Looks aren’t everything, and a fun design can’t make up for a device performing poorly. The Ecko Unltd Spray looks striking, taking Marc Ecko’s graffiti aesthetic and turning it into a Bluetooth speaker that looks like a can of spray paint. It’s gimmicky, but surprisingly functional and simple to use. Sadly, at $159.99 (direct), it needs to do more than look good and work easily. A speaker needs to sound good, and with a very strange sound profile that leans too bright, the Spray simply doesn’t. If you can spend a little more, you can get far superior sound from the less gimmicky-designed Editors’ Choice Bose SoundLink Mini.
Spray Paint Design
The Spray looks like a spray paint can. In fact, despite its all-around metal grille, a casual glance could easily make you think that it is a can of spray paint. It’s a 14.6-ounce black cylinder that’s 2.6 inches in diameter, with a clear plastic cap that makes it 8.2 inches long (7.8 inches without the cap). While it’s a cylinder, the front is clearly shown with a rectangular rubber Ecko Unltd logo on the grille and the view of the speaker’s twin drivers behind the grille.
The cap covers a “nozzle” that gives the speaker most of its spray paint aesthetic and serves as the control system. A large metallic sticker on the back of the speaker, just above the micro USB and 3.5mm audio input, offers detailed instructions on how to use the Spray—while giving it even more of a faux-can aesthetic by appearing like a warning label. The clear cap is curved at the top to serve as a stand, letting you place the Spray horizontally. While it’s cylindrical, the Spray is meant to be placed with the drivers facing the listener; it’s not designed to be omnidirectional like the UE Boom.
To use the speaker, just take the plastic cap off and press the nozzle down until it turns on. It will automatically go into pairing mode the first time you use it. After that, just hold the nozzle down for several seconds when it’s turned off to go into pairing mode. After it’s connected, the nozzle serves as a button and twist dial that can adjust volume, shuffle between songs, and accept phone calls. It’s a surprisingly clever way to control the speaker while letting it keep its unique look (and distinguish it from other cylindrical speakers, like the Logitech UE Boom). The large nozzle is also easy to learn and use, thanks to its intuitive twist design. It turns left and right and can be pressed like a button, which is all you need to control a Bluetooth speaker.
The Spray can put out a good amount of sound for its small size, but its sound profile is strange even for a portable speaker. The deep bass is non-existent, and the speaker seems to bring out the higher bass and lower mids to compensate, resulting in bass guitar and synth riffs standing out against a complete lack of actual thump. Mids and high-mids sound overly bright, and treble response gets downright tinny at times. In the opening of The Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now,” the bass and horns both stood out against the other instruments, with the prominent bass line giving the song a “wobbly” feeling and the already characteristically bright brass almost squealing, while the drums had almost no impact outside of the high attack of the snares.
Bass response at higher volumes becomes atrocious. In our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Spray distorted the deep synth notes with notable pops and crackling, and the intro to the song sounded particularly buzzy. This is slightly surprising because the bass was barely there to begin with on the speaker; I hoped it would just ignore the bass material entirely, rather than try and reproduce it.
The Ecko Unltd Spray’s unique design is quite functional and visually striking, but it’s not enough to carry its mediocre audio performance. It can get loud and it sounds decent, but it can’t seem to break past “decent” into genuinely “good.” We would have liked it a lot more if it cost $100 instead of $160. If you have the wiggle room in your budget, spend the extra $40 and pick up either the Editors’ Choice Bose SoundLink II, which offers vastly superior sound quality, or the UE Boom, which offers great sound quality (though not quite as good as the SoundLink II) and a rugged, flexible design.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc