Personal computers, once a driving force in the expansion of digital music, have been largely replaced by highly mobile cell phones and tablets.
That change is all the more evident with the explosion of new USB- and/or Bluetooth-enabled speakers that combine portability with excellent audio.
Though designed primarily to free us from our earbuds, these portable speakers can also vastly improve the tinny, AM radio–like sound of laptops and some desktop PCs.
In my quest for better music fidelity, I checked out a quartet of wireless and wired speakers — and a high-end headphone set — listening to a variety of music through both iTunes and Windows Media Player.
Braven 850/855s: A new definition of super-sonic
Filling a room with noise is easy. The 20-watt Braven 850 (site) portable speaker uses SRS WOW HD technology to deliver balanced audio with nicely defined bass, distinct midrange, and accented treble.
The Braven also looks as good as it sounds. Wrapped in aircraft-grade aluminum, the 3.5-pound box includes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery rated for 20 hours between charges. I didn’t use the speaker for 20 hours straight, but after eight hours of play, the battery check lights showed a 60 percent charge. (There are five lights, each representing a 20 percent charge.) That’s pretty impressive, given that most mobile devices you’d pair with the Braven won’t last that long.
As with other portable speakers I’ve reviewed, the Braven doubles as a charging station for mobile devices — cell phones, tablets, and laptops — the last via a pass-through USB 2.0 port. The box also includes a noise-cancellation microphone for use as a speakerphone (albeit an expensive one).