with them by entering "0000" as the pairing code. We hit play on the music player and all of a sudden, the music was emanating from the speaker. After turning off Bluetooth on the Mogul for a day, reconnecting with the Boombox required going back into the settings menu on the phone and pairing the devices again. This may not be the case with all mobile phones, but our general experience with Bluetooth is that it tends to be finicky, so expect a little trial and error.
Once your phone (or iPod with dongle) is connected, your device essentially becomes a remote for the music, which is really nice--we were able to cycle through albums and artists from across the room. You can set the volume to a reasonably high level using the volume control, then ramp it up and down using the control on your phone. Within about 30 feet, we were able to get a clear signal, but as you move beyond that range, you will start to get some clipping and eventually the music will die entirely. Also, because Bluetooth relies on a degree of signal reflectivity, the range may actually be better in smaller rather than larger rooms.
Like with the step-up Bluetooth Hi-Fi system, we were generally impressed with the Boombox's sound. Overall, it's not as good as the Hi-Fi, which offers richer, more nuanced--and bigger--sound (it obviously helps that you can separate the speakers, which widens the soundstage). But the Boombox held its own and even surpassed many iPod speakers in its price range. It's worth noting that it helps if your phone or Bluetooth dongle is equipped with Bluetooth 2.0, which delivers improved bandwidth and doesn't compress your music as much. (When you stream via Bluetooth, your compressed MP3 music gets compressed even further, so something is lost in the process. In fact, the Boombox is good enough to accentuate the flaws in the music, which means your listening experience will vary according to the quality of your source material).
While lacking an external subwoofer, the speaker is relatively full sounding and is capable of playing pretty loudly. You get a reasonable amount of bass and solid midrange that does just fine with nondemanding tracks filled with vocals and acoustic guitars. Push the system with heavier bass and it starts to get a little muddy, but all in all the Boombox held together pretty well.
When we wired our iPod up to the speakers via the RCA jacks and listened to some lossless audio tracks, we found that the speakers measured up to the better iPod dock speaker systems we've tested (the Boombox is a good 25 percent larger than the more expensive Chestnut Hill George, for example, so it's not surprising that it can compete).
The sound quality wasn't quite as good with the Bluetooth streaming, but for a lot of folks, the wireless experience is going to seem just fine--certainly as good as a clear signal of analog FM radio. One note on the wired connections: somewhat annoyingly, there's no input toggle on the Boombox itself--you'll need to unpair your Bluetooth source before you can hear anything from the wired connection.
Like the Hi-Fi, the Parrot Boombox is a glimpse of the future of home audio. The idea of having a lot of music stored on your cell phone (or other Bluetooth-enabled portable audio device) and coming home to stream music to wireless speakers is both appealing and convenient. It'd be nice if Parrot would bundle a Bluetooth dongle for iPod use, but even so, the Boombox isn't a bad deal--it can even be found for as little as $200 online. If you're the cutting-edge, minimalist type who's a little ahead of the curve, the elegantly designed Parrot Bluetooth Boombox has much to offer.