5 bluetooth speakers: make your music mobile

We test a range of wireless speakers that can enhance your audio anywhere you go.

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As a speakerphone, the Mini Boombox is satisfactory, but not something you'd want to use regularly. It interrupted the music when the call came in with a series of tones that sounded a bit like the theme from the old Twilight Zone TV show. On my end, the voice of my caller was quite strong and clear, but occasionally broke up -- not enough to really interrupt the conversation, but still noticeably. The caller at the other end reported that my voice was tinny and a bit fuzzy; there was also a slight echo.

Bottom line

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Logitech Mini Boombox for anyone who wants a small portable speaker for a smartphone or other mobile device. While it's not quite as handily designed as the Matrix One, it is compact and very lightweight (at 8 oz., it's even lighter than the Jam), and offers fine sound quality. At $100 list, it's a good buy.

Sound Kick SFQ-04

10.5 x 4.2 x 1.6 in. (2.5 in. when open) Weight: 1.6 lb. Price: $99.99 (direct)

The Sound Kick is more in the ballpark of Jawbone's Big Jambox than of the smaller speakers in this roundup. Made by SoundFreaq, a company that concentrates on audio products, it is an excellent speaker for home or office use.

Sound Kick

The Sound Kick is a little different than the others in form factor and approach. Like the Big Jambox, it is rectangular, but it is narrower and lighter. Like the Matrix One, the Sound Kick has a moving part; in this case, you pull out its "Extension Chamber," a rectangular section a little under an inch wide that acts like a pop-out stand and increases the speaker's bass response.

SoundFreaq also includes its own stereo technology, called UQ3, which helps the stereo effect of music by, according to the company, enhancing the perceived stereo separation. While the technology didn't have quite the radical effect that the Big Jambox did, it certainly did improve the sound, making it sound fuller and allowing it to reach impressive volumes.

Most of the controls are on the top of the case: forward and back buttons, pause/play, pair (to pair with a Bluetooth device), a button that turns the UQ3 on and off, two volume buttons and the power button. A light on the front of unit lets you know when it's on, pairing, or changing modes.

I had a bit of trouble with the forward, back and pause/play buttons at first -- I kept pressing them harder and harder without any apparent reaction. It took me a while to realize that the problem wasn't that they weren't sensitive enough -- but that they were very sensitive, and a mere touch was enough to make them work properly. After that, I had no issues with them.

Unlike the other speakers in this roundup, which can be powered via USB or AC, the Sound Kick comes only with an AC power cord. However, it does have an outgoing USB port that lets you charge a wireless device using the Sound Kick's battery, as long as that battery is sufficiently charged (according to the company, you get about 7 hours of use per charge) and/or the volume is below about 60% or so. There is also a 3.5mm line-in jack if you want to listen to a wired device.

SoundFreaq offers apps for iOS and Android devices; I tried the one for Android, and while it has a few advantages -- for example, it allows you to remotely access the volume and mute features of the speaker, and to turn the UQ3 on and off -- it accesses your music files in a rather haphazard manner. You're better off with your favorite music app.

Bottom line

Soundfreaq's Sound Kick is an impressive piece of technology, offering really good sound at a reasonable price. Its emphasis is obviously on being a speaker that you can transport if you need to rather than something to carry around casually. Although, at 1.6 lb., it's certainly light enough to carry in a backpack or messenger bag without much of an issue, it's not as compact as, say, the Jam or the Matrix One, and can't be used as a speakerphone. But for fine portable audio at a reasonable cost, this is a good buy.

Big Jambox

10.0 x 3.1 x 3.6 in. Weight: 2.7 lb. Price: $299.99 (direct and retail)

Jawbone has made a name for itself as the manufacturer of stylish and good-quality audio products, including its Bluetooth headsets and its Jambox portable speaker. Recently, the company added a larger, higher-end version of the Jambox, which it calls, logically, the Big Jambox.

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