As smartphones have become increasingly popular, the number of accessories and gadgets you can buy has risen exponentially. Instead of just being able to make and receive phone calls, you can manage your investment portfolio, video conference, play games, listen to music and more. With streaming music services such as Pandora and Spotify accessible on your phone, many consumers are looking for speakers that enhance the listening experience. In this column, I have reviewed several Bluetooth speakers, including the Jawbone Jambox, soundmatters foxL and Satechi Audio Cube. Each offer wireless audio in a compact package. This week I take a look at another: the Braven 600. The portable speaker bar offers wireless, battery-powered audio as well as speakerphone functionality. In addition, it offers the unique feature of being able to charge devices with its USB port.
Out of the Box
Unlike the Satechi Audio Cube I reviewed in May, the Braven 600 is a “traditional” speaker bar, similar to the foxL and Jambox. It measures 6.25 inches by 2.5 inches by 1.75 inches, making it slightly larger than the foxL and Jambox. The added dimensions, however, don’t add to the weight; it weighs in at 12 ounces, the same as the Jambox.
The speaker itself is constructed from aluminum, which gives it a bit of an industrial look as well as making it feel very durable. Interestingly, the Braven 600 felt more solid than the Jambox, even though they weigh the same. Of all the speakers I’ve reviewed here, the 600 came across as being the sturdiest. Given its size, weight and construction, I wouldn’t hesitate to carry it with me wherever I needed portable audio capability.
Braven ships the 600 with a 40-inch USB charging cable, A/C adapter, 24-inch 3.5mm audio cable and a carrying bag.
On the right side of the speaker are buttons to answer, end and mute calls; for Bluetooth pairing; and to pause music playback. There is also a power switch, volume up/music skip track button, micro-USB charging port, volume down/music previous track button, and 3.5mm audio-in port for connecting non-Bluetooth devices. An LED light indicates Bluetooth sync and power status.
On the left side of the 600 there is a battery capacity check button, 3.5mm audio-out port for connecting multiple Braven devices together, and a full-sized USB port for charging other devices. On this side there is also a battery capacity indicator light.
Button positioning is the one area where the Braven falls short of the Jambox. I prefer having the button on the top of the speaker, which is the case with the Jambox. This makes operation somewhat easier since you can better see which buttons you are pushing. But this is definitely not a deal-breaker, more of a minor annoyance.
On the bottom of the speaker are two rubber feet that do a good job of preventing the speaker from “dancing” at high volume.
Setting up and pairing the Braven 600 was very easy. Braven suggests that you fully charge the speaker when using it the first time, which takes between two and four hours. You can use the included A/C adapter and USB charging cable or you can plug the USB end into a powered USB port on a computer. Keep in mind, however, that the wall charger is faster.
To pair the 600 with your Bluetooth-enabled devices, make sure your speaker is on and that your Bluetooth device is on and in pairing mode. To put the 600 in pairing mode, press and hold the call/Bluetooth pairing button for several seconds until the LED light starts flashing. Then select the Braven device from the list of available devices on your Bluetooth device and the two will connect. If the connection is successful, an audible chime will sound on the speaker and the white LED light will stop flashing.
If you have a non-Bluetooth device, or if you want to conserve battery power, you can also connect devices to the Braven 600 with the 3.5mm audio cord.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the audio quality of all the Bluetooth speakers I’ve looked at, and the Braven 600 did not disappoint. The speaker is perfect for sitting out on my deck streaming music from my iPhone with Spotify or Pandora or listening to my beloved Detroit Tigers over the MLB At Bat app. This speaker is perfect for an outing to the beach or park or even in the office. Compared to the Jambox, the sound was fuller and didn’t experience any distortion at high volume. I’ve had more than a few neighbors stop and ask me about it when I am outside listening to it.
One feature Braven offers on its speakers that I have yet to run across elsewhere is mobile charging. The 600 has a 1400 mAh power supply that powers it when it is not plugged in. However, you can also plug in other devices to the 600 and it will charge them too (no matter if the speaker is plugged in or not). This is a great feature, since my iPhone 4S is a battery hog. Now, I can plug in my Braven 600 to my outside outlet and connect my iPhone to the speaker’s USB port and enjoy endless audio. Even when I’m not near a plug, it’s nice to know I can give my iPhone a boost from my speaker if the battery starts running low. Obviously, this will reduce the listening time of the speaker, but it is a useful feature nonetheless.
The charging feature does have its limitations, however. I was not able to charge my iPad 2 with the Braven 600. This is not surprising since the iPad requires a more powerful charger. In addition, if you use the 3.5mm audio-in port, the charging capability is disabled.
Most Bluetooth speakers offer hands-free calling. Frankly, I don’t see the point and never use this feature. That being said, the Braven 600 offers a built-in speakerphone in order to make or take hands-free calls. The speaker automatically switches to your ringtone when a call comes in and the music is paused. When you end the call, the music automatically resumes. The speakerphone is compatible with Bluetooth-enabled phones, Facetime, iChat, Skype and more.
Where the 600 really stands out is with its battery life. Braven rates the 600 as having 12 hours of continuous play battery life (where the Jambox offers eight to 10 hours). To check the status of the battery, press the battery check button on the left side of the speaker. The LED indicator light will be white when the battery is above 50%, blue for 10% to 50% and red when the battery is below 10%.
The Braven 600 has jumped to the top of my list among Bluetooth speakers. It surpasses the Jambox in terms of sound quality and battery life and is able to deliver these at a lower price point. While it will never replace your stereo, having a portable, wireless speaker that streams high-quality audio from your smartphone is definitely worth the $149.99 price tag.
- Excellent construction
- Impressive sound quality from such a small package
- Built-in battery can charge mobile devices
- Button positioning is slightly awkward
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.
All "Gadget Corner" reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.