Advantek Networks Wireless Bluetooth Speakers
Wireless is all the rage nowadays, and though it still leaves something to be desired in the audio fidelity arena, plenty of listeners are eager to cut the cords between themselves and their sound source. The best way to enable this while still keeping devices reasonably portable is with Bluetooth technology, and more specifically, stereo (A2DP) Bluetooth when it comes to music players. A growing number of headphones offer this capability, and so do a handful of portable speakers, including the subject of this review, Advantek Networks' Bluetooth Wireless Speakers (ABT-SPK-A8). These compact speakers retail for $99 and offer an impressively portable design and decent array of features, but usability quirks may turn off some prospective buyers.
The design of the Advantek Networks' speakers is sleek, compact, and unobtrusive. The unit measures 7.3x3.2x1.1 inches and is encased in muted silver plastic, with two speakers flanking either side of a simple control pad, which consists of volume, track shuttle, Play/Pause, and Call/Talk buttons. Between these keys are two sets of LEDs; one indicates Bluetooth status and the other represents power and battery life. Flip the speakers around and you're greeted with a power switch, a variety of ports (DC-in, mic-in, auxiliary line-in), and a retractable stand for supporting the unit in an upright position. There's also a slot where you can attach the included visor clip, which allows for hands-free speakerphone calls in the car--quite handy, no?
Unfortunately, setting up the Bluetooth Wireless Speakers is not quite as straightforward as its simplistic design suggests. For instance, I was easily able to pair it with a BlackBerry for calls, but couldn't for the life of me get the music-streaming feature to work, even though the smart phone is quite capable of A2DP Bluetooth transmission. Connecting the unit to the Insignia Bluetooth MP3 player proved to be an easier task, and I got music playing right away. The lesson: trust these speakers for either calls or music, but not both (at least, not from the same device).
Another odd--but not deal-breaking--quirk: the unit's volume controls don't work if you have an audio device (such as an MP3 player) plugged in via the auxiliary line input. This is expected for Play/Pause and track shuttle controls, but usually volume is independent and can always be controlled on the speakers themselves. Instead, you must adjust volume on the MP3 player.
Along with the ability to connect non-Bluetooth audio device via a cord, the Bluetooth Wireless Speakers offer a variety of other features. There's a built-in rechargeable battery rated for 10 hours, and an integrated mic lets you use the device as a speakerphone for your cell phone or for VoIP on your computer. You may also plug in an external mic, which would likely offer better quality. The speakers can also be connected to at least two devices at once, and music will automatically mute when a call comes in.
Audio quality for music is about what you would expect for speakers of this size: slightly cold-sounding and lacking in bass. But the Wireless Bluetooth Speakers do provide crystal clear playback, and they get very loud for their size. They're certainly worthy of your hotel room. Call quality, however, is pretty abysmal. My caller came through clear and sounded OK to me, if a bit echoey. However, she complained that she could barely hear me and also mentioned frequent dropouts, although the phone was right next to the speakers at the time. My conclusion: this unit makes a decent audio playback device for those who want something really small to use on the go, but as a speaker phone, it's not up to the task.