Review: Braven BRV-X Bluetooth Wireless Speaker
If the 2014 CES was any indication, Braven is about to have the best year in its history. Following its acquisition by Incipio, the Bluetooth portable speaker maker has demonstrated new levels of energy and commitment to making bigger, better-sounding audio systems. Exhibit A is the new BRV-X ($230), an aggressively-priced and markedly improved sequel to the company's earlier BRV-1. Still IPX5-certified for water and shock resistance while featuring the same striking industrial design, BRV-X is roughly twice the size of BRV-1, and has considerable better sound for wherever you might want to use it.
Measuring 9” wide by 3” tall by 3.4” deep at its largest point, BRV-X screams “ruggedized” from every angle, going beyond Braven’s earlier 625s and 855s models. Flaring out at the edges with softened angular bulges, BRV-X looks and feels like it’s ready to be used pretty much anywhere — rubber around its entire frame is interrupted only on the front by a perforated metal speaker grille and on back by a circular screw-off plastic cap that protects three ports, a switch, and battery indicators. Four ridges on the top protect volume, power, and play/pause controls, while four ridges on the back include an NFC tap-to-connect point for non-Apple devices, and four ridges on the bottom include glossy rubber feet to keep BRV-X stable on a flat surface. Each of these elements is similar to a design element in BRV-1, but they’ve been enhanced a little in BRV-X, improving functionality at the same time as they’ve grown in size.
Incipio and Braven have bulked up BRV-X’s pack-ins, as well. In addition to the audio cable and wrist strap, BRV-X swaps the prior USB charging cable for a full international wall adapter, and adds a new attachment option — a durable nylon and plastic mounting strap. Because it’s meant to keep BRV-X safe even when mounted on the outside of a car, this strap relies upon twin alloy mounting points on the BRV-X to stay firmly in place, and uses two sturdy plastic clasps to adjust tension when attached to your choice of objects.
While BRV-1 was easy to toss into any bag, BRV-X is still portable, though clearly built for situations where extra power or sonic quality is required. Despite a 12-hour play time similar to the BRV-1’s, the internal battery has been bumped to 5200mAh, providing more energy for BRV-X’s larger speakers or an external device: you can still self-supply a USB cable and recharge your iPhone, iPod, or iPad at up to 1-Amp speeds. The speakerphone feature has been improved, with noticeably clearer outgoing and incoming audio; callers suggested that BRV-X was neck-and-neck with the iPhone 5s’s integrated microphone system under normal conditions, offering slightly more intelligible renditions of voices, albeit with less ability to adjust to ambient noise.
Bluetooth streaming performance is adequate rather than amazing. Pairing and re-pairing were both reasonably fast but not immediate, and the effective wireless distance is closer to the standard Bluetooth 33-foot limit rather than multiples of that. We were able to break the wireless signal by moving around 30 feet away from BRV-X while obstructing the iPhone 5s, or moving 50-60 feet without obstructions. Some other outdoor-ready Bluetooth systems we’ve tested can perform with obstructions at 60-100 feet, so BRV-X is best for use in small rooms or outdoors when you’re at a relatively close distance.
The biggest positive change to BRV-X is in the quantity and quality of sound the latter unit can put out. Given their size differences, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that BRV-X is substantially louder than BRV-1 — the new model’s peak volume is around twice as loud, and now enough to fill a small room without straining. A switch on the unit’s back toggles between “indoor” and “outdoor” modes, the former using all of the system’s drivers in a quality-optimized fashion, and the latter seemingly crippling the bass drivers to give the full-range drivers a little extra boost of vocal intelligibility/treble outside. The effect isn’t as profound as we might have guessed, and makes the sound so considerably flatter that you’ll never want to use it indoors; it’s not quite a gimmick, but doesn’t make as much of an improvement as we might have hoped.
Sonic quality has also jumped markedly from BRV-1 to BRV-X. While the former system was far from Braven’s best in terms of frequency response — the unit was midrange- and mid-bass-focused, without strong highs or lows — BRV-X achieves a much better balance, performing with enough sparkle and richness to make songs sound really nice. The bass has been bumped up enough that you can feel it in all directions, thanks to a bottom ventilation grate that’s stabilized with the rubber feet, and there’s no evident distortion at any volume level. Tracks also benefit from enough treble that you won’t feel like you’re missing out on the highs in your favorite songs, and unlike Braven’s 850, the audio doesn’t flatten as the volume goes up. It sounds quite good at every amplitude, so long as you keep it in “indoor” mode. That said, the larger and more expensive 850 is capable of somewhat louder and somewhat bassier sound, though we wouldn’t necessarily prefer its balance over BRV-X’s.
Overall, BRV-X is a winner for Braven, and one of the best speakers the company has ever released. Handsome, sonically powerful, and well-equipped with useful accessories, it delivers a very good indoor listening experience while offering the sort of resilience and versatility users of outdoor speakers will appreciate. For these reasons, it merits our strong general recommendation and B+ rating. The price tag isn’t cheap, but it’s not as high as it might have been, either, a sign that Incipio is going to help Braven focus on delivering superior value going forward — something that we can certainly appreciate. We’ve said it before, but even moreso than in the past, we’re really looking forward to seeing what comes next for these companies, as BRV-X demonstrates that they’re on the right track together.