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

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In the grand scheme of Bluetooth speakers, the Jabra Max sounds quite decent. It plays louder and offers fuller sound than many of the more compact models on the market. The only problem is when you're dealing with a speaker that costs $400, your expectations are raised, and for some folks the Max will fall a little short.

Where exactly does it come up short? Well, I think it could sound a little cleaner and more natural, with better detail. Using it for a few days, I found that it seems to sound best at somewhat higher volumes -- but not maxed out. Say, at about at 60 to 70 percent of top volume. That's where the bass is punchiest without losing its shape. Like a lot of these speakers, the midrange (vocals, acoustical material) comes across well, but I wouldn't categorize this as a forward-sounding speaker. In fact, it accentuates the bass and sounds a tad dull.

The bass radiator on back helps augment the low end. Sarah Tew/CNET

Crisp, clean sound can be a lot to ask for a Bluetooth speaker, but I've heard models in the same price range or less that deliver as good or better sound -- for example, Bose's SoundLink III, which is more compact and sells for $300. It doesn't have the water-resistant design or expanded feature set of the Solemate Max, but it's equally well built and sounds a bit more dynamic and clean, though it, too, has its limitations.

In testing the speaker, I played tracks from music services such as Spotify and Beats Music, some iTunes tracks, plus lossless music that I streamed from a Samsung Galaxy S4.

Jabra has a free app called Jabra Sound that I tried on an iPhone 5S. It works with songs in your iTunes Library but not music services and has some Dolby Digital Plus processing that widens the soundstage and makes the speaker sound a little bigger (the Max still lacks stereo separation, as all these compact Bluetooth speakers do).

When you engage the Dolby processing, I felt the music sounded less natural and a little thinner in the low end. So you seem to gain something while also giving something up. Overall, the Dolby mode just didn't do all that much for me, but some people may feel differently.

As far as battery life goes, the Max is rated at a fairly impressive 14 hours (similar to the Bose SoundLink III). Naturally, your battery life will vary according to how loud you play your music, and if you keep it at more moderate levels, you should do better than 14 hours.

I also didn't have any complaints about the speakerphone, though I think Jawbone's Big Jambox performs a little better as a speakerphone.

A view of the ports on the side along with the power switch. Sarah Tew/CNET

The only real strike against the Jabra Solemate Max is its high price tag. To put it bluntly, it just doesn't sound like a $400 speaker.

That said, it does have a lot going for it. It delivers decent sound and battery life, has a strong feature set and excellent design. While it's meant to work as both an indoor and outdoor speaker, I personally favor it as an outdoor speaker. By that I mean its rugged, water-resistant design and meatier bass make it more appealing for outdoor use, where the volume and girth of your music can be more important to the listening experience as sound disperses in an open environment.

As a result, if you are looking for a speaker that you plan to take outside a fair amount, the Solemate Max is certainly worth considering, especially if its price comes down.

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