Review: Avantalk Multimedia Wireless Speakerphone BTSP-200
When we first laid hands on Avantalk's Multimedia Wireless Speakerphone BTSP-200 ($130), we asked a simple question: is this the future of iPhone and iPod wireless speakers? Equipped with a class 2 Bluetooth 2.0 chip, the BTSP-200 has twin audio drivers and an integrated microphone, collectively enabling it to work as a monaural speakerphone for any iPhone and a stereo music playback device for certain iPhone OS 3.0 stereo Bluetooth devices, including the iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, and iPod touch 2G. Pretty cool, right?
Well, sort of. Like many other wireless audio systems developed prior to the launch of iPhone OS 3.0—which apparently supports A2DP for stereo audio streaming, but not AVRCP for remote control of the speaker—BTSP-200 does generally what it’s supposed to do, but not as much as it could. At the center of the black and silver housing are simple track, volume, play/pause, and power controls, as well as a bass booster button, and a light that alternately flashes blue and red based on Bluetooth connection and power status. When they’re in music mode, the iPod touch 2G, iPhone 3G and 3GS are controlled for playback and track purposes solely through their own touchscreens, not through the buttons on the speaker, then volume needs to be controlled on the speaker, not on the iPod or iPhones. But in telephone Bluetooth mode, the iPhone 3G and 3GS can control the volume of the speaker just fine. This inconsistency is Apple’s fault, not Avantalk’s; it’s unclear whether this will change in later versions of the iPhone OS.
Avantalk does share the blame for some of the system’s oddities, though. On a positive note, the system is very portable—8” long, 3.5” tall, and 1.6” deep—plus it’s bundled with a power adapter, a soft carrying case, an audio cable that can connect to devices without Bluetooth wireless capabilities, and an integrated flip stand. And BTSP-200 can be run off of your choice of wall or four AA battery power, the latter for eight hours of play time.
But the stereo performance of the system isn’t very impressive. When it’s streaming music from the iPhones or iPod touch, it performs the left channel on the right, and the right channel on the left. Connect the audio cable to your iPhone and to the system and the right channel disappears altogether, with the left channel playing through the left. It doesn’t seem to have been tested all that well. Speaker quality is only okay—flat, but listenable—which is not surprising given the tiny two drivers in the housing, but not a great value given the $130 price, either.
As a speakerphone, BTSP-200 isn’t bad. It seamlessly switches between music and calling on supported iPhone 3G models, and though the microphone isn’t as sensitive as Apple’s, callers were able to hear us, noting only that we sounded a little distant. The speakerphone feature works on the original iPhone as well, minus the stereo music streaming capability. Broadcasting distance varies by iPhone, but can go substantially further than 30 feet based on the speaker’s more capable Class 2 Bluetooth wireless chipset. The iPhone 3GS was able to stream music from more than two rooms away, with the iPhone 3G able to do so from two rooms, only occasionally hiccuping at the edge of the room’s distance.
Overall, BTSP-200 is what we’d consider to be an okay iPhone Bluetooth speaker experience: decent stereo sound, compromised by reversed speaker drivers, good but not great speakerphone compatibility, and a decent price tag, with problematic integrated controls that may or may not be fixed in future iPhone OS releases. Our hope is that Apple will do the right thing and enable AVRCP remote control functionality in the iPhone OS 3.0 software so that the many existing Bluetooth devices out there can enjoy the sort of easy compatibility that users would expect; it’s also up to companies such as Avantalk, however, to engineer the sort of systems that will sound just right when an iPhone or iPod touch is connected both wirelessly and with wires.