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Braven 855s Bluetooth speaker review: Water-resistant BT speaker packs a punch

The Braven 855s isn't cheap, but it's built like a brick (and weighs as much) and delivers decent sound.

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.

Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
4 min read

Truth be told, I've had a sample of Braven's 855s in the office for several months -- it came out in 2013 -- but I'm just getting around to reviewing it now.

Braven 855s
7.5

Braven 855s Bluetooth speaker

The Good

The Braven 855s is ruggedly built, water-resistant, and sounds good for a portable wireless Bluetooth speaker. You can also pair up two speakers to amplify the sound or create stereo right/left speakers.

The Bad

Expensive; a little bulky; can distort at higher volumes with certain tracks.

The Bottom Line

The Braven 855s is a bit overpriced, but it's built like a brick, delivers decent sound and has strong battery life.

The reason I've been tardy reviewing it isn't because I don't like it. I do. It's built like a brick (and at almost 4 pounds, it weighs almost as much as one), is water-resistant, delivers decent sound, and has strong battery life. It also has a built-in speakerphone and a USB charger to juice up your smartphone or tablet.

The only problem with it is its price. I was hoping that it would come down a bit, but it's pretty much hovered near its list price of $300. And with all the competition in this category, especially when you consider there are very good options out there for less than $200, it's hard for me to recommend the 855s enthusiastically.

But that doesn't mean I don't like it.

Braven 855s
The splash-proof 855s has a ruggedized finish that protects it from short falls. Sarah Tew/CNET

Design and Features

Currently, the 855s sits at the top of Braven line up of portable Bluetooth speakers. It's the weatherized version of the 850, which costs $20 less and offers similar performance.

Clearly, one of the 855s strong points is its build quality. As noted, feels very solid and has rubber covering on the top, bottom, and sides along with a removable rubber gasket that covers all the ports.

Underneath that gasket, you'll find the power connection, an auxiliary input for non Bluetooth devices, a battery life indicator, and a USB charging port for juicing up your cell phone or tablet. Wireless range is the standard 33 feet or 10 meters.

Beyond the USB charging port, the speaker does feature a few other extras. There's the aforementioned built-in speakerphone and AptX for devices that support it. AptX is supposed to make Bluetooth audio sound better, but it's really hard to tell if it actually makes a difference. For better or worse, since this is a larger portable speaker, you have to charge it using its own AC adapter not a Micro-USB cable.

Performance

The interesting thing I've found about the handful of Braven speakers I've reviewed (I wrote up the BRV-1 and have also been testing the new $200 BRV-X) is that they sound good in the grand scheme of Bluetooth speakers, but they have their flaws, particularly when you throw complicated music at them and raise the volume.

I'm pretty forgiving in my reviews of Bluetooth speakers because most of them are designed for more casual rather than critical listening. But when you get into the $300 range, I start being more critical.

The 855s sounds better than most of the very compact "mini" Bluetooth speakers. It plays loud, has some nice kick to its bass, and holds together pretty well at higher volumes so long as you don't feed it tracks that have a lot instruments playing at the same time.

For instance, it had some trouble with Pink Floyd's "Interstellar Overdrive," distorting badly at higher volumes. It's a hard track for smaller speakers to handle and while the 855s isn't a big speaker, it's fairly beefy for a portable Bluetooth speaker, and I expected a little more out of it.

Braven 855s
The speaker is equipped with a USB charging port. Sarah Tew/CNET

With other less demanding tracks it came across much better. Dave Matthews Band's "You & Me" and John Legend's "All of Me" sounded clean. Genesis' "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" had some decent kick to it. It does pretty well with techno and hip hop, though I think you'll find it sounds a little better outdoors than indoors (the BRV-X actually has separate indoor and outdoor modes).

It's worth mentioning that this is considered a stereo speaker but because the drivers are so close together you get little to no stereo separation. There is an option to wirelessly join two of these speakers together to form a left/right pair for true stereo sound, but I'm not sure how many people want to spend $600 to do that.

Braven 855s
Sarah Tew/CNET

As I said, the 855s does offer very good battery life -- a whopping 20 hours at moderate volume levels (mileage does vary according to volume level and you may be able to do even better than that). So you you should have plenty of battery to get through a day and even charge your phone in the process via the USB charging port.

Speakerphone performance was decent but not exceptional (it helps to stand within a few feet of the speaker rather than talk from the other side of the room).

Conclusion

In all, I liked this Braven and think it's a solid choice if you're looking for a little beefier, rugged portable wireless speaker that plays loud and features excellent battery life. That said, I prefer the $200 UE Boom because it's more compact and easier to tote around. I also like the TDK Life on Record A33 , which can be had online for around $150 and is a better overall value.

Braven 855s
7.5

Braven 855s Bluetooth speaker

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 7Value 6
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