When Bluetooth speakers bank on features

With so many premium portable Bluetooth speakers offering good design, good audio and loud playback, companies have turned to unique functionality to stand out in the crowd.

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The chameleonlike Fugoo speaker can change its skin to trade style for strength

What was once the province of the boombox has become a booming glut of boxes that support Bluetooth for playback of tunes from your smartphone. Suffice it to say that Amazon lists over 33,000 items under the category "Bluetooth speakers" as a subset of cell phone accessories, with prices ranging from $5 to $600 (nice going, Bose).

With such a flood of products in the market, it's obviously tough to rise above the tide. You'll have no problem finding speakers that sound great, fit your budget or have a design that speaks to you. Even water-resistant speakers have grown plentiful. But there are a few products out there that have a few tricks up their sleeve if you're looking for something off the beaten Bluetooth path.

An issue for most portable Bluetooth speakers is that, despite their size and sometimes relatively high volume capabilities, they can't produce a great separation effect because the left and right speakers are relatively close together. The Bem Wireless Trio works around this by allowing the left and right speakers to be separated from the base and operate wirelessly using its own wireless frequency from up to 115 feet apart. Some competitive higher-end Bluetooth speakers, however, can operate as a pair that play the left or right stereo channel.

Korus M20. Korus has previously focused more on premium speakers that take a decent chunk of shelf space, but its vertical M20 is a tiny tower that takes it into the realm of portable Bluetooth speakers. The M20 leads a double life, however. Like its bigger siblings, it supports Skaa, a radio technology optimized for wireless audio. Thus, you can create the portable equivalent of a mini-Sonos system. However, no phones have Skaa built in, so to transmit info to the M20, you'll need an adapter for a smartphone or PC to tap into locally stored or streaming music.

Fugoo. The Fugoo Bluetooth speaker offers several great features, such as up to 40 hours of battery life at 50 percent volume, 360-degree sound and dynamic equalization. However, one of the more unique differentiators is availability of different jackets that can be placed over its internal audio core. More than just colored faceplates, the jackets offer significantly different looks for the speaker, including an unassuming "style" white for the porch, a $39 "sport" black exterior with turquoise trim that matches a variety of mounts and a $49 "tough" jacket made of aluminum and fiber-reinforced resin. The Fugoo can also be purchased with any of its jackets.

IK Multimedia iLoud. The "Musicians first" company has created a diverse mix of music products that range from amp-mimicking iPad apps to portable MIDI keyboards. The iLoud is the portable speaker that Marshall should have produced (instead of the one it did). it supports Bluetooth but also allows you to plug in an XLR cable to use as an amp in a pinch. The only thing missing is a volume knob that goes to 11.

Bayan Soundbook. The Beatles showed us Yanks that musical goodness can come at us from across the pond. Like many Bluetooth speaker brands, the Soundbook comes in several sizes, including the larger X3 and the smaller GO. One thing that the models have in common is a smart-cover that, like the Apple version, turns off the speaker when it's closed and turns it on when it's opened and serving as a base below the speaker. It's an extra bit of protection for the speaker grille and for the speaker's battery life.

 

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