Portable Bluetooth speakers are rarely powerhouses—the fact that a speaker needs to be small and battery powered often takes it out of the running for subwoofer-like thunder. The Grain Audio PWS.01, a beautiful $249.00 (direct) Bluetooth speaker, delivers laudable audio performance across most genres, with rich lows and crisp high-mids. Alas, the speaker runs into trouble on tracks with serious sub-bass content, and while that’s not a surprise in the portable Bluetooth speaker realm, it shouldn’t happen in this high a price range. If you don’t listen to music with really deep bass at high volumes, it won’t be an issue for you, but it holds back the otherwise lovely and balanced PWS.01 from greatness.
Measuring 3.2 by 7 by 2.4 inches (HWD), the PWS.01 is an eye-catcher. The shell is made of solid “FSC-certified” walnut, making each speaker slightly unique owing to the pattern of the grain. Gray, metallic grilles with rubberized trim cover the front and rear panels of the rectangular speaker, and rubberized feet keep it from dancing around tabletops when playing at high volumes. On the top panel, the G logo is under-lit in various colors depending on the speaker’s pairing/charging status.
In terms of onboard controls, the PWS.01 has only a Volume Up and Down button, and the Bluetooth pairing button, which doubles as a Play/Pause button. Surprisingly, there’s no speakerphone function like many less expensive Bluetooth speakers have, and there are no track navigation buttons on the speaker—so you have to skip tunes on your mobile device itself. The right-hand side panel houses a micro USB connection for charging the speaker, and a 3.5mm Aux input for wired playback from mobile devices and computers.
The PWS.01 ships with a 3.5mm cable for the Aux input, and a USB charging cable that plugs into a wall adaptor, but can also be used to charge via your computer’s USB port. A nicer-than-usual protective carrying pouch is also included. Unlike many speaker pouches, it has a thicker cloth that feels like it would actually protect the speaker—important when the surface can be so easily scratched.
A female voice tells you when you’re in pairing mode and when pairing is complete; the process was simple and quick using an iPhone 5s. Grain Audio rates the PWS.01′s lithium ion battery life at roughly 8 hours, but your results will depend upon how loudly you play your music back.
On tracks with serious sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the PWS.01 has some disappointing results. At top volumes on both the speaker and the sound source—in this case, an iPhone 5s—the speaker distorted its way through the challenging intro to this track. That’s something you’d expect from a speaker that costs perhaps $150 or less, but not a $250 system. Even at moderate listening levels, the distortion remained on this track. So, if you listen to a lot of electronic music with rumbling sub-bass, the PWS.01 may not be the best option for you.
The good news is, on other genres, at least, the PWS.01 sounds pretty excellent. On Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” his baritone vocals are delivered with a pleasant richness in the lows, but just the right amount of high-mid edge to keep them in the forefront of the mix. At top volumes, it sounds like the digital signal processing (DSP)—Grain Audio claims it’s “MaxxAudio from Waves”—is kicking in, and pulling certain aspects of the mix further out to forefront. This tends to happen at top volumes, and fortunately for the Callahan tracks I listened to, it seemed to highlight mostly his vocals.
Unlike the Knife’s sub-bass-infused “Silent Shout,” Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” delivers a dense mix, but its sub-bass synth hits are dialed back a bit. This means that at max volume (on both speaker and sound source), the PWS.01 doesn’t distort on this track. The DSP audibly kicks in at top volumes, however, squashing a lot of the dynamics. It sounds better than distortion, for sure, but purists will probably not love the sculpting of the sound that happens at higher volumes. At moderate levels, this track is delivered with a pleasing balance—there’s a strong low-mid presence, but also crisp high-mids that help the attack of the drum loop and vocals stay well-defined. That said, the overall sound signature of the PWS.01 is more crisp (high-mid-focused) than it is bright—the highest frequencies take a backseat to mids.
Classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” don’t get terribly loud on the PWS.01—in fact, the speaker system, despite its higher price, has a fairly modest top volume level. It’s definitely louder than smaller portable speakers, but its slightly larger size and price imply a bit more power than it ends up pushing out. It can fill a small room with sound with no issues, however, and classical tracks are at least delivered with an excellent balance of lows and highs. The lower register strings get a bit of added bass boost, but the spotlight still focuses on the higher register strings, brass, and percussion.
The distortion is a true bummer in this price range, but if you don’t listen to throbbing electronic music, you’re probably in the clear. If you do listen to music with deep lows, consider a system like the Bose SoundLink Mini or the Boston Acoustics MC100 Blue, neither of which will able to deliver a subwoofer-esque experience (no portable speaker can, really), but they won’t distort at top volumes. If the wireless aspect is the main attraction, and you don’t need much portability, your options increase in both power and price—consider the Soundcast Melody, which can deliver serious low-end, but with excellent balance. Finally, if its portability you need most, but you want to spend far less money on a wireless speaker, the Panasonic SC-NT10 is a small, distortion-free option, but it is a much more modest, portable speaker, so don’t expect audio fireworks. For the price, the Grain Audio PWS.01 only has one real issue—the distortion on powerfully deep bass. For many listeners, this won’t be an issue, and the system will sound as good as it looks, but it’s still an unfortunate flaw on such an otherwise alluring system.
|Wireless Remote Control||No|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc