Creative Sound Blaster Roar Review

Creative LogoWhile everyone’s eyes have been on drones, portable Bluetooth speakers have been the sleeper hit of the past few years. From low-fi to hi-fi and prices to match, there’s a speaker for everyone. On review here is Creative’s Sound Blaster Roar, a compact portable Bluetooth wireless speaker with NFC, though this description sells it short by a long way. Let’s take a look.

To start with, the SoundBlaster Roar is about the size of four DVD boxes stacked on top of each other, though it’s a bit narrower (57 x 202 x 115 mm). It’s no lightweight either with a bit of mass (1.1 kg), which is reassuring when it comes speakers. There’s metal mesh on four sides and a swathe of controls, slots and sockets on the fifth with soft touch rubber which spills over onto the top. The design itself won a Red Dot Award in 2014.

Creative Roar

Some of the controls are self-evident such as the power button and volume controls, but it’s not immediately apparent why there are buttons for record, play and pause. Even more surprising and concerning is the switch marked “ARM”, which fortunately is in the off position for now.

The Roar is much more than a Bluetooth wireless speaker. It’s a hands-free speaker phone, a USB digital sound card, an MP3 player, an audio recorder, microSD card reader, a battery pack and a siren. It’s quite the box of tricks with versatility to take it from the office to the party.

Powering up the Roar plays a satisfying little jingle – it’s on and ready to rock. Starting with the basics and playing music from a smartphone, it’s straightforward to pair the Roar, with a choice of two techniques. Pair via the normal Bluetooth passcode or else swipe the NFC hotspot on the Roar to automatically set the pairing, assuming your device has NFC.

With the pairing done, it’s time to play some music. Given Creative’s long history in audio, it’s not unsurprising that the Roar sounds good. For it’s size, it’s very good indeed which rich sound that’s far bigger than the box itself. To achieve this presence, the Roar houses five speakers in the unit’s body, with sets of speakers tuned to deliver in the bass, mid and high frequency ranges. For extra volume, the ROAR button will turn it up to eleven, through it needs to be plugged into the mains to get maximum volume output.

The Roar is a portable speaker and as a necessity there’s a built-in battery that according the specs gives eight hours of playback. I’m not going to disagree with that – it’s in the right space. The Roar can be recharged either from a supplied power brick or via micro-USB through a port on the rear. There’s a full size USB port too for recharging other devices such as smartphones and tablets from the Roar. Battery status is shown by three round green LEDs on the top.

That’s the main presentation out of the way and if that’s all that’s needed from a portable wireless speaker, the Roar delivers well and is worthy of closer inspection.

Creative Roar

But it’s so much more. As the speaker pairs with smartphones via Bluetooth, it’s not entirely unexpected that Roar doubles up as a speakerphone. In use, call quality was good and echo was minimal, and unlike most speakerphones, the audio from the phone call can be recorded to the inserted microSD card. Potentially a useful feature, but check the legality of recording conversations in the relevant jurisdiction.

The Roar works as a USB audio device too, and installation is largely limited to plugging a USB cable between the PC and Roar. Windows auto-loads the drivers and a few seconds later, the Roar is good to go to play music (and other sounds) from the PC. In this mode, the Roar is powered by the PC and the battery charges up as well. The Roar complements music streaming services such as Spotify or Google Music.

Next up, the Creative Roar can work as a standalone music speaker. Load up a microSD card with mp3s and pop it into the Roar. There are simple controls for play, next track, previous track, repeat and shuffle.

Finally, returning to the ARM button, the Roar has a siren feature. Arm the unit with the switch at the top and press the Alarm button to get a whoop-whoop siren to get everyone’s attention. What more could you want?

Overall this a portable wireless speaker that is crammed full of features and the Roar is everything you need for music on the go, in the office or at home. It’s a great sounding wireless Bluetooth speaker, speakerphone, call recorder, MP3 player, USB digital sound card, battery pack and personal alarm in a portable package costing GB£129. There’s nothing to quibble about here, though I’d really like to see it in yellow. Available now from good retailers and direct from Creative’s store.

Thanks to Creative for the loan of the Roar.

Divoom Airbeat-10 Bluetooth Speaker Review

Divoom LogoIt’s rare that products sent for review offer any great surprises: usually gadgets arriving on my desk meet my expectations in terms of build, functionality and price. However, occasionally a device delivers more than expected and I’m pleased to say that this is one such occasion. The Divoom Airbeat-10 punches well above its weight with loudness and clarity that belies its diminutive size. Sorry if this ruined the review but let’s take a look anyway.

The Divoom Airbeat-10 is portable Bluetooth speaker with speakerphone. It’s splashproof and comes with a suction cup and bike mount, though Airboot is just as happy to sit on the table or hang from a hook. A USB to micro-USB cable is included for charging and a 3.5 mm stereo lead comes in the box for devices without Bluetooth.

Airbeat-10 Contents

The Airbeat-10 is about 9 cm along the sides and around 4.5 cm tall. Covered in a soft touch rubber, it’s available in four colours; black, white, red and blue. An LED on the top lights up to show Bluetooth and charging activity, on the side there are four buttons for power, phone functions and volume up/down, along with a covered port for USB charging and 3.5 mm aux in. On the back of the Airbeat is a standard camera screw mount which is used for the suction cup and bike attachment but can be used with other camera accessories such as a GorillaPod. The Airbeat 10 weighs in at 155 g, meaning that it’s not hollow plastic.

Airbeat-10 Buttons

Pairing is straightforward. Turn the Airbeat-10 on, search from the Bluetooth settings on the phone or tablet and pair up. Easy-peasy and time to make some noise.

And this is where the Airbeat-10 delivered well beyond my expectation – it produced rich and surprisingly loud sound for such a small device. Certainly it’s not audiophile hi-fi and it’s not stereo but for a pocket-sized portable device the Airbeat-10 is very good indeed. Music comes across well through the range with little of the tinniness normally associated with small lightweight devices and good amount of lower end bass.

Airbeat Speaker with SuckerI had the Airbeat on my desk for the review period and it was great to have it handy for a quick listen for both music and podcasts. It’s portability and wireless connectivity meant that I could move it round my desk as I needed space. Battery life is a claimed six hours and that seems about right – I found that I needed to charge the Airbeat-10 once or twice a week depending on usage.

The Airbeat-10 is splashproof as well and with the suction mount, it’s ideal for use in the shower. I whacked it onto the tiles with the sucker, started the radio app before stepping in and listened to the morning news in the shower without getting my smartphone wet. Excellent.

There are three minor issues that I found with the Airbeat. First, when using it as a speakerphone, the microphone on the side needed to be pointing at the speaker otherwise the caller on the other end of the line didn’t hear too well. The second was that sometimes “silence detection” seemed to be overly aggressive and between music tracks or between people talking in podcasts, the Airbeat would go silent (presumably to save power) but then there would be a small pop as the sound restarted and the first half-second of speech or music would be lost. Adjusting the volume upwards on the smartphone or tablet usually helped. Finally, the soft touch rubber coating was a bit of a fluff magnet!

These niggles aside, I was impressed by the Divoom Airbeat-10. Although small, the quality of the sound and volume is better than anything I’ve heard at this size, and the portability and wireless connectivity make it the perfect casual speaker whether in the office, in the shower or out-and-about. At this time of year, I’d recommend it to the music Festival crowd and later in the year I’d be suggesting it as a great stocking-filler.

The Divoom Airbeat-10 is available from retailers worldwide with an RRP of £29.99 in the UK.

Thanks to Divoom for the Airbeat-10 for review.

Otone Audio at Gadget Show Live

Otone AudioManchester-based Otone Audio might only be a few years old but they’ve been busy producing a neat range of audio products from soundbars and headphones to speakers and digital radios. It’s impressive what they’ve achieved in such a short period of time.

At Gadget Show Live, Otone demonstrated a selection from their line-up including the BluWall speakers and the BluMotion radio (lower shelf) plus the Blufiniti and SoundBase II soundbar (upper shelf). It’s hard to get a good listen in the hustle of a trade show but initial impressions were good.

Otone Audio

The Blufiniti portable Bluetooth speaker comes in a range of colours and is priced at £49.99. To learn more, listen to my interview with Shruti from Otone (sorry about the background noise from a neighbouring stand.)

Bose Soundlink Color Bluetooth Speaker Review

bose soundlink colorI’ve been playing around with the Bose Soundlink Color Bluetooth Speaker and, truth be told, I think I’m in love.

The Soundlink Color packs an incredible punch despite its compact design. It weighs only 1.25 pounds, making it the perfect audio solution for travel and everyday use. The upright, rounded design allows for crisp, clear sound that projects throughout the room. While it doesn’t beat the quality of higher-grade professional speakers, the Soundlink Color is perfect for the average music lover, with exceptional sound quality considering that it connects via Bluetooth.

Pairing your smartphone, tablet, or computer with the Soundlink Color couldn’t be easier. Just turn on the speaker and it will begin searching for nearby Bluetooth devices within a 30-foot range. When it pops up as an available connection on your device, just hit connect and you’re good to go. The speaker will guide you through the process with voice prompts so you’ll be connected in no time. The Soundlink Color can connect to up to two Bluetooth devices at a time, so you can easily switch between different sources of audio. In addition, the speaker remembers the last eight devices it’s been paired with to make connecting even easier.

The Soundlink Color’s rechargable lithium ion battery boasts an impressive 8-hour battery life, so you’ll get plenty of listening time before its time to charge up. This makes it the perfect choice for camping, traveling, or casual listening wherever you are. You can charge the speaker using the included wall adapter or via USB.

True to its name, the Soundlink Color comes in an assortment of colors: red, mint, blue, white, and black. I bought the black model, and it is quite attractive. One of the first things I noticed when trying it out is just how sturdy this little speaker is– you can feel the durability. The durable rubber casing protects it against dust, dirt, and damage, without compromising on style or performance.

You can purchase the Soundlink Color for $129.95 on the Bose website or at an electronics retailer near you.

Massive Audio Dr Who Bluetooth Speakers

Massive Audio LogoTom Baker will always by my Doctor with his long scarf and robotic K-9 companion. I haven’t really followed the recent successful re-invention of Dr Who but the Tardis and the Daleks will forever be part of my childhood. For fans of the show, the folks at Massive Audio now have a range of Dr Who Bluetooth speakers. Jamie and Nick get Whovian with Jeremy Larsson from Massive Audio.

Officially licensed from the BBC, the range includes a Tardis and two Dalek models, which have sound effects and flashing lights for extra fun. There’s a ten hour rechargeable battery and the unit can act as a speakerphone with a noise cancelling microphone.

The Tardis and Dalek Sec are currently on pre-order for $119 and the Assault Dalek is $149. The initial stock run sold out so the next batch is expected in March.

Interview by Jamie Davis of Health Tech Weekly and Nick DiMeo of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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Amp is the First Theater-Experience Speaker Case for Tablets

OIO logoOIO has created a high tech speaker case for iPad Air, iPad 2, and other smaller tablets. It is called Amp. It folds up and becomes a case when not in use. The case is made from precision aluminum and includes an adjustable built in stand. The speakers can be set at many different angles.

Scott spoke with Gregg Davis from OIO who shared details about this innovative speaker case. The tablet and the speakers connect via Bluetooth 4.0 technology. The speakers keep the separation of the 2 channels, left and right, like you would experience if you were watching a movie in a theater. They provide double the volume of a Mini Jambox or Beats Pill.

A single charge enables the speakers to work for upwards of 7 hours. The iPad can snap in and out of the case with ease. The sound from the speakers can fill a room. Or, you can use your earbuds or headset if you prefer.

OIO is currently taking preorders for Amp. It is expected to become available in April of 2015 for a street price of $199.00.

Interview by Scott of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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Kinivo Music and Video Gadgets at CES

Kinivo LogoKinivo have a range of consumer-oriented music products from headsets to speakers, including several with Bluetooth. Don chat’s with Henry Wong, Kinivo’s Director of Product Management to find out more.

All of Kinivo’s products are competitively priced – for example the ZX100 Mini Portable Speaker with rechargeable battery costs less than $20. The BTH360S Bluetooth Stereo Headphones which supports wireless music streaming and hands-free calling costs $69.99 so these are good value products. There’s also an interesting HDMI switcher, the HS420 which has four inputs and two outputs, at just under $65. Could be very handy for advanced gaming or home cinema setups.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor for the TechPodcast Network.

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Ion Audio Gets The Party Going at CES 2015

Ion Sound Experience

The great thing about Ion Audio is that they concentrate on fun audio products: seriously, who else puts a speaker in plant pot? At CES, Ion has continued in the tradition of fun with two products for two very different environments. Todd listens in with Wendy Fortin, Ion Product Manager.

First up is the Block Party Live, a 50W PA speaker on luggage wheels complete with light show. No really, there’s a light dome on top that projects coloured lights. Music can be streamed via Bluetooth and there’s an Apple and Android app to control the lights. Available now for $199.

Coming inside, the Sound Shine are wireless stereo speakers with built-in LED lighting. Screwed into a standard lamp holder the two speakers can either work as independent mono speakers or can be paired up for stereo sound. As with the Block Party, music is streamed via Bluetooth and both the music and light output can be controlled via an app for both Android and Apple devices. Available in Q1, $69 buys a single lamp and $129 gets a pair.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Acoustic Research Expands its Speaker Collection at CES

Acoustic Research SpeakersAcoustic Research has expanded their speaker series with the launch of four new indoor/outdoor speakers for Spring of 2015. The new lineup includes quality Bluetooth speakers at prices to fit any budget and style. The names of the new speakers are: Hatteras, Glendale, Pasadena, and Orleans.

The Hatteras speaker is $219.99. It is a high-power outdoor Bluetooth stereo speaker system that provides both style and functionality and that can be used all year round. The Hatteras speaker is a 2015 CES Innovation Awards Honoree winer. The design was inspired by America’s lighthouses. This speaker is 2 feet tall, is weather and UV resistant with 40 Watts of yard-filling power. It can illuminate parties with 360 degrees of area lighting and multiple settings.

Acoustic Research Glendale and Pasadena speakers

The Glendale and Pasadena speakers are from Acoustic Research’s Premier Series. Each delivers 10 Watts of full-range audio performance for crystal clear sound both indoors and outdoors. They are equipped with Bluetooth technology. Both speakers can be powered via AC. The Glendale is capable of running on AA batteries, while the Pasadena features a built-in rechargeable battery. Glendale will be available for $199.99 and the Pasadena will be available for $99.99.

Acoustic Research Orleans

The limited-series Orleans, which is $99.99, features big, bold, three-way sound. You can stream and control your music from your devices using Bluetooth wireless technology or the built-in Aux Input for other wired sources. The Orleans features 10 Watts of high-quality, full, rich, audio performance and has a power span of 10-12 hours using AA batteries.

Visit Acoustic Research in the Central Hall at Booth # 10406 at CES.

BRAVEN Showcases BRAVEN Balance at CES

BRAVEN BalanceBRAVEN introduces a Blutetooth speaker that is ideal for those who have active lifestyles. It is called the BRAVEN Balance. It comes in six lively colors: Raven, Alpine, Raspberry, Electric, Sunset, and Periwinkle. This is the newest Bluetooth speaker with bass optimization technology from BRAVEN.

The BRAVEN Balance features an anti-slip exterior for easy carrying even when it is wet. It is capable of surviving accidental spills or drops and has an IPX5 waterproof rating. That makes this speaker perfect for both indoor and outdoor use. It is suggested for use in fitness studios, on-the-court- in the locker room, or on the deck.

BRAVEN Balance has a low profile, ultra-thin design with outstanding sound quality and room filling bass. It also comes with BRAVEN Balance Technology, a proprietary bass optimization system that pumps out deep, rich sound even at lower volumes. The speaker features a built-in 4400mAH battery that can charge your mobile device. This speaker can also transform into a hands-free speakerphone with a built-in noise-canceling microphone.

The BRAVEN Balance will be available in Q2 of 2015 for $149.99. Visit BRAVEN at Booth # 5116 in the North Hall at CES 2015.