Marshall amps have been an iconic aspect of rock and roll for decades. They’ve been the speakers many top-name musicians and bands have played with since 1966. They haven’t really been consumer products (not counting garage band members) until recently, though, with the Marshall Monitor headphones. Marshall is expanding on that idea with the Stanmore and Hanwell, big Bluetooth speakers that evoke the aesthetics of Marshall amps but offer performance and connectivity suitable for any music lover with a smartphone. We tested the $400 (direct) Stanmore, and while pricier and less portable than most Bluetooth speakers, its sound quality and power is top-notch and its design is a look at rock and roll’s past. It’s our new Editors’ Choice for high-end Bluetooth speakers.
This isn’t a Marshall amp turned into a Bluetooth speaker; it’s a consumer speaker built in China, not Marshall’s factory in England, and its size and design are meant to evoke the look of Marshall amps, not replicate their performance. The Stanmore is a “compact” speaker only in comparison to its bigger brother, the Hanwell. For nearly every other Bluetooth speaker currently on the market, it’s huge. It’s 13.8 inches wide, 7.3 inches tall and deep, and weighs 11.2 pounds. Its size and heft let it pack more audio power than smaller Bluetooth speakers, though. Under the fret grille cloth sit a 5.25-inch woofer, two 0.75-inch tweeters, and an 80-watt class D digital amplifier. That’s much, much more power than you’ll find behind smaller speakers like the Bose SoundLink II, though it means the Stanmore is both chunky and requires a power outlet; you can’t pick it up and run on battery power like most Bluetooth speakers.
The Stanmore oozes classic rock style. It looks and feels like a small guitar amp, covered in leather with a gold-trimmed cloth grille with a gold-painted plastic Marshall logo on the front. The controls are pure retro, with a brass toggle power switch, round metal Source/Wake and Pair buttons, and analog control knobs for Volume, Treble, and Bass. The Bluetooth, Optical, Input 1, and Input 2 lights are all tiny, recessed red LEDs that would look at home on a decades-old stereo system, next to a sturdy, brass 3.5mm input jack. The back of the speaker is simpler but just as retro-functional, with optical and stereo RCA audio inputs and a toggle switch for selecting Standard or Powersaver standby modes. All it’s missing is a 1/4-inch jack, but an adapter will let the 3.5mm port on top do in a pinch. Even the included 3.5mm audio cable is stylish, with a thick, coiled wire and long, guitar input-style brass plugs on each end.
The Bass and Treble knobs are unusual if you’re used to other speakers; here, the knobs are designed more like amps, with levels from 0 to 10. I found the best performance came from turning Bass and Treble to near maximum, and that lower levels resulted in a slightly muffled sound. Curiously, even boosting bass and treble to the max didn’t seem to do very much boosting of the sound signature, and neither end of the spectrum sounded particularly blown out at those settings.
Marshall claims the Stanmore can span 45 to 22,000 Hz, giving it a hefty reach across the frequency spectrum. Without a subwoofer it can’t dip into the really thrumming sub-bass, but it still performed admirably in our tests. With The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Stanmore reproduced both the synth notes and kick drum at full volume and with respectable force, though it couldn’t shake the walls quite like full sound systems with dedicated subwoofers can. The lack of distortion and surprisingly clear reproduction of the deep bass was admirable, and presented some of the more subtle details of the opening to that track that are usually destroyed by the sub-bass, either by overpowering them through sheer force or distorting along with the bass.
To honor its old-fashioned, amp-like design, I listened to some Iron Maiden and King Diamond on the Stanmore. Both “The Number of the Beast” and “The Family Ghost” sounded full and crisp, with the speaker highlighting the contrast between Bruce Dickinson’s sharp, bright vocals and Dave Murray’s grainier-sounding guitar track. King Diamond sounded roundly excellent in “The Family Ghost,” even when his vocals kicked in near the ultrasonic barrier. For non-metal, the Stanmore sounded equally strong. Charlie Parker’s performance of “Summertime” was warm and full, with his alto saxophone offering plenty of sharpness without becoming painfully bright. The Crystal Method’s “Over the Line” was upbeat and forceful, with the synth-heavy drums and robotic voices sounding full without any one aspect drowning out the other.
The Marshall Stanmore is a stylish speaker with a classic aesthetic and excellent performance. Fans of guitar amps and studio monitors will appreciate the Stanmore’s design, and anyone who listens will appreciate the clear audio performance. Its $400 price tag and 11-pound frame make it a more daunting investment than the portable Bose SoundLink II, but its power, connectivity, and appearance make up for it. If you like the look, it’s worth a close listen. As another alternative, if you prefer iOS devices and have slightly deeper pockets, the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air offers superior audio performance for a higher price, albeit with the occasional audio hiccups that sometimes come with using AirPlay and not Bluetooth.
|Connections||3.5mm, Optical, Stereo RCA|
|Wireless Remote Control||No|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc