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Deck by Sol Republic portable Bluetooth speaker review: Slim size, big sound

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It took a while for me to figure out what the new Deck Bluetooth speaker from Sol Republic and Motorola reminded me of. Then it hit me: my old clamshell carrying case for the Sony PSP.

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7.7

Deck by Sol Republic portable Bluetooth speaker

Pricing Not Available

The Good

The <b>Deck by Sol Republic</b> speaker's slimness makes it easy to slip into a bag for on-the-go use. It offers big sound for its size, has a "multiuser" Heist mode, NFC tap-to-pair support, and a built-in speakerphone, and comes with a simple but nice carrying case. It can also stream audio from up to 300 feet away from your device -- much farther than other Bluetooth speakers.

The Bad

Should cost about $50 less.

The Bottom Line

While it's priced about $50 too high, the Deck by Sol Republic is an appealing portable wireless speaker that delivers decent sound, a good feature set, and superb wireless range.

Indeed, it's the same shape as the PSP and Vita, but beyond the portable-game-console similarities, its relatively flat design invokes a sportier, hipper version of the office speakerphone. The idea behind that design is that since it's so slim, the Deck slips easily into a bag, making it easy to take with you wherever you go.

I liked how it looked and it's pretty lightweight, weighing only 11.5 ounces. If yellow (aka "lemon lime" isn't your color, it also comes in red, blue, or simple black.

There are volume controls on the top of the speaker, as well a multifunction button with the Motorola label on it that pauses and plays your music, answers calls in speakerphone mode -- yes, there's an integrated microphone -- and also skips tracks forward and back. (That speakerphone performed well: callers said I sounded loud and clear on their end.)

The Deck fires upward and has a special boost mode for outdoor use. Sarah Tew/CNET

Feature-packed
The Deck does have a few notable extra features. Like the Jawbone Jambox, it has voice prompts to let you know your device is paired and how full the battery is. And for those who have NFC-enabled devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Moto X that this speaker was launched with (Sol Republic and Motorola have announced a new accessories partnership that also includes headphones), you can tap the speaker with your device to pair them.

More interesting is the Heist mode. After you flip a little switch on the side of the speaker, shifting from single-user mode to multiuser mode, you and your friends can pair up to five devices with the Deck, each of which is assigned a different color LED. You can stream music from only one device at a time, but if you hit play on a second device that's connected, the Sol logo on the top of the speaker changes color, and that device takes over the music playback. Thus, the name Heist.

You flip a switch on the back to go into Heist mode. Also: the bottom of the speaker is rubberized to keep it from moving around while playing music (click on image to enlarge). Sarah Tew/CNET

The other feature worth mentioning is that the speaker has both an audio input and audio output, so you can connect an audio device that isn't Bluetooth-enabled or daisy-chain multiple Decks together to get bigger sound. You could also connect the speaker to a home stereo system using the audio output jack (separate cable required) and use it as a Bluetooth receiver. However, you can't combine two Decks wirelessly and have one be the left speaker and one be the right for true stereo sound.

One of the impressive things about the speaker is that it boasts much better range than your typical Bluetooth speaker. Sol Republic says it has a range of 300 feet, which is 10 times the 30-foot range that most Bluetooth speakers offer. I didn't trot off 300 feet, but I did set the speaker down on one side of our office and walk as far as I could to the other side of the office (it's probably a good 200 feet) and the sound didn't lapse. The Deck had the best range of any Bluetooth speaker I've tested so far.

Battery life is rated at 10 hours, which is fairly decent. At more moderate volume levels, you should be able to get through the day (by day I mean daylight hours).

The speaker's bass port (click on image to enlarge). Sarah Tew/CNET

Decent sound
So how's it sound? Pretty good, though not $200 good. Since the speaker is designed first and foremost to sit on a flat surface and fire upward, it's not surprising that it's being billed as delivering 360-degree sound. But the so-called surround effect does have its limitations and you do have to experiment a little with placement to optimize the sound quality.

For a small speaker, it does play fairly loud, and can fill a small room with sound. It also has an outdoor mode that boosts the sound and changes the sound stage a bit to make the speaker better for outdoor listening. I've listened to a lot of these little speakers and my experience with the Deck was that it felt like it was right at the edge of sounding decent but didn't always get there; you might listen to one track and think it sounded good and then you'd listen to another and wouldn't be so sure. It lacks dynamic range so it just doesn't come off sounding all that full or detailed.

The Deck ships with a nice, form-fitting protective carrying case. Sarah Tew/CNET

That said, for its size, the sound quality slightly exceeded my expectations. I don't expect all that much from these tiny speakers so if they sound OK, that's good. The only problem is when you're paying $200 for a speaker, you start to expect a little more and there are also some strong competitors.

For instance, I compared the Deck with the UE Boom and Bose SoundLink Mini. Both those models deliver bigger, fuller sound, with more bass. However, they do weigh more, and aren't quite as compact.

The Deck comes in four colors (click on image to enlarge). David Carnoy/CNET

Conclusion
Companies send me a lot of Bluetooth speakers to review and some are obviously better than others. I get to test these products without plunking down my hard-earned cash for them, but I like to ask myself whether I would buy the product for what its priced at. After all, that's really the bottom line.

In the case of the Deck by Sol Republic, I can't say I'm really itching to go out and buy this thing for $200. In terms of performance, it just doesn't measure up to other $200 speakers and really sounds like a speaker that costs closer to $100.

But don't get me wrong. I like it. It has a very appealing design, it's easy to carry around, it has some cool extra features, and its wireless-streaming range is excellent. I also like that it comes with its own form-fitting protective carrying case.

The bottom line is The Deck is a likable speaker that isn't a bargain. But if the whole value issue doesn't concern you too much, I don't have a problem recommending it. I like the speaker, just not its price.

Deck_by_Sol_Republic_and_Motorola_35823900_10.jpg
7.7

Deck by Sol Republic portable Bluetooth speaker

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Sound 7Value 6