Review: Grace Digital Ecostone Bluetooth Speaker
Speaker makers generally avoid the word "waterproof" for even their most heavily ruggedized designs — quite a few supposedly "waterproof" speakers are later reclassified as "water-resistant" or "splash-resistant" after failing certification tests. Grace Digital's new Ecoxgear-branded Ecostone ($150) is an exception to the general rule. With years of experience selling speakers that can float on water, Grace is able to legitimately describe its latest sound system as waterproof, shockproof, and even snowproof. It's a bigger yet less expensive alternative to the Braven BRV-X we tested earlier this year, though it has a few issues that prevent it from being definitively superior.
Measuring around 10” wide by 5” tall by 3.6” deep at its largest points, Ecostone surrounds a 6.8”-wide steel speaker grille with a 0.7”-thick hard plastic frame, from which a D-shaped handle is cut out on the right side. While the front has two 2.5” stereo drivers inside, there’s a matching rear compartment with a 2.75” subwoofer for bass. Two substantial feet keep it in place on any flat surface, while large ribs on the left and right sides protect it from edge drops. A substantial collection of buttons are found on the top surface, including power, Bluetooth pairing, volume, track, and play/pause/call controls, plus a button to control an integrated LED flashlight that’s top-mounted and decently bright.
The top surface also includes LEDs for power, Bluetooth, and a four-bar remaining power indicator, as well as a light that indicates a currently active USB connection. Grace Digital uses a tight screw-closed rear cap to protect a micro-USB charging input, a 1-Amp USB charging output, and an audio aux-in port, plus a full-unit power kill switch to reduce inadvertent battery drain. You recharge Ecostone’s integrated 12-hour battery with a short included micro-USB cable and wall charger, and can use the USB port to recharge iPhones and iPods if you self-supply a cable. Both the rear cap and an included metal carabiner hook are attached to the unit using nylon and hard plastic straps. Four different color schemes are available.
It should be noted that there are some considerable specification differences between the Ecostone we received and what’s listed on Grace Digital’s web site. The web site describes Ecostone alternately as IPX7 and IPX68 waterproof, with a 1800mAh battery and 3.5” drivers. An included manual describes the battery as 2800mAh, the box lists the waterproof certification as being IP68 or IPX8, and the actual speakers measure out an inch smaller than their web description. Grace really needs to get its specs straight, even if they don’t radically change the real-world user experience that much.
Spec issues aside, literally every component in Ecostone feels uncommonly resilient — the product of the same sort of ruggedization efforts that made Braven’s BRV-X stand out, though Ecostone is around twice as large. Whereas BRV-X included a metal-secured nylon strap for attachment to vehicles or other mounts, Ecostone has a 1/4” metal universal screw mount on the bottom, which could be used with tripods or other hardware.
The big difference, however, is submersibility. BRV-X can be splashed with water, but Ecostone can be submerged at depths of up to three feet and keep on playing music; note that the box suggests support for a 6.6-foot depth. In any case, we dunked Ecostone, held it under a heavy shower, and repeatedly exposed both of its speaker grilles and all of its buttons to water. It kept playing, albeit with the temporary reduction in volume and frequency response we expect when waterproof speakers are exposed to water. Grace Digital also notes that Ecostone is weatherproof at temperatures of -40 degrees Fahrenheit, and heatproof at up to 165 degrees, making it atypically useful in extreme environments.
Wireless performance is pretty solid. Ecostone’s Bluetooth 4 pairing is very fast, and its streaming is generally reliable within 60-foot distances from the iPhone or iPad; we noticed only small hiccups at the edge of that range. We were pleased to see that the volume is mirrored between the iOS device and the speaker, and that a battery indicator icon appears on the iOS device’s screen, as well.
Ecostone’s real-world flaws are more acceptable given the price point. There’s no support for Siri voice commands, and Ecostone’s integrated built-in microphone was described as “bad” enough by a test caller — muffled, like talking through a pillow — that we wouldn’t want to use it for speakerphone calls, though they’re technically supported. The unit’s sound quality is similarly in the “good” rather than great category. Although there’s a pleasant enough mid-bass-focused sound signature, with plenty of volume for indoor and outdoor use, there’s obvious distortion at the top of the range, and not much treble. There’s also only limited stereo separation, and we noted that the speakers’ channels were reversed, such that the left channel played out of the right side and vice versa. These sorts of things preclude Ecostone from being a fantastic indoor audio system, but we’d be very surprised if they deeply bothered anyone planning to use this speaker in a pool, at the beach, or in a shower.
Overall, Ecostone is a very good speaker given its price point — $150 is aggressive enough for a waterproof sound system that we were initially on the fine edge of A- and B+ ratings. Ultimately, however, the stereo separation, high volume distortion, and microphone issues detract from what we consider to be the most important measure of a speaker — audio performance — and the numerous specification ambiguities also weighed in favor of the B+. There’s no question that this speaker is worthy of strong consideration if you’re looking for an affordable waterproof and weatherproof outdoor option. Just go into the purchase understanding that it has a collection of small caveats, and you’ll be more satisfied with its performance.