Are Those Compact Speakers Any Good?

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the GoGroove Sonaverse: just a little over 5 inches on all sides, and it sounds great!

In a previous DMM post, What’s A Wireless Speaker, I talked about portable Bluetooth speakers: what they are, the basics of how they work, and their pros and cons. In this post, I’m looking at small, portable speakers in general. Many (maybe even most) portable speakers have Bluetooth wireless functionality built in, but that’s not really the point of this post. Today, I’m just talking about sound quality, convenience and cost.

 

Compact Speakers vs. Full-Size Speakers

Speakers are essentially just boxes designed to amplify the vibrations created by sound waves. Until relatively recently, the only way to get more volume and richer sound quality was to build a bigger speaker, or to build a collection of speakers, each of which was optimized to enhance a specific type of sound. Hence, you get the gigantic “woofers” and “sub-woofers” to max out the bass and “tweeters” to fine-tune the higher notes. There are lots of variations between these two extremes as well. But that’s when you’re talking about traditional, full-size speakers.

Compact speakers use technology to enhance sound quality without having to increase the size of the speaker box. Arguably, there’s an upper limit on how closely a compact speaker can match the sound range and quality of a full-size set of quality stereo speakers, but it’s not for nothing that the pricey little BOSE Wave music systems and BOSE compact speakers have continued to sell like gangbusters year after year in spite of their high pricetags. BOSE specifically targeted the audiophile sector—music fans who are very, VERY picky about sound quality—, and they succeeded.

The BOSE sound system proves small speakers can deliver big sound, but BOSE products are so costly that they’re out of reach for many consumers. Luckily, many other electronics and audio component companies have stepped in to provide competing products that use some of the same technology as what you’d find in high end compact speakers, but at much lower prices. Now that the portable device market has exploded, there’s a large demand for speakers that can deliver quality sound in a package small and light enough to be portable.

 

The GoGroove Palbot: cute, easily portable, and it delivers quality stereo sound. It even has a built-in rechargeable battery, and its light-up eyes turn purple to alert you when the charge is getting low.

GoGroove Strikes A Balance Between Sound Quality And Price

I recently decided to get a compact speaker of my own, because sometimes I like to play background music while I’m working on my computer but my computer’s speakers deliver tinny, “small” sound, using headphones keeps me from hearing the phone or the kids calling me from another room, and I found I just wasn’t listening to my music much because of the poor sound quality.

I’d previously done a lot of comparison shopping when my son wanted something to amplify the sound coming out of his Kindle Fire and Galaxy Player last year, and I ultimately narrowed my search to the GoGroove line of compact speakers. Compact, portable speakers are a GoGroove specialty, and their entire line of affordable products gets consistently high marks from consumers. It doesn’t hurt that a lot of them look pretty cool, too!

While nothing you can buy from GoGroove will match the quality of a high-end, luxury compact speaker, you can get pretty darned close. Those with a very sophisticated ear and high-end audio equipment will still probably want to save up for the luxury models that cost hundreds of dollars, but the rest of us, who are listening to digital music on our computers and portable devices, will probably be perfectly happy with a GoGroove speaker that costs between $20 – $50.

 

How To Choose

I’ll describe my shopping and decision process here, not because I think everyone will ultimately want the same speakers I bought, but to lay out the various options and features to look for when you go out to get a compact speaker of your own.

I ultimately purchased the GoGroove Palbot portable speaker for my son (currently priced at about $25), and he’s been very happy with it. He wanted quality sound, but portability was equally important to him so the Palbot’s rounded, compact size, built-in rechargeable battery and built-in, retractable cord were all important features to him. I borrowed it for a day to try it out and found that it sounded a lot better than my computer speakers and the higher tones and pitches were very crisp, but it didn’t deliver quite enough bass for my taste. You’ll find that your speaker preference will depend to some extent on the type of music you prefer and the type of audio you’ll be listening to (e.g., music vs. movies vs. audiobooks, etc.), since different speakers can have different strengths and weaknesses. I listen to a lot of music that’s classified as “drum and bass”, so for me, bass was critical.

I went to Amazon to browse the GoGroove line, specifically looking for a speaker that reviewers singled out for great bass sound quality. You may feel that high volume without distortion is the most important thing, or that wireless (Bluetooth) connectivity is your priority. Whatever the case, it’s easy enough to zero in on the speakers that will meet your needs. See my post, Amazon Review Tips & Tricks for Savvy Shoppers, for more information about how to search Amazon customer reviews.

 

This Bose SoundLink Bluetooth compact speaker packs amazing sound into a tiny package—and well it should, at a (current) pricetag of $300-350.

Comparing Features: Know What Matters To You

I eventually settled on the GoGroove Sonaverse (currently priced at about $30), not only because reviewers repeatedly cited its excellent quality bass, but because it had numerous other features that appealed to me. This speaker has a rechargeable battery, which means that even though I only plan to use it on my desk, it can double as a portable speaker for trips to the beach, park and so on. It’s got stereo sound, which is important to me, and it has a standard, 3.5mm port (the same size as that used for portable device headphones) which means I could use it to play the audio from not only my computer, but any of my portable devices as well.

It also has slots to accept USB flash drives and SD memory cards, as well as playback controls for use with those audio sources. In other words, if you have music files on a USB flash drive or SD card, you can pop it right into the speaker and play your music directly from the speaker, without needing any other devices to assist with the music playback. I’m not sure this is a feature I’ll use very often, but I like knowing it’s there if I ever decide to use the speaker to play music while entertaining or in any other situation where I don’t want to hassle with both the speaker and a music player device.

Finally, it comes with both an audio cable and a USB charger cable (for the rechargeable battery). I have it on my desk near my computer now, with the audio cable plugged into my computer’s headphone jack and the USB charger cable plugged into one of the computer’s USB ports. Win!

The GoGroove Sonaverse does not have Bluetooth wireless connectivity, but that wasn’t something I was looking for. The addition of Bluetooth tends to drive the cost of any device up a bit, so you’ll probably find that speakers with Bluetooth either cost a little more, or don’t have the same variety of features as comparably-priced models without Bluetooth.

 

In conclusion, if you’re unhappy with the sound quality coming out of your device speakers but only have fifty bucks or less to spend, don’t despair! You can probably find a compact speaker that will perfectly fit your needs without breaking your budget.

 

 

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