Braven 710 review

The Braven 710 is a handsome portable Bluetooth speaker with some solid extra features, but its audio performance doesn't live up to its price.

Once Bluetooth speakers graduate a certain price range—say, above $150—we expect certain things of them. One of those things is that they don’t distort. Braven’s 710 speaker, at $169.99 (direct), is a disappointment in that respect. It only distorts on tracks with deep bass at top volumes, but the speaker also doesn’t muster much low-end to begin with. Its excellent water-resistant physical design is visually striking, and it has a few handy tricks like the ability to charge other devices or be paired with a second 710 speaker for a true stereo pair. For the price, however, the sonic performance is lacking, especially compared to the slightly more expensive but superior-sounding Bose SoundLink Mini.

Design           
Available in black, blue, or silver, the 710′s 2.6-by-6.3-by-1.8-inch (HWD), 13.6-ounce frame is quite sturdy and well-built. While it’s not the lightest speaker available, it still feels easily portable. The body is made of anodized aluminum, with speaker grille perforations on both the front and rear panels and rubber on each end. Braven claims the speaker is rated as IPX5 water resistant; you can get it wet, but it’s not waterproof and you shouldn’t outright submerge it.

Along the top panel, the microphone (for speakerphone calls) sits next to a Braven logo. The left side panel has a snap-on/off rubberized cover that protects the connections for 3.5mm audio input and output, USB port for charging other smaller devices (like your phone), and micro USB port for charging the speaker itself (a cable is included), as well as a battery status indicator. Two 710 speakers can be daisy chained together using the Aux ins and outs, and the battery button can be held to wirelessly pair two 710 speakers, making one the left channel and one the right. 

Typical playback controls are located on the right-hand panel—you can adjust volume, skip tracks, and play or pause tracks, and there’s also a Power button. The Play button doubles as the Bluetooth pairing button when held down; the process of pairing with an iPhone 5s was quick and simple. If your phone or tablet has NFC, you can use it to pair by tapping the device to the lower rubber panel on the speaker.

You can charge your smartphone with the speaker, but its anemic 1,400mAh battery will run out before you can top it off. The full-sized USB port for charging is strictly available as a last-resort backup option, and won’t work as a reliable mobile battery charger. Braven rates the battery life for regular speaker use at roughly 12 hours, though results will vary based upon usage; volume level plays the biggest battery drain role, next to using it to charge other devices.

The lower rubberized panel, which doubles as the NFC pairing deck, should keep the speaker from dancing around on tabletops during intense vibrations, but the 710 can move around on certain surfaces at top volumes if the track has a lot of low-end.

Performance
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the 710 distorts a tad at top volumes. The distortion would be less surprising if the price were a bit lower, or if the bass was a bit stronger, but it shouldn’t be happening in this price range and with this low-end performance. Strangely, this track distorts immediately, on the opening electronic thumps of the song that don’t typically distort on most speakers. Later in the song, when the serious deep bass drum hits kick in—the ones that often distort speakers—the 710 doesn’t not distort on them. This is because the 710 cannot reproduce the sub-bass frequencies those percussive hits produce. So the 710 distorts at top volumes on powerful lows, but not on sub-bass lows, and the resulting sound can be awkwardly thin.

Fortunately, some genres fare a lot better than “Silent Shout.” Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” for instance, sounds full and clean. His vocals get a nice added richness to them, and there’s a strong high-mid presence that gives them plenty of edge. The guitar strums, too, have a nice shine to them, while the drumming sounds natural and not overly boosted as it can on speakers that bring too much low-end into the equation.

Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” is one of those tracks that makes the 710 vibrate the table at high volumes, but it doesn’t distort. Instead, the focus is on the mids and highs, so vocals rule the mix. The attack of the kick drum slices through the mix easily, but there isn’t much sense of the depth of the sub-bass synth hints here. Bass lovers, in short, will want to look elsewhere.

The lack of bass makes classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” suffer as well. It sounds a bit overly bright and thin on the 710; the lower register strings don’t receive much added presence, while the higher register stings and percussion, which already own the spotlight, seem to receive some added boosting and sculpting.

The 710 is not a bad speaker, it just costs too much. In this price territory, distortion shouldn’t be a problem—the Bose SoundLink Mini is priced similarly and has better low-end and no real distortion issues. For less money than the 710, the Panasonic SC-NT10 delivers distortion-free audio with about the same level of bass presence, and its frame is also ruggedized and far more portable, but it doesn’t look as cool. If you’re fine with a thinner-sounding, less powerful speaker, but want something far less expensive, both the Boom Movement Swimmer and 808 Audio Canz Wireless Speaker are solid budget Bluetooth options. The 710 has some nice added features, like the ability to be paired in stereo with another 710, and the ability to charge other devices, but for its price we expect a more solid audio performance.

Specifications
Channels Stereo (2)
Connections 3.5mm, USB
Type iPod, Computer, Wireless, Portable, iPad, iPhone, Android
NFC Yes
Bluetooth Yes

Verdict
The Braven 710 is a handsome portable Bluetooth speaker with some solid extra features, but its audio performance doesn't live up to its price.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc