Review: Braven BRV-1 Wireless Bluetooth Speaker
Roughly one year ago, Braven released the $180 Braven 625s -- a ruggedized but otherwise similar alternative to its $190 top-of-line model 650. The 625s was a handsome little speaker, mixing shock-proofed rubber edges with aluminum front and back plates, plus packed-in accessories such as a waterproof bag, wrist strap, and USB-powered flashlight to increase its outdoorsy appeal. Alone, the 625s wasn't really waterproof, but thanks to the complete kit, it was still easy to see as a "go anywhere" travel companion.
At the 2013 CES, Braven debuted a proper sequel called BRV-1 ($180), and though it hasn’t eliminated 625s from the lineup, it’s clearly positioned as a possible replacement—for some users, at least. BRV-1 measures 4.75” wide by 2.5” tall by 3.3” deep, which is to say that it’s considerably narrower and a little shorter than the 6.3” by 2.6” by 1.8” 625s, but nearly twice as deep.
Part of BRV-1’s height comes from a set of four rubber feet that prop up and stabilize a bottom-firing 70mm bass radiator, and around 3/4” of its depth is due to something we’ve never seen on a Bluetooth speaker before: a screw-off rear cap. Unlike the 625s, which barely recessed its USB or audio ports and battery indicator features, BRV-1 packs all of those features inside an IPX-5 water-resistant compartment that you open only as needed. It’s a distinctive design touch that underscores BRV-1’s “brave the outdoors” marketing message. Note, however, that BRV-1 is not actually submersible; it’s pitched as “protected from rainfall, water jets, and water splashing,” but “not intended to be submersed completely in water.” It has more built-in splash protection than 625s, but doesn’t come with a waterproof bag, so you’ll still need to be somewhat careful with it.
There are plenty of other cosmetic reminders of BRV-1’s ruggedization—a complete rubber shell with integrated buttons on the top, edges that look as dimpled and capable of resisting shock as treads on a pair of sneakers, and a mix of colors (black, orange, and gray or black, blue, and gray) that look sporty. They tend to obscure a number of functional reductions Braven made to this model: the battery has dropped from 16 to 12 hours of play time, there’s no flashlight or wall adapter in the package, and similarly no carrying bag. While you still get a detachable wrist strap, a USB recharging cable, and a 3.5mm audio cable, the fact that BRV-1 sells for the same price as 625s and delivers less will be a deal-breaker for some people.
BRV-1 and 625s are roughly equally matched in the sonic department, though they don’t sound exactly like one another. By comparison with 625s, BRV-1 has a more mid- and bass-heavy sound signature, so you’ll hear a little more thump in low beats and a little less sparkle in the highs. They’re nearly identical in peak volume—enough sound at their peaks for near-field listening, but not enough to fill a small room—and the wider 625s has slightly better stereo separation than the squat BRV-1. Once again, we’d call BRV-1’s sound “good” rather than great; it doesn’t really stand out from the mass of recent $100 or sub-$100 rechargeable wireless speakers we’ve tested on sound, but then, the form factor and design are really the big selling points here. Speakerphone performance is similar to the 625s’s: not quite as clear as with an iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 microphone, but not hugely worse, with incoming audio sounding louder but not as clear as we’d prefer.
In summary, BRV-1 is another good rather than great Bluetooth speaker at a time when there are literally dozens of companies offering aggressively priced alternatives. To the extent that you’re looking for something that’s water-resistant, compact, and attractively designed, it’s certainly worth considering as an option, but as with earlier Braven speakers, the price is a bit steep for what you’re actually getting. The 625s remains viable due to its superior pack-ins, longer battery life, and wider stereo separation; BRV-1’s bass and form factor will appeal to other people. For these reasons, the BRV-1 is just as good of an option overall as its predecessor, and equally worthy of our general recommendation.