Review: Braven 710 Portable Bluetooth Wireless Speaker
First, there was Braven's 6-series, defined by the 650. Then, there was the 8-series, started by 850 HD. Now Incipio's speaker brand has introduced Braven 710 ($170), the first 7-series Bluetooth wireless speaker, and not surprisingly, it sits somewhere between the two lineups in terms of features, size, and design — yet it's currently selling for the same price as the 650. As it turns out, Braven 710 is an evolution from the 650 in some ways, while falling backwards in others.
Measuring 6.25” wide by 2.6” tall by 1.8” deep, Braven 710 is just a little larger than 650, but looks nearly identical from the front, back, and top. The silver aluminum frame has two extra rows of dot perforations, as well as a large dot hole on the top for a microphone. Look at the bottom and you’ll see a new unified rubber foot that doubles as a contact pad for NFC pairing, a feature that’s not supported by iOS devices. Some other big changes are found on the sides. The right panel is now fully rubberized, sporting a wholly redesigned button panel with large power, play/pause, and volume up/down controls in a 2x2 grid. While this isn’t a wholly intuitive control design, we nonetheless found it worth learning, as it’s easier to use than the tiny circular buttons found on 650.
To further facilitate an IPX5-rated (splashproof) water sealing, Braven 710’s left side is now a thick rubber-capped collection of aux-in and -out ports, USB out and micro-USB in ports, a battery indicator button, a tiny reset button, and a collection of five white lights. Just like most Braven systems, 710 has the ability to recharge a connected device at 1-Amp with its USB-out port, though the capacity has been markedly lowered from 650’s 2000mAh down to a very sparing 1400mAh. Braven promises 12 hours of speaker run time, and the cell has so little power that you’ll probably not want to actually use the feature except during emergencies. Incipio has also sliced the pack-ins from 650 down hugely for 710: the wall power adapter, carrying bag, and audio cable are all completely gone this time, leaving only a micro-USB cable in the bag for recharging.
One interesting feature in Braven 710 is called Bluetooth Receiver Mode. Plug something into the aux-out port and you can disable 710’s speakers, instead using the port to send Bluetooth audio through a self-supplied wire to speakers or headphones of your choosing. While the feature isn’t terribly different from a standard aux-out port, and not all users will want to take advantage of it, there are situations where it could be useful. You can also daisy-chain multiple Braven speakers together using their line-in and line-out ports, a feature previously found in Braven 650.
But Braven 710’s biggest new feature is borrowed from the newer 850 HD: dual Bluetooth streaming, which Braven calls True Wireless. Assuming that you’re willing to spend $340 for two units, holding down their battery indicator buttons will enable you to pair them together, and their five white indicator lights will pulse to indicate that they’re each looking to make a match. That matchmaking process takes a little too long, but works. Once that’s done, the two speakers effectively operate as one receiver from your iOS device, so if you change volume on the device or on either speaker, both speakers are synchronized with the same new volume level, though there’s a split-second lag in the process. Thanks to the use of fairly well-established Bluetooth hardware, the dual streaming mode has characteristics we’ve seen in other speakers this year — it works pretty reliably at sub-10-foot separations, with tiny drop-outs when certain other Bluetooth devices are being used in the same vicinity, and a bug that creates fuzziness in the audio if the speakers aren’t properly paired. It’s not a completely thrilling solution, but a novelty that we’d really love to see improved with better Bluetooth hardware.
Will you actually want to pair two 710’s? Well, unlike the comparatively gigantic, big-sounding 850 HD, the 710 is firmly in the “small desktop speaker” category without enough power to fill a room by itself, even when it’s assisted by another speaker. On a positive note, the $170 710 produces nicely bass-rich sound thanks to what appears to be a twin full-range-driver, passive rear bass driver system, though it’s very noteworthy that Braven doesn’t discuss either the quality or power of the drivers for this particular model. Whatever’s actually inside sounds pretty good; the 710 is able to make Jawbone’s recently released $180 speaker Mini Jambox sound like a complete joke — thinner, weaker, and flatter than the 710 by a mile — but then, the 710 is twice as thick as the Mini Jambox, as well as just a little taller and wider, and not as interestingly designed. As we’ve mentioned many times before, the Jambox family is more of a floor than a ceiling for sonic performance at a given price, so hurdling it isn’t a major achievement; the 710 does get a bit louder and produces more lifelike sound that we wouldn’t consider excellent for critical listening. However, speakerphone performance was described by our test caller as roughly iPhone 5s-equivalent in sound, which isn’t something we take for granted.
Considered as a whole, Braven 710 is a good rather than great-sounding speaker with a similarly good rather than great overall set of features. Stripped down in pack-ins and battery power from the 650, with more ambiguity about its audio hardware — core features that should be at the fore of its appeal — the 710 nonetheless brings an improved splashproof design and a respectable dual Bluetooth streaming mode to the table as offsets. For the asking price, it’s still solid enough to merit our general recommendation, though it would have been a more compelling pick if it sat more directly between the 650 and 850 than in the former’s corner. There are so many speakers with comparable performance selling for around $100 now that 710 needs more than just an aluminum chassis and weatherproofing to stand out. Past history suggests that there will be additional 7-series models, and perhaps there will be something to get more excited about in the near future.