Plenty of wireless Bluetooth speakers have hit the market, but nearly all of them are single enclosures containing multiple drivers. You can still hear stereo music through them, but without the wide soundstage and distinct imaging you’d get from a pair of separate speakers handling the left and right channels. Grace Digital’s new Bluetooth Speakers ($249.99 direct) are a convenient, well-designed solution that also doubles as a pair of wired speakers. It’s ideal for space-challenged apartment dwellers and audiophiles on a budget, and the perfect antidote for anyone who wants real stereo separation from their wireless audio streaming.
Design and Configuration
Each enclosure measures 7.4 by 4.5 by 7.2 inches (HWD) and weighs a solid 7.8 pounds. The leatherette casing, complete with prominent stitching, looks and feels nice. It also makes these speakers easy to pick up and move around, without fear of them clunking together and getting chipped or otherwise damaged just from walking about. You can get the speakers in red (like our loaner pair), white, or black; all three have black front panels.
The top panel of the left speaker contains a recessed Volume wheel, Play and Track Skip buttons, and a Power/Source button, along with status LEDs for Bluetooth and Line In. The volume knob is a little finicky to turn; usually my fingers slipped at least part of the time, but it’s not something you’ll need to adjust much, since your phone also has a digital volume control.
On the back panel of the left speaker, there’s a hardware Power switch, a useful USB jack for keeping your phone or tablet charged, a pair of stereo RCA line inputs, and a pair of gold binding posts for connecting the left speaker to the right one with the included speaker wire. Each enclosure is vented, so there’s a 1.5-inch bass reflex port on the back of each speaker. The right speaker’s back panel is clean save for the gold binding posts.
Each speaker contains a 3.5-inch composite paper cone woofer and a 1-inch soft dome tweeter. Both speaker drivers are covered with hard plastic grilles that aren’t removable, but should do well to protect the delicate drivers over years of use. With 18 watts per channel, the system is rated at 50Hz to 20kHz, albeit without plus or minus figures.
In addition to the speakers and speaker wire, Grace Digital includes an AC adapter, a printed manual, and a stereo Y-cable for connecting any device’s 3.5mm jack to the system’s stereo RCA inputs. There’s no hardware remote control.
Performance and Conclusions
I tested Bluetooth streaming with an iPhone 5, which doesn’t support aptX, a new codec that improves Bluetooth audio quality, and one that the Grace Digital Bluetooth Speakers support. Honestly, I didn’t need it. For the price, these speakers sound great; they’re exceptionally smooth and easy to listen to, which is exactly what you want for marathon music sessions.
In my tests, Rage Against the Machine’s “Fistful of Steel” had plenty of kick, with a smooth upper midrange that still had enough bite to render the electric guitar riffs properly. I also liked how loud I could turn the system up without hearing any harshness in the cymbals. On our standard bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the speakers held together well, and didn’t distort even at top volumes, while still outputting a good amount of the electronic kit drum and synthesized bass.
Ani DiFranco’s “Knuckle Down” showed off the speaker’s smooth tonal balance, while rendering much of her acoustic guitar pick work and an evenly played stand-up bass with plenty of presence in the low end. And Depeche Mode’s “Suffer Well” sounded nicely detailed, albeit a little muffled; it’s a warm-sounding track to begin with, so on speakers like these with a polite high end, it can be a little too reserved, if still quite enjoyable. That’s far better than the alternative, which would be a harsher, brighter sound that’s difficult to listen to.
So the system sounds great, but I found a few nits to complain about. Unfortunately, the system wouldn’t reconnect on its own. Each time I powered it up, I had to go into my iPhone’s Bluetooth settings and select the Grace Digital speakers before it connected again. One other quirk: There’s a small level of audible background hiss at normal listening levels. It gets louder as you crank up the volume. This is true of a lot of desktop speakers when connected with a wire, but it’s unfortunate given the intended Bluetooth wireless mission.
As long as you’re not expecting serious bass punch, the Grace Digital Bluetooth Speakers will satisfy; they sound sufficiently full and powerful, with all kinds of music I tried. I’d love to see a version with a larger 5 or 6-inch woofer, for anyone with the requisite desk or shelf space. The slightly more expensive Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II is a solid one-box solution that folds up nicely, thanks to its built-in cover, and also sounds pleasant and reaches relatively high volumes. But you won’t get the same stereo separation, and there’s no built-in USB port. Finally, if you don’t need wireless, the M-Audio AV 40 saves you $50 and delivers similarly powerful and detailed sound in a slightly larger enclosure. Finally, Logitech’s Z600 Bluetooth Speakers pair is $100 less expensive, sounds good for the price, and also offers a USB connection for a cleaner sound when hooked up to a PC or Mac.
|Connections||USB, Stereo RCA, Speaker Wire|
|Wireless Remote Control||No|
|Power Rating (Left and Right, Each)||18 watts RMS per channel|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc