Bonnie Cha

Battle of the Boom Boxes

Summer is just around the corner, and a great way to kick off the season is with a backyard barbeque or pool party full of good friends, good food and, of course, good tunes.

Thanks to portable wireless speakers, bringing the entertainment outdoors is easier than ever, and the Jawbone Big Jambox and Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker are two such solutions. Both speakers connect to a variety of Bluetooth-enabled devices, including the iPhone, Android tablets and laptops.

At $299 each, the two devices are more expensive than some of the speaker systems out there, such as the $99 Soundfreaq Sound Kick, but you get a richer audio experience and advanced functions for the money.

I tested both speakers — in my apartment and at a party — and while the Bose SoundLink has a more travel-friendly design and cranks out an impressive level of volume, I found the sound quality to be better on the Big Jambox. Plus, it offers a few extra features over the Bose, including a two-way speakerphone and better battery life.

Set-up for both systems was easy. I paired each with an iPhone 4, an Android tablet and a laptop, and listened to music from my personal library, streaming services, movies and games.

The Big Jambox and SoundLink pump out an impressive amount of sound for their size. They filled my one-bedroom apartment at mid-volume levels, and also worked well at a friend’s backyard birthday party, with the speaker volume at 75 percent. I played a variety of genres, including classical, hip-hop and rock.

Bose’s system provided deep and rich audio, and there wasn’t any distortion at higher volumes. However, I often thought the treble took a back seat to the bass, so vocals and higher notes weren’t as pronounced and sounded muddy, while the percussion and bass instruments dominated.

Meanwhile, the Big Jambox offered a nice combination of both. The treble was clear and bright; the bass thumped without being overpowering. The overall sound was also fuller, though there was a little distortion at high volume levels. I asked a few partygoers for their opinion, and a majority preferred the Jambox’s sound.

Released just this week, the Big Jambox is a larger version of the original Jambox, measuring 3.6 inches tall by 10 inches wide by 3.1 inches deep, and weighing 2.7 pounds. The rectangular speaker isn’t as easy to tote around as its smaller sibling, but I didn’t have any problems storing it in a backpack. (Jawbone offers a carrying case for an additional $49.95.)

The Big Jambox has an attractive modern design with a wraparound metal grille. The white model is particularly eye-catching, but you can also get it in black or red. I appreciate that Jawbone added rubber pads on the bottom of the speaker so that it doesn’t move around or vibrate when played at higher volume levels.

On top of the speaker, there are six rubber buttons for controlling the player and volume. A Talk button activates the speakerphone whenever you get a call on a Bluetooth-connected phone, and you can also press it to hear the remaining battery life.

The controls are easy to use, and I like that the Jambox provides audio feedback for numerous functions. For example, when you power the speaker on or off, you hear a whooshing noise. I didn’t think much of this audio feedback until I started testing the Bose unit, which primarily uses visual cues on a small LED screen that is easy to overlook.

Some other features that make the Big Jambox different from the Bose are its speakerphone capabilities and Live Audio technology. The built-in microphone allows you to conduct hands-free calls. If you’re listening to music, the track will automatically pause whenever you make or receive a call, and then resume where it left off once you’re done.

In my tests, the speakerphone’s audio quality was clear, with minimal background noise. The results were a bit mixed for my callers. Some friends said I sounded fine, though they could tell I was on a speakerphone, but a couple of people said there was a bit of voice distortion.

Meanwhile, Live Audio technology simulates the effect of hearing music live, and provides a more three-dimensional sound, but I chose to keep it turned off most of the time. Though Live Audio makes it sound like you’re listening to music in a large amphitheater, I thought the vocals got drowned out in the process, so the fact that the SoundLink didn’t have a similar feature wasn’t a deal breaker for me.

The Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker’s strongest attribute is portability. The whole unit measures 5.1 inches tall by 9.6 inches wide by 1.9 inches deep, and weighs 2.9 pounds. It’s taller than the Big Jambox, but its slimmer profile makes it easier to slip into a bag or carry by hand.

It’s also durable. When I accidentally dropped the speaker, I was relieved to see there wasn’t any damage. And Bose did a smart thing by integrating a protective nylon grille cover, which doubles as the speaker’s stand.

Bose said it chose to concentrate on durability, sound and mobility when designing the SoundLink, so speakerphone capabilities weren’t a priority at the time. The company would not comment on whether it would integrate a microphone in its next product.

One final thing to consider with these speakers is battery life. Bose’s estimated battery life for the SoundLink is eight hours; the Big Jambox gets 15 hours. With volume set at two-thirds, in my tests the SoundLink came in at eight hours and the Jambox lasted an impressive 13 hours.

If you’re looking for portable wireless speakers, the Bose SoundLink Wireless Speaker and Jawbone Big Jambox are both great-sounding units. The SoundLink is more travel-friendly and durable than the Jambox. But if you’re willing to spend $300 on a system, you’ll get more features from the Jambox, plus longer battery life, and slightly better audio quality that’s perfect for home and outdoors.


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