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Cutting music's wires

Music fans have plenty to choose from when shopping for wireless speakers, with interesting options available in all shapes and sizes.
Tuesday, December 22, 2015 - 05:50
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The Naim Mu-so has inherent musicality that flatters any music genre; it can also be used as a soundbar for your TV via optical input.
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There are no frills in the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless, but there doesn't need to be. It has an open, detailed sound that spreads out nicely in a room.
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Bluetooth rounds off a rich feature set for the Bose SoundTouch 30 Series III; Bose deserves kudos for useful features such as a good remote control, an OLED screen that displays song info, and six presets that give you one-touch access to playlists on Spotify or Deezer.
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If you are willing to pay for style and value portability, the Beolit 15 from B&O is a great-sounding choice; it has beautifully clean lines and a premium build, and it puts out clear treble, full mid-range, and decent bass.
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Any of Logitech's three Bluetooth Ultimate Ears (UE) models can be paired to double their sound coverage, even if they are of different models; UE Megaboom's (above) bass-heavy tonal balance is for the bass fan with a need to fill large spaces with music.
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The UE Boom 2 (above) can play music even louder and over a longer Bluetooth transmission range than its predecessor without sacrificing portability or battery life.
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The UE Roll (above) is good fun and can be used as a complementary gadget that is hung on baby strollers, bathroom hooks or even from bag straps.

A DECADE ago, all-in-one music systems were dominated by iPod speaker docks and their competitors. Today, most music fans stream music wirelessly from their mobile phones, and brands have reinvented their iPod docks as wireless speakers.

Bluetooth, once sniffed at by audiophiles for compromising sound quality, is now ubiquitous and appears in mid-to-high range products.

And the popularity and affordability of music streaming services such as Spotify and Deezer is seeing them built directly into wireless speakers.

BT takes a look at some of the most interesting options on the market.


Naim Mu-so
S$1,799

Most wireless speakers still demand that users attenuate their expectations. Praise for their sound quality inevitably comes with a qualification: it sounds great, for a wireless speaker.

The Naim Mu-so needs no such allowances. It simply sounds amazing, and can effortlessly fill most rooms with detailed, nuanced music.

A big part of that ease comes down to healthy reserves of power - each of the Mu-so's six speakers is powered by an individual 75-watt amplifier. But there's more than brawn on offer here. There's inherent musicality that flatters any music genre.

A traditional system of separate hi-fi components will still sound better for the money, but this is as close to genuine audiophile bliss as you will find in a single box at this price. But be warned: the Mu-so is a gateway drug to Naim's more expensive traditional hi-fi products.

The build quality, which is heavy on anodised aluminium, is immaculate. As you'd expect for the price, you can use the Mu-so as a soundbar for your TV via optical input.

AirPlay and Bluetooth enable wireless streaming. And support for Spotify, Tidal and Internet radio is built in. A remote control comes standard but Naim also has iOS and Android apps.

The Mu-so comes standard with a black speaker grille, but extra ones in blue, red and oranges are available from distributor Absolute Sound. The Mu-so is also available at retailers such as Challenger and EpiCentre.


Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless
S$1,099

Wireless speakers come in all shapes and sizes these days, but few are more instantly recognisable than the elongated ovals of the Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) Zeppelin series.

The latest Zeppelin Wireless sheds the iPod/iPhone dock its predecessors have sported since the first Zeppelin debuted in 2007.

This minimalist streak runs deep. There's no separate remote control, and almost everything is done wirelessly from your phone, tablet or computer. Volume, power and input buttons are discreetly positioned on the body.

There are no frills, but there doesn't need to be. If sound quality's what matters to you, the Zeppelin Wireless is the king at this price range. It has an open, detailed sound that spreads out nicely in a room.

Individual 25-watt amplifiers power four of the five speakers, with the fifth - a subwoofer - getting its own 50 watts. That's more than enough power to thoroughly saturate a bedroom, if not quite blanket a living room.

Spotify is the only streaming service built in, along with AirPlay and Bluetooth wireless options.

The Zeppelin Wireless comes only in black, and is available from regional distributor The Experts Group's boutiques at Millenia Walk and Lavender Street.


Bose SoundTouch 30 Series III
S$999

Bose is so established that no comparison of wireless speakers would be complete without a representative from the brand.

The SoundTouch 30 has been Bose's top-of-the-line all-in-one wireless speaker since 2013, and the model's third generation, the Series III, was launched this year.

The main addition is Bluetooth, which rounds off a rich feature set. Bose deserves kudos for useful features such as a good remote control, an OLED screen that displays song info, and six presets that give you one-touch access to playlists on Spotify or Deezer.

However, the SoundTouch 30 Series III hasn't really kept up with the times in terms of sound quality. In spite of impressive bass, the mid-range is a tad veiled and while the treble's there, there's little real detail.

Yet, taken as a whole, it's a well-rounded offering that still deserves consideration. After all, all-in-one wireless speakers are inherently compromised by their form factors.

The question is really what balance of features and sound quality you're looking for at a given price point. Do you really need a screen? No, but it's really useful. Do you need button-activated presets in a world of touchscreens? No, but young children and grandparents alike will thank you.

The SoundTouch 30 Series III is available in black or white from www.atlasestore.sg and Atlas Experience Showrooms.


B&O Play Beolit 15
S$798

Bang & Olufsen (B&O) is better known for high-end audio systems that double as works of art, but it also has a growing portfolio of relatively affordable gadgets branded B&O Play. The Beolit 15 is the top portable Bluetooth speaker in this range.

It's got the beautifully clean lines and premium build that people have come to expect from B&O, and it puts out clear treble, full mid-range, and decent bass.

Two 35-watt amplifiers provide healthy volume, but two Beolit 15 speakers can be paired for combined power. Battery life is an impressive 24 hours.

There are also some brilliant design touches. The top of the Beolit 15 is a rubberised tray that holds your phone. And the unusual criss-cross positioning of the full-grain leather carrying strap prevents the speaker from swinging around during transport.

The problem is that the Beolit 15 is a portable speaker with a price approaching that of fixed-position speakers, but if you are willing to pay for style and value portability, the Beolit 15 is a great-sounding choice.

The Beolit 15 is available in champagne, pink or blue from www.mjgroup.sg and the Bang & Olufsen showroom at the Grand Hyatt.


Logitech UE Speakers

Logitech's three Bluetooth Ultimate Ears (UE) models - the Megaboom, Boom 2 and Roll - form an interesting ecosystem because you can pair any two speakers to double their sound coverage, even if they are of different models. They also allow up to three people to collaborate on the same playlist via the Block Party feature in Logitech's apps for each model. They don't need to be babied either since all of them are waterproof and shockproof.

All of them are available through www.ultimateears.com and select retailers.


Logitech UE Megaboom
S$399

There's no arguing that the UE Megaboom pushes out more bass and volume than its smaller sibling, the Boom 2, but its bass-heavy tonal balance buries finer details. This makes it harder to justify its higher price tag unless you're a bass fan and need to fill large spaces with music. Battery life's 20 hours.

The Megaboom is available in black, blue or purple.


Logitech UE Boom 2
S$319

This is the sweet spot in UE's portable Bluetooth speaker range. The original Boom was Logitech's first UE speaker in 2013, and the Boom 2 is a worthy successor because it can play music even louder, over a longer Bluetooth transmission range, without sacrificing portability or battery life.

It's about the size of a beer pint glass. Battery life's 15 hours. The balance of tight bass and treble clarity is nearly perfect. At this price range, the Boom 2 is peerless.

The Boom 2 is available in red, black, green, purple or blue.


Logitech UE Roll
S$159

Few cute-looking speakers also sound good. The UE Roll is a delightful exception. It's shaped like a flat disc with tapered edges, and can either lie flat (facing upwards) or hang from a built-in elastic loop. Volume controls are huge and impossible to miss.

It may be a bit of a stretch to recommend the Roll as your main wireless speaker, but as a complementary gadget you can hang on baby strollers, bathroom hooks or even from bag straps, it's good fun. Battery life's nine hours.

The Roll is available in black, purple, blue or red.