Cavalier Audio Maverick Smart Speaker with Alexa review: The Amazon Tap is dead, but here's a fancy schmancy alternative
The battery-powered Amazon Tap was always the odd speaker out in Amazon's family of Alexa devices. It didn't have "Echo" in the name, it didn't feature that familiar blue ring of light and, at launch at least, you had to push a button to get Alexa's attention. A software update that added voice activation functionality helped improve the pitch, but by then it was too late for the Tap to catch on. Ultimately, Amazon discontinued the thing.
Still, I always liked the Tap's design -- particularly the battery-powered portability and no-fuss charging cradle. Apparently I wasn't alone, as a number of third-party manufacturers with Alexa speakers of their own have taken that same approach for themselves. The result: third-party Tap alternatives like the Fabriq Chorus -- and now, a new premium option from Cavalier Audio named the Maverick.
How premium? Well, the Maverick costs $250, which is about twice as expensive as the Tap ever was. For the same pile of cash, you could get two Echo speakers and an Echo Dot, or, if you prefer the battery-powered approach, two and a half of those Fabriq Chorus speakers, which offer the same essential set of features and Alexa controls.
Then again, the 20W speaker in the Maverick is a significant step up from the 8W speaker in the Chorus, and the Maverick promises an extra 3 hours of battery life, too. On top of that, the leathery, steel-accented design looks appropriately high-end, and even features a touch sensitive volume dial on top that can do things that you can't do with the Chorus, or, for that matter, with the Tap.
Does that make this thing worth $250? For most everyone, the answer is obviously no, especially given the glut of decent smart speaker options already available for less. But if you like Alexa, you value the Tap's battery-powered portability and, most importantly, you're willing to splurge on a premium, show-offy design -- then the Maverick might merit consideration. Let's run through the reasons why, as well as the less expensive alternatives you really ought to consider first:
Alexa dressed to the nines
If you have many leather-bound books and your apartment smells of rich mahogany, then the Cavalier Maverick might be for you. Available in grey and black or blue and brown, and sporting a classic cool aesthetic that feels like it was yanked right out of the early 70s, you'll want to tell everyone to come see how good your smart speaker looks.
That said, some were less impressed than I was. "It looks like luggage," muttered CNET's taciturn technical editor Chance Lane. As for me, I wish my luggage looked this good. My only complaint? I'm not crazy about the conspicuous "Cavalier" branding on the front of the device.
That said, I'm definitely a fan of the volume dial on top of the device. Along with giving the speaker a more premium feel than buttons would, the knob itself is touch sensitive. You can tap once to play or pause, tap twice to skip ahead a track or tap three times to skip back a track. Want to activate Alexa while the music is blaring and a voice command might not register? Just tap and hold.
This is where I'll note that none of Amazon's Echo speakers offer physical button or touch controls for skipping tracks. Instead, you have to skip tracks using voice commands only. That gets annoying fast if you want to jump, say, five tracks ahead in your playlist (and no, saying, "Alexa, skip ahead five tracks" doesn't work).
Speaking of Alexa, syncing everything up with Amazon is a cinch, but you'll need to do so using Cavalier's app (just connect to the speaker's Wi-Fi signal, then give the app your Amazon login info to connect with Alexa). I'd like it better if you could just setup and control third-party Alexa speakers like these direct from Amazon's Alexa app, but it doesn't sound like that's happening anytime soon.
Once your Maverick is connected with Amazon, you'll be able to use it like any other Alexa speaker. Say "Alexa," and the battery and volume indicator lights on the front of the device will turn blue to tell you that she's listening for your command. Press the mute button in back, and those lights will go red, letting you know that Alexa isn't listening for the wake word.
In my tests, the Maverick worked perfectly as a fully-functional Alexa speaker. I noticed a very, very slight amount of extra lag between the wake word and the thing lighting up, but not enough to be annoying or off-putting. It did a decent job of hearing me at moderate distances, though like most Alexa and Google Assistant devices, it struggled a bit to hear the wake word when things were cranked all of the way up. And hey, speaking of which...
Crank that clean, crisp audio
I'll admit that we don't have a professional setup for testing sound quality on anything more than an anecdotal level (and I'm actually deaf in one ear, so take my recommendation for what it's worth). Still, to my ear (the one that works), this thing sounds terrific.
For my purposes, I played a variety of different types of music and audio on the Maverick in a variety of settings, and I really didn't notice any weak spots. In one instance, I sat it down next to a full-size, first-gen Amazon Echo and let them take turns streaming a playlist of remastered classic rock tracks at full blast. With each one, the Maverick sounded clearer, fuller and more powerful to me -- and I heard less distortion than with the Echo, too.
In fairness, the difference was more incremental than night-and-day, but it was still impressive to see a battery-powered speaker outperform a full-size, hardwired alternative like the Echo. Neither the Tap nor the Chorus could claim that, and with a total of 9 hours of battery life, the Maverick promises to last longer than either of those, too. When the battery's low, just nestle it back into the base for a recharge.
Still, if you're just looking to splurge on a truly significant uptick in sound quality, then you're better off getting something like the Sonos One for Alexa or the Google Home Max for Google Assistant. Along with those two, you should also take a look at the entire Echo lineup before pulling the trigger on the Maverick, because all of those speakers cost less. With the demise of the Tap, there isn't a battery-powered option anymore, but you could always pop a cheap, second-gen Echo Dot into a nice battery base like the Vaux from Ninety7. Doing so would currently cost you a grand total of about $55, though it wouldn't look or sound quite as classy as the Maverick.
Is Cavalier's Alexa speaker worth $200 more than that Dot and Vaux setup that does the same thing? It depends on how much you value design and sound quality. Those are the two big upgrades here, along with some nice extra functionality from those touch controls.
And, for what it's worth, all of it tested well. I wouldn't enjoy spending $250 on this thing, but I'd sure enjoy having one. Put simply, it's an excellent third-party Alexa speaker.
Still, there are just too many decent alternatives that cost less. You don't need to spend this much to get Alexa into your home, be it by speaker, by smart display, or by lamp, light switch or any other of the countless gadgets in which Amazon's assistant has found a home of her own. Unless you love the look of this thing and can't live without it, save your cash for a smarter splurge.