Braven Wireless Bluetooth Speaker
The first thing that struck me when I took the Braven 650 out of its box was its size. It is smaller than I imagined. I felt a tinge of apprehension as I thought that the size might affect its performance adversely – but for the most part it exceeded my expectations; but more on that later.
The way the Braven 650 is packaged was refreshing. It comes in a reusable plastic box – which makes for easy repacking if you want to take it on the road It is definitely sturdy enough to survive in the soft fabric bag that comes with it – but if you find yourself visiting different countries on a regular basis, keeping it together with all of the plug adapters (which will have you covered for outlets in just about every country on Earth) would be handy.
I have got to say that this was a refreshing change from the horrible blister packs that so much other stuff comes in these days.
The Braven 650 is a slick looking unit. The casing is a single piece of aircraft-grade aluminum (the sides are black plastic). It is pleasantly understated; and buttons have been kept to the bare minimum required to control the unit.
Setup is really, really easy. Make sure that Bluetooth is activated on whatever device you want to pair with the Braven 650, turn the Braven unit on (it beeps to let you know that it is on), then press and hold the phone button on the Braven unit until you hear a series of beeps. Your device will now recognize the speaker and you are ready to roll.
After the initial paring, it takes about a second for the connection to be established.
Responsiveness: As noted above, it takes about a second, maybe a little longer for the wireless connection to be established. After that the response time is virtually instantaneous – we are talking milliseconds.
Range: The range really depends on the sort of signal barriers that you have in your home. Braven quotes it as having a 10m range, but I found that it exceeded that by quite a bit, depending on what was in the way. At the side of my house, which has a lot of glass, it was able to reach pretty much to the edge of my garden, at the front of my house it just made the 10m (but it did get past the front door, which is reinforced with steel). It was not able to penetrate my steel shed.
Weaknesses: I found that it was possible to induce a little noise on the Braven when I streamed from my iMac. Regular usage was perfectly fine, but when the memory load was ramped up, there were a few occasional pauses and pops. This is not a weakness of the Braven 650 so much as it is of the equipment that you are pairing it with – but it is certainly something to consider if you are planning on using it with your computer. This was not an issue with my phone.
I tested the Braven 650 with a range of music genres.
The test list included, but was not limited to, the following:
Black Sabbath: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
Amy Winehouse: Tears Dry on Their Own
Jack White: Love Interruption
Portishead: Wandering Star
Leonard Cohen: Famous Blue Raincoat
Tool: You Lied
The Roots: Don’t Say Nuthin’
Peter Tosh: Legalize it
Bob Marley: Redemption Song
As someone who loves music but has not had access to a decent stereo system for years, I have to say that it reminded me of how much I had been missing. The Braven 650 did a truly sensational job of rendering the middle and high ranges. As the volume went up, the sounds became richer as opposed to louder. It was only in the very-upper volume ranges that distortion began to kick in and then it was only very occasionally.
Pretty much every song on the above list was played flawlessly; the challenges only became apparent as things became more bass-heavy. Oddly enough Famous Blue Raincoat was where I started to notice distortion at volume, things became more pronounced in Don’t Say Nuthin’ and were more noticeable in Wandering Star. In each of these cases, dropping the volume down a couple of notches was enough to alleviate the problem.
One feature that I did not get a chance to test out but would have loved to have looked at was the daisy-chaining capability. You can hook two Braven speakers together via the headphone jack to get twice as much sound.
Less Love for FLAC
In order to test things out properly, I raided my old hard disks for Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) versions of some of the above songs – and this is the first time that I noticed the Braven 650 having trouble. Without exception, the songs came out crisper, cleaner – the improvement in range was apparent, but the bass limitations were really exacerbated by the lossless sound – there were a few little pops of it in the Black Sabbath track, and by the time I got to Portishead, the volume had to be turned down to levels that my mother would find acceptable – loud enough to listen to, but not nearly loud enough to hear the little musical intricacies that make it special.
That being said, the Braven 650 is not a high-end stereo system, it is an ultra-portable wireless speaker succeeds in punching well above its weight. The size of FLAC files makes them unwieldy enough to keep most people, including myself, from putting them on their phones.
Hands Free Phone Performance
There isn’t much that really needs to be said here. The folks at Braven were kind enough to include a microphone in the 650, allowing it to function as a very nice speakerphone. Personally, I almost never find myself in situations where I want other people to hear what someone is saying to me over the phone (I use Skype for that) but if you are someone that does, then I can imagine that this little feature would come in quite handy.
At any rate, the calls were clear and free from distortion. It performed flawlessly in this regard.
The Braven 650 promises up to 20 hours of wireless listening. Rather than turning it on and waiting until it died, I thought that a better way to go would be to put it to more of a real-world listening test. I gave it a full charge, ran it for a full day, turned it off before bed and ran it until it died. It gave me approximately twenty hours of play-time, which translated into almost two full days of listening.
I also really liked that it can perform double-duty as a cell phone charger. With my phone plugged in and streaming music, I was able to take my phone from 20% to a full charge, and still had enough battery left over for some music. If you want a portable charger, there are better devices out there, but in a pinch – it would be nice to have.
What I would change about the Braven 650
As far as performance goes, the Braven 650 is an outstanding piece of equipment, but there are a couple of changes that I think would make it a nigh-on perfect mobile speaker. A flashing battery indicator would be fantastic: a slow single flash for low battery, double for mid-level charge, triple for high, and constant for full. The battery indicator that it does have uses colors, which – depending on ambient lighting conditions – might be hard to distinguish from one another.
There were a few times where I had music streaming from my iMac in another room that had me wishing for a remote. You can change tracks on the Braven 650, but it is a fairly tedious process. The flip-side of course is that it would be one more thing that could get lost.
As a highly mobile speaker, the Braven 650 exceeds all expectations. In most situations, the sound quality is out of this world, it does a great job as a speakerphone; the battery lasts longer than you will probably ever need – if you put more stock in treble than in bass. I tested it with a wide range of musical genres and it handled most things very well.
Where it fell down was with bass. Pops and crackles became evident at louder volume levels with music that had a lot of bass or music that mixed high highs with low lows, such as Portishead’s Wandering Star. This was not really a problem with MP3, because turning down the volume a couple of notches would fix the issue. With FLAC, it the problem was much more significant.
At the end of the day it comes down to this: the 650 is a high-end portable speaker. This is a lightweight portable speaker that can be thrown into any bag. To improve on the sound, you need to increase the size – which makes things heavier and even more expensive.
What you get for the price, is something that offers a vast improvement in sound quality over the vast majority of portable docks on the market. What it offers in terms of power-to-weight is nothing short of mind blowing – and as for the speakers onboard your MacBook Pro or iMac… it will put them to shame.
Rating: 5/5 if you like treble; 3/5 if you like bass; and 4/5 if you like a little bit of both.
What other people are saying
Amazon: 4.3 out of 5 stars
“Bass response was surprisingly good and there was minimal distortion at high volume. ”
Sound+Vision:“… if your main interest is simply being able to keep entertained wherever you are, or maybe to rock a (small) party with a pocket-sized piece of gear, the Braven is a good bet.”