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Best Speaker Reviews, Who has Them?

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Reviews are a great source of information, especially when they are consumer reviews that are verified by the site your reading them on as having been purchased there. Reviews by professional reviewers are also a good source of information but must be read in a totally different way than consumer reviews. Here is my suggested approach to reading speaker reviews. Hey! We all have opinions, these are mine. :^)


The problem with all reviews for speakers

Sound is a very personal thing. What you hear and what I hear are different. In fact "The mechanisms of sound interpretation are poorly understood, in fact is not yet clear whether all people interpret sounds in the same way." according to this article on UCSC.EDU.  I can't find anything on the effect our inner ear structure might affect sound interpretation but I'll keep trying. So if we're all hearing sound in the exact same way, reviews are good. But if we're not, then you can see we have a problem. I believe just like many people are color blind or see some shades of purple as blue, we may hear things differently as well. Not a bad thing mind you, just a thing. 

Consumer Speaker Reviews

Let's ignore the concept that we're hearing things differently. Consumer reviews are still a challenge in that even if we all hear exactly the same, we're still going to have a different idea of what "sounds good". Some people like lots of bass and therefore love bass heavy speakers and Beats headphones and others like a more balanced sound. Neither is correct, they are just different. Unless the reviewer tells you there preference you really have no way to judge. 

That said consumer reviews can still give you a good idea as to what qualities a speaker has. Rather than look at how many STARS a review gives, look for words they use; Lots of bass, great sounding vocals, excellent highs, etc. This might give you a better indication as to whether you'll also like the speaker. 

Think about the qualities you like in music when you hear it and look for words that match your tastes.

Professional Speaker Reviews

Having worked at Denon/Marantz who also owned Boston Acoustics and Snell Acoustics,  I met quite a few people who were excellent listeners. They had listening to music down to a science. Not that they did not enjoy it just for the sake of listening, but they knew how to listen with "intent".  These folks made listening to music a visceral event. I suspect it was not because they all heard the same thing but because they were listening for agreed upon qualities of the sound. 

Professional reviewers often do the same thing. They listen to speakers and make judgments based partially on their likes. Hey, they're human too.

So how do you choose a speaker based upon reviews?

Look at professional and consumer speaker reviews with the same angle as I suggested with the consumer reviews. Think about the qualities you like in music when you hear it and look for words that match your tastes. Don't worry bout it being perfectly flat frequency response. You're almost never going to come close to how the music sound performed live. And besides, performed live "where"? Every environment will make music sound different. 

So go read the reviews with an eye on what you like to hear. At least you'll increase your chances of getting something that sounds good to you. After all, that's all that matters. 

New Sonos Speaker has the ability to be "tuned" to your environment

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If you have an AV receiver from any of the large audio companies you're likely familiar with using a microphone attached to the receiver to "tune" your speakers to the environment they are in. This generally works quite well in our experience though honestly I doubt most people can really hear the difference. 


Sonos has now announced a wireless speaker that offers something quite similar,
the microphone will be used to help Sonos's speaker read sound waves in the room and better understand where it's located in the room and what that room looks like.
The Sonos Play:5 will not only have all the streaming music and Mesh network Sonos is famous for, it will be able to "tune" the speaker to sound better in your room. They've branded it "trueplay".

Not a new idea but it gets interesting with the older Sonos devices that don't have microphones built in. They will apparently use the microphone on your smartphone or tablet (iOS only for now) to capture the room info and they we're guessing they will then tune the speaker remotely. Nice.

If you're into wireless speakers like the Sonos and consider yourself an audio or even music buff, this might be worth it to you. Note these speakers do cost $500.

To see reviews of other Sonos streaming speakers click here.

Reference link:  http://www.fastcompany.com/3051690/tech-forecast/the-new-sonos-smart-speaker-will-sound-good-no-matter-where-you-put-it

Is this Anker speaker a Bose Mini Killer?

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Is this Anker Bluetooth speaker a Bose Mini killer? The Bose Mini is pretty much regarded by reviewers both consumer and pro as one of the best sounding speakers out there. We loved it in our review. It has smooth bass and more importantly very natural sounding mids and highs. It's beautifully crafted and solid in hand. 

Along come Anker with their Anker Premium Stereo Bluetooth 4.0 Speaker (A3143), yeah I know, guess the cost savings on making this extends to no budget to name it, and things get interesting. 

The Bose Mini Soundlink costs about $199 but sometimes you can find it for $169. The Anker A3143 (really needs a name here Anker!) weighs in at a paltry $59 on Amazon. Besides looking almost identical apparently they may be close on sound as well. 

If reviews are to be believed, and the jury is still out since many of the reviews were folks who were given the device to write a review, then this thing rocks at this price. 

The device does differ in that it is made of plastic instead of metal like the Bose. Plus the folks at Bose likely spent $100K to come up with the name Sound Link Mini. Trust me on this one, naming can cost a bundle and Bose if above all else, a marketing machine. 

Most reviews do tout a nice even sounding bass with the Anker, like the Bose but I haven't heard the Anker yet so it's taking the reviewers at their word. Many of the reviews were from not gifted sources so it could be this is a real steal. If you own one tell us in the comments. If you don't own one let us know if you're taking the leap.


Can I get a Bluetooth Subwoofer?

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The answer to this, as many things in life is, Yes, and No. Yes technically you could get a Bluetooth subwoofer but it would pretty much only give you bass and everything else would sound terrible. Also, I've never seen one. If you find one put it in the comments.

But I see bluetooth speakers on Amazon that say subwoofer. 

Yep, you can find speakers on Amazon and elsewhere that say Bluetooth and subwoofer in the same product description. They are almost always referring to the fact that the speaker has a passive or active subwoofer built into the speaker itself. Another way is to have a 2.1 bluetooth speaker system whose subwoofer is attached to the main speaker(s) via a wire. This enables the sub to get a signal.


Why can't I get a standalone Bluetooth Subwoofer?

In it's current form the Bluetooth spec does not support sending signals to two separate devices. It can send a stereo signal which one device can receive and then split to separate units, usually via a wire. The unit would send the mid-range and high signal to one unit in a stereo pair and that speaker would be responsible for using a cross-over to send the signal to the subwoofer and the other side to the other speaker.   


But I want a separate subwoofer!!

There are solutions wireless speaker solutions hat offer separate subs like Sonos, but they do not employ Bluetooth. Sonos uses a proprietary Mesh Network (think WiFi) to send signals to different speakers. Sonos systems sound great but they are expensive. 

What to do?

The folks working on the Bluetooth spec (warning link will hurt your head) are updating things all the time. It could be that this is in the works as I write. In the mean time the best solution for getting better bass through an out of the way subwoofer would be either something like a Sonos system or a small two-way system. 

Another choice maybe coming this week. Google is rumored to be announcing a Chromecast Music for this week. We'll see how that plays out.

Also check out the top consumer rated bluetooth speakers on Amazon as of September 2015

Why do Small Bluetooth Speakers Sound Bad Outside?

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Honestly, it's not that they sound bad. In most cases they just can't get loud enough to be enjoyed from more than a few feet away. In general it's due to the size of the driver, the speaker itself. Although wattage does come into play it's likely the physical size of the driver itself that might disappoint.

Why is speaker size important outside for outside speakers?

2 inch speaker
Speakers create sound by moving air molecules. The air moving closest to the speaker moves and sounds the loudest since it has a greater impact on your eardrum. The further away you move from the speaker the softer it sounds. This is due to the physical fact that a small wattage (more on this later) small speaker can only move so much air at once. Like ripples caused by a rock thrown into a pond they get smaller the further from the point of impact they are. Generally speaking, the bigger the speaker, the more air it can move.

Larger speakers simply move more air

Since they can move more air than smaller speakers, they generate more movement in the surrounding air molecules. The impact over the larger area will do two things, disperse the sound at a wider radius and two, possibly have a greater impact on the surrounding molecules, pushing the sound further out into the surrounding environment.
6 inch speaker

Why does my small bluetooth speaker sound loud in my living room then?

Several factors come into play with smaller speakers when played indoors. 1. the size of the room and 2. placement of the speaker. One advantage any speaker indoors is that it's working with reflective surfaces. Sound will bounce off and resonate on surrounding surfaces, which help amplify and distribute the moving air that reaches your ear. Think about it, indoors the air may only be able to move so far before either hitting a wall, ceiling or object while outside it can quickly dissipate.

Does wattage and speaker design have an effect?

Both wattage and speaker design will have an effect on how loud a speaker can play. But fundamentally for sound to be loud where you are standing the air pushed by the speaker needs to be strong enough to impact your eardrum.

So if you want outdoor speakers to rock your next outdoor party, invest in a quality set of outdoor speakers with 5 inch drivers or larger.

Important side note: Multiple small speaker drivers in a speaker cabinet can sound louder and produce deeper bass than one. More on this next time.

Here is a more technical discussion on speaker size and wattage.

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