Review: Boombotix Boombot Rex Bluetooth Wireless Speaker
Despite their drastically different shapes and sizes, Boombotix's Boombot Rex ($130), Nuu's Splash ($100), and Scosche's boomBottle ($150) are three new Bluetooth speakers that offer very similar features, including three-driver audio, rechargeable batteries, and waterproof bodies. Each is capable of withstanding water splashes to various degrees, making them well-suited for use on the beach or by the pool, but not in or under water. They also all have microphones, so they can be used with iPhones as speakerphones. The most basic of the three is Splash, which could easily pass for any of the dozens of Jambox-inspired portable options we've seen over the past few years. Boombot Rex is significantly smaller, and made to clip onto clothing, while boomBottle is quite a bit larger, designed to fit in a bike's water bottle holder. Despite their internal similarities, there are some clear differences between these options, and one is definitely better than the other two, even at a somewhat higher price.
Boombot Rex is the latest speaker from the company that brought us the very unique-looking Boombot2; this one has a more geometric shape that’ll likely have greater appeal. The rubberized plastic 3.5”-hexagonal speaker contains a pair of 36mm drivers, as well as a pill-shaped bass woofer that projects forward, and a noise-canceling microphone. At about 1.5” deep, it’s a very portable unit, with a built-in clip for attaching it to surfaces such as backpacks or clothes. Its IP53 certification means that it’s “OK in light rain/snow,” as Boombotix puts it, so you can take it outdoors in sketchy weather. Physical buttons let you control volume, playback, and phone features, with ports for line-in audio, line-out audio, and Micro-USB for charging. Included with Boombot Rex are a Micro-USB cable and two sets of audio cables, one of which is retractable, and the battery is rated to last for about six hours.
Best known for its iPhone keyboard cases, Nuu’s Splash is currently the only speaker in the company’s lineup. Having earned an IP55 certification, it’s capable of withstanding splashes of water, as well as dust. The 6”-long box is clad in colored aluminum all the way around, with plastic plates on the top and bottom. Inside are a pair of 40mm drivers, plus a passive bass radiator that’s vented through the unit’s back. Physical buttons across the top control playback and volume, while a tight-fitting door protects the ports and—awkwardly—a power switch on the back. It’s the least distinctively designed unit of the bunch; while it’s not ugly, there’s nothing visually distinctive about it, and apart from the price, it could as easily have come from Braven as Nuu. The internal battery is rated to last for around seven hours on a single charge. A wall charger with a Micro-USB plug is included, as are an aux cable and neoprene travel bag.
Packed with two 40mm speakers and a 10-hour rechargeable battery, boomBottle is a rubber-coated, IPX4-certified splashproof tube designed to be used for music and speakerphone calls indoors or outdoors. Eight inches tall with a roughly 2.7” diameter, boomBottle can fit snugly into cupholders and water bottle cages with ease, or attach with an included caribiner clip to a bag or belt. Having won one of our 2013 CES Best of Show Finalist Awards, it has a somewhat distinctive form factor that’s set apart from other tube-shaped speakers by color options, rubber exterior molding, and separate 360-degree speaker cones inside its edges. Its only controls are volume and power buttons, while a splashproof rubber cap protects the rear charging port and aux-in port. Without a doubt, boomBottle is the most solid-feeling of this bunch. It’s the only one that actually feels like a “take it anywhere without fear” speaker, which helps to justify its higher price tag. It includes a charging cable, but not the travel pouch we originally saw it with.
As it turns out, boomBottle is the best sounding speaker of the bunch, and by a significant margin. The peak volume is close to that of JBL’s Flip. Although the bass and high-end performance isn’t quite as impressive, the audio quality is still very high, and we enjoyed listening to songs through the speakers even when we were indoors. Thankfully there’s no distortion at top volume, and it’s the only one of the bunch that’s good enough to be used both inside and outside, performing well in either scenario. It can also be positioned however you’d like it—upright or on its side—and its 360-degree audio setup ensures that it’ll sound the same. Additionally, the speakerphone behaved mostly as expected: although a caller noted that some echo feedback was obvious on the other end at high volumes, we were able to make out what a caller said without any issue; the echo disappeared at lower volumes.
In terms of overall audio quality, Splash is next in line. The first thing you’ll likely notice is just how quiet it is: even at its highest level, it’s about half as loud as JBL’s Flip or boomBottle. This will be a big problem if you’re expecting to use it anywhere but up close, and a particular issue for use outdoors. As for the actual quality of the audio, it sounds fine by $100 Bluetooth speaker standards, but it’s not terribly impressive. Overall, the sound is rather flat, and though there’s no distortion at higher volume levels, that’s because it can’t reach them. When it comes to the speakerphone, though, we were disappointed. While audio was fine on our end, the person on a traditional handset in our tests reported that we sounded robotic.
Finally, there’s Boombot Rex. We were surprised to hear just how loud it gets, but unfortunately, you can only turn it up to roughly 75% volume before the distortion kicks in. Again, the sound is rather flat, but that’s not very surprising considering the form factor; it does pretty well in treble, straining more in bass, and can be turned up to levels nearly as loud as Flip and boomBottle if you’re willing to deal with the distortion. If you’re wearing it on your clothing, or have it attached to a bag outdoors, you’ll likely be quite content with the quality of the audio. We wouldn’t recommend it as a household speaker, though. In speakerphone testing, there was a bit of audio clipping, but overall calling performance was otherwise fine.
With these three speakers, you get what you pay for. If you’re looking for the best overall performance, that title goes to boomBottle. It sounds very good, gets nice and loud, and has a really cool industrial design. The price is somewhat high, especially compared to Flip, which sounds better and can be used at slightly louder volumes. For that extra cost, you gain water resilience and wide-angle sound; it’s just on the edge of a flat B, but given the overall package merits a B+ and strong general recommendation. The next best option is Boombot Rex. Although it doesn’t have the absolute best audio quality, we are truly impressed with what Boombotix was able to pack into such a small package. The clip is a smart decision in positioning it as an ultra-portable unit, and it’s worthy of a general recommendation. Finally, there’s Splash. While we appreciate the comparably aggressive price tag, it’s visually unimpressive, and the audio isn’t particularly noteworthy. Yes, it’s a splash-proof speaker with decent sound for a relatively low price, however, the fact that it performs at such a low volume cripples its ability to be enjoyed outdoors. It merits our limited recommendation.
Updated August 1, 2014: In mid-2014, Boombotix released an updated version of Boombot Rex under the same name; as such, we will not be re-reviewing or re-rating it. The new version promises “better audio quality at higher volumes,” eight-hour battery life, and improved water resistance. Boombotix says that “IP55 certification [is] in progress,” versus the IP53 certification of the original model. One of the two prior audio cables—the retractable one—has also been dropped from the package.
While the new Rex looks virtually identical to the prior version from the front, redesigned controls—including a “Command Button” for play/pause/calls/Siri activation—are on the top, and ports have been moved to the left and right sides under separate rubberized covers. The rear clip is extremely stiff.
Distortion is still apparent at the very top volume level, but it’s not terrible by small speaker standards. Moreover, the price is now $100, a nice step down that increases Rex’s appeal, even though the degree of weather resistance is still a question mark. If the form factor is appealing to you, the Boombot Rex is better than its predecessor, and less expensive besides.