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Computerized Investing > September 21, 2013
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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

$129.95

Rugged, dust-proof and water-resistant Bluetooth speaker.

This summer I had the opportunity to review several Bluetooth speakers geared toward outdoor use. Now that September has rolled around and the leaves around Chicago are starting to turn, I take a look at one last outdoor speaker—the Turtle Shell from Outdoor Technology. Looking back on all the speakers I reviewed to date, the Turtle Shell’s closest rival is probably the Braven BRV-1. Both speakers are designed to survive rainstorms and other splashes and are definitely geared toward outdoor use.

Out of the Box

The Turtle Shell and BRV-1 are also similar in that they have distinct designs compared to their competitors. Whereas I likened the BRV-1 to a Star Wars TIE fighter, the Turtle Shell, as its name suggests, is a multi-angled turtle shell. The speaker measures 5.6 inches by 3.9 inches by 2.1 inches, giving it a smaller footprint than the Braven BRV-1 but a larger one than the typical “speak bar” models I’ve reviewed. The Turtle Shell also weighs around 11 ounces, which is roughly equivalent to the BRV-1. Put the Turtle Shell in the included carrying bag and it becomes truly portable.

The review model I received was coated in black rubber (but several colors are available), which helps to protect it from bumps and drops and makes it dust-proof and water resistant. In fact, the Turtle Shell has an IP65 water-resistant rating, meaning it can withstand water short of submersion.

On the “front” of the speaker is a set of three control buttons. The two outside buttons control track forward and advance while also doubling as volume up and down, depending on how long you hold down the button. The center button is the play/pause/call button.

On one side is a dedicated on/off switch, and on the other is a sealed compartment for audio and power ports: a 3.5-mm audio-in port for connecting the speaker to non-Bluetooth devices and the USB charging port. Unfortunately, Outdoor Technology decided to go with a proprietary connector instead of the standard micro-USB connector found on almost all other speakers (but on the upside, they did include a wall adapter). This can create significant problems if you lose the cable, as I did. Luckily I located it after a few days, but I can’t understand why you are forced to keep track of another cable when every device today seemingly ships with a micro-USB charging cord. What makes it even worse is that you have to order replacement cables, which cost $5, from the Outdoor Technology website; they were even out of stock at the time I had misplaced mine (they are now available).

On the bottom of the speaker, standard camera threading is built into the base. It’s designed to be used with Outdoor Technology’s “Turtle Claw” bike mount and all-purpose clip. With it you can securely mount the speaker to anything under 1.5 inches thick, such as handlebars on a bike. Also on the bottom is a rubber grate that protects the down-firing bass driver.

Sound Quality

For a portable Bluetooth speaker, the overall sound quality of the Turtle Shell’s twin speaker drivers was above-average. It isn’t as loud as some of the other Bluetooth speakers I’ve looked at, which is something the BRV-1 also suffered from. I thought the sound was a bit fuller with the Turtle Shell compared to the BRV-1, and wasn’t as tinny at high volumes, although there was some noticeable distortion at maximum volume. The bass driver delivered surprisingly noticeable beats too, but wasn’t overly muddy at high volumes. I would give the sound quality edge to the Turtle Shell over the BRV-1. As I said, it isn’t as good as the sound bar speakers I’ve reviewed, but it is definitely more rugged.

Hands-Free Calling

The Turtle Shell offers speakerphone and microphone technology, both of which I found to be acceptable. I am not a fan of speakerphones to begin with, especially when out in public where others have to listen in whether they want to or not. I found the BRV-1 to offer better sound quality overall because of its noise-canceling microphone.

Device Charging/Battery Life

As I mentioned earlier, the Turtle Shell uses a proprietary connector for charging, something that completely baffles me. When fully charged, the rechargeable lithium battery delivers roughly nine hours of play time and 700 hours of standby time. The BRV-1 has a distinct leg up here, as its built-in battery allows you to charge other devices. This is an advantage when you are far away from an outlet. Furthermore, the BRV-1’s larger battery gives it up to 12 hours of continuous playback. The nine hours of battery life for the Turtle Shell, however, is above average compared to other Bluetooth speakers.

Overall

Outdoor Technology is catering to outdoor enthusiasts with its Turtle Shell Bluetooth speaker. If you are merely looking for a portable speaker to take around the house, or even just out on the deck or patio, I am not sure if this speaker is what you are looking for. The sound quality is okay, but not as good as the Braven 600. When put head-to-head with what I consider to be its closest competition, the Braven BRV-1, the Turtle Shell wins out on sound quality and value. The Turtle Shell sells for $130, whereas the BRV-1 costs $180. However, the BRV-1 does allow you to charge additional devices. Both can also withstand water, but not complete submersion. What really turned me off, however, was the proprietary connector for charging the Turtle Shell. For me, this was a deal-breaker when I first opened it, and became doubly so when I thought I had lost it. While I give the Turtle Shell my conditional recommendation because of its sound quality, value and rugged design, I would give the nod to the BRV-1 for those looking for a true portable outdoor Bluetooth speaker.

Pros

  • Shock-proof, dust-proof, water-resistant
  • Wall charger included
  • Speakerphone
  • Lightweight
  • Standard camera threading for mounting

Cons

  • Proprietary charging connector
  • Not as loud as other portable speakers

Outdoor Technology Turtle Shell Bluetooth Speaker

$129.95 (Currently $129.95 from Amazon.com)

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA is a vice president and senior financial analyst at AAII and editor of Computerized Investing. Follow him on Twitter at @WayneTAAII.


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