Review: Cambridge Soundworks OontZ Angle Bluetooth Speaker
Reviewing Cambridge Soundworks' OontZ XL earlier this week, we noted that the historically value-conscious speaker developer had released a Bluetooth wireless audio system that simultaneously challenged Jawbone's Jambox and Big Jambox, the former on performance and the latter on price. Measuring 10.2" wide, the $150 OontZ XL was nowhere near as compact as the original Jambox, but easily blew it away sonically -- no shock given the extra room its chassis had inside for bigger speakers. However, we're even more impressed by Cambridge's OontZ Angle ($70), which also manages to eclipse Jambox in a far smaller and more affordable package. For a couple of reasons, Angle isn't the perfect small Bluetooth speaker, but it's undeniably impressive for its price, delivering greater bang for the buck than anything we've seen at its price point.
Like many other speaker makers, Cambridge Soundworks has come up with an industrial design that clearly apes Jambox without completely copying it. Measuring 5.4” wide by 2.7” tall by 2.85” deep, OontZ Angle has a curved triangular enclosure made primarily from black soft-touch rubber-coated plastic, accented with a colored perforated metal front grille. While Jawbone offers Jambox in wave, diamond, hex and dot grille textures, OontZ Angle has only a wavy front, but that part comes in your choice of nine colors. A bright blue power indicator light is centered behind the front grille, and is easily seen even through the blue-grilled version of OontZ Angle. Just like OontZ XL, OontZ Angle falls short of Jawbone’s iconic overall industrial design due to a combination of material, button design, and labeling choices—Cambridge actually and oddly prints a full list of pairing instructions on Angle’s bottom, between four rubber dot feet—but the price is so much lower than Jawbone’s that it’s hard to complain.
Materials aside, some people may even prefer OontZ Angle’s triangular shape to the boxier Jambox. Choosing that shape created several challenges for Cambridge while also offering one immediate benefit: the ability to angle its two front-firing speakers slightly upwards rather than keeping them parallel to the surface OontZ Angle is resting on. The challenges are all ergonomic. Cambridge had to soften what otherwise would have been sharp triangular edges, which it did by creating a shape that gently bulges outwards on three sides—one that mightn’t be as briefcase-friendly as the rectangular Jambox—and its controls had to go on the back. While we’re normally not fans of back-mounted buttons, OontZ Angle places them high enough on the rear surface that they’re easy to reach with a finger, separating volume down and volume up buttons with a central call answer/Bluetooth pairing control.
Notably, aux-in and mini-USB—yes, mini-USB—ports are located alongside a very basic battery charging indicator light and on/off switch near the back bottom; the switch’s positioning isn’t ideal, but becomes easy to remember after only a brief period of use. Cambridge includes USB and 3.5mm aux-in cables in the package, as well as a velvety black carrying bag with a drawstring closure. Like the speaker’s black plastic, the bag shows dust and grime pretty easily, but it’s better than might be expected for the price.
So is OontZ Angle’s audio. Cambridge obviously benchmarked this speaker directly against the original Jambox, aiming to outperform Jawbone’s $200 model, and generally succeeded. While this isn’t a huge surprise given that at least a dozen similarly small speakers match or exceed the Jambox’s performance at lower price points, this is the first sub-$70 speaker we’ve tested that would beat Jambox in blind comparisons. Both speakers perform at the same loud but less-than-small room-filling peak volume level, and feature nearly identical bass, but OontZ Angle trades just a little midrange smoothness for noticeably punchier treble—a big difference that makes the less expensive system sound more dynamic, and Jambox sound comparatively dull. OontZ Angle also offers markedly better speakerphone performance than the Jambox; despite mounting its microphone on the upper back left corner, OontZ Angle manages to produce cleaner outgoing sound than the Jambox, falling only a little short of the audio quality in iPhone 5’s integrated microphone.
The only way OontZ Angle lags Jambox in audio was unexpected: despite the two-driver design, and a width that’s only around 0.6” narrower, Angle somehow offers nearly zero stereo separation. Songs with distinct left and right channel audio sounded effectively monaural coming out of OontZ Angle, which wasn’t the case with Jambox, but has been seen as a limitation in some of the sub-$100 challengers we’ve tested. Practically speaking, this isn’t a huge issue given that stereo separation is rarely pronounced in speakers with drivers located five or fewer inches apart, but if you’re looking for a proper stereo experience, you should know not to expect it here.
OontZ Angle’s wireless and battery performance are both above par. The unit uses Bluetooth 3.0 for quick re-pairing with known devices, and was able to continue streaming music at roughly twice the typical 33-foot distance promised by Bluetooth speakers. It has a built-in rechargeable battery capable of performing music for 10 hours at 70% volume, eclipsing many budget-priced speakers. Unlike OontZ XL, Angle’s battery can’t be used to recharge a depleted iPod or iPhone, but that feature is rarely found in speakers of this size—Braven models tend to do this, but are far more expensive.
Though its sound and overall package of features speak for themselves, what really makes OontZ Angle attractive in the current small Bluetooth speaker marketplace is its price point. Cambridge Soundworks offers it at a $70 MSRP, but as of press time was running a sale bringing Angle down to only $40—insanely affordable given the overall quality of the speaker. While we don’t rate products based on limited time sale prices, OontZ Angle would be a great value even at its normal MSRP, as it mops the floor with the now $180 Jambox in every regard save industrial design and stereo separation. Such small issues take away only a little bit from what’s otherwise a bona-fide great budget speaker, worthy of our A- rating and high recommendation.