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Jabra Solemate Max review: Jabra's slick Solemate Max stumbles on price

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MSRP: $399.99

The Good The Jabra Solemate Max delivers good sound and battery life and has a strong feature set and excellent design. It's also water-resistant, has built-in speakerphone capabilities, and is well suited for outdoor use with a convenient carrying handle integrated into the unit.

The Bad We expect a little better sound from $400 speaker; separate AC adapter required for charging (no charging via Micro-USB).

The Bottom Line The Jabra Soulmate Max is a likeable wireless speaker with some strong selling points, but it simply doesn't justify its current $400 price tag.

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7.2 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Sound 7
  • Value 6

Back in 2012, Jabra released the Solemate, a compact Bluetooth speaker with a distinct, footwear-inspired design and decent sound for its size.

Now the company is serving up a supersize version of the speaker called the Solemate Max ($399). Like the original, the Max has been cleverly designed to resemble a sneaker, complete with a carrying strap that looks like the loop on the back of some athletic shoes.

At 5.8x13.8x5.8 inches (HWD), it's really quite a bit bigger than its little brother, and on the inside sports two woofers, two tweeters, and a rear bass radiator. The earlier model weighed 1.34 pounds while the Max tips the scales at 6.18 pounds. It seems sturdily built and is shock, dust, and water resistant.

Obviously, due to its increased size, the Max plays much louder, offers much fuller bass, and just sounds bigger and richer overall than its smaller predecessor. My only gripe with it is that while it sounds good for a compact Bluetooth speaker, it isn't quite as clean sounding and detailed as it should be considering its $400 price.

The Solemate Max features a water-resistant design and built-in carrying handle. Sarah Tew/CNET

In other words, this should really be priced closer to $300, particularly when you consider that Bose is selling its impressive and more compact SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III for $300 and SoundLink Mini for $200 (there's also the UE Boom at $200 and TDK Life on Record A33 Wireless Weatherproof speaker for around $160). True, the Bose speakers don't have as many features as this Jabra does, but extra features don't necessarily carry all that much weight for many buyers of these types of speakers.

Design and features
I liked Solemate Max's design, and the treaded rubber base helps keep it from moving around when you play it at higher volumes. It's also cool that the bottom or "sole" of the unit has a groove in it where you can store an auxiliary cable for connecting non-Bluetooth devices.

On this model, the rubber handle comes in quite handy because it's a little awkward to hold the speaker by its sides when you pick it up -- using the handle and holding the speaker down by your side makes it easier to transport.

I like the way Jabra has done the button layout. As with the smaller model, the power switch is on the side, and a male voice tells you the speaker is on and when it's paired with your device. On the side is where you'll a find a USB port for charging mobile devices along with an audio input and a Micro-USB input. That Micro-USB port is on hand for PC connectivity (you can connect the speaker to your computer via this digital connection), but not charging; you have to use the included AC power adapter to recharge the Max's internal battery.

For those who like to have transport controls (pause/play, skip forward/back) on the their Bluetooth speakers, the Max has those controls on top of the speaker, as well as well volume controls.

You get NFC tap-to-pair for devices that support that feature, and more importantly, there's a built-in speakerphone. A dedicated call answer/end button can be found on top of the unit next to the transport controls.

Personally, I don't think NFC offers anything because once you've paired your mobile device with the Solemate Max, it will remember that device and automatically pair if you have Bluetooth enabled on your smartphone or tablet (or computer). The more important extras are the speakerphone and USB charging, which is good to have if the device you're using for streaming music needs a boost.

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