Compatible: iPads, iPhones, Bluetooth-equipped iPods
While we called out the Jawbone Jambox two years ago as overpriced and sonically underequipped, there was no question that the small, boxy $200 speaker landed in what's known as a blue ocean -- a segment of the market where there wasn't a lot of direct competition. After repackaging Soundmatters' pioneering small Bluetooth speaker foxL in a more stylish Yves Behar-designed enclosure, Jawbone aggressively marketed the Jambox in an increasingly diverse range of colors and textures, winning fans who were less concerned about the sonic performance for the price than its clean looks. Major and minor speaker makers alike took notice, and rushed various small wireless alternatives to market, trying strategies ranging from "same price, better performance" to "lower price, similar performance" and "lower price, lower performance." Having covered many earlier and in some cases superior options in prior reviews, we're taking quick looks today at seven new Jambox alternatives, all less expensive than Jawbone's basic model. The prices range from $59 to $150, and though their shapes, features, and performance vary considerably, any one will save you at least $50 relative to the Jambox, and several markedly outperform it, too.
All of today’s speakers have several things in common. They’re all built primarily as Bluetooth wireless speakers with support for Bluetooth 2.0 and newer devices, which is to say that they’ll work in wireless mode with all iPads, all iPod touches and iPhones except the original models, and even the latest seventh-generation iPod nano—reliably at 30-foot distances, sometimes longer. Each has an auxiliary 3.5mm wired option if you needed it. Every speaker comes with a charging cable and has a rechargeable battery built in, with a run time of roughly 4 and sometimes more hours, though longevity is dependent on the volume level you pick. And finally, they’re all super portable: though their shapes are different, each could be placed in a purse or backpack with ease, though there’s variation in the resilience of the materials chosen by each developer, so some will emerge more unscathed than others.
Of all the Jambox-like Bluetooth speakers we’ve tested over the past two years, Cubedge’s Edge.sound ($150) is amongst the most similar to Jawbone’s design in cosmetics. Virtually identical in width and less than 1/8” taller than the Jambox, Edge.sound is around 0.6” deeper, featuring the same three buttons on top—+ and - volume buttons, plus a circular play/pause/call button—and a decidedly boxy, largely rubbery design that also feels lighter. Unlike the Jambox, which is dense and doesn’t give in any way when you press on its top buttons, you can see and feel Edge.sound’s top depress a little when you use its controls; the soft touch rubber coating also tends to show fingerprints quite easily.
Other aesthetic differences are on Edge.sound’s stylized front right corner, which is used as a semi-triangular indicator light for Bluetooth and power status, as well as its front/back design: Cubedge uses a front metallic grille rather than a textured wraparound piece, placing its audio and micro-USB charging ports on the back, along with a less than ideally smooth on-off switch, and rear speaker venting ports. Edge.sound’s design looks and feels cheaper than Jawbone’s, but again, it is actually cheaper, though not in the same sub-$100 price bracket as most of the Jambox rivals we’re covering today.
One unique thing Edge.sound brings to the table is Bluetooth 3.0 support, which isn’t a huge deal but is worth mentioning. Users of recent iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads will notice that Edge.sound automatically re-pairs very quickly with their devices, and may eke out a little more battery life when used with Apple’s latest Bluetooth 4-ready devices. Cubedge promises 10 hours of battery life, and apparently plans an optional solar panel so that you needn’t rely on the included micro-USB cable or wall charger for power. The company also includes a simple drawstring carrying bag and a 3.5mm auxiliary audio flat cable in the bundle.
Like many of the other Jambox rivals we’ve tested, Edge.sound is capable of performing at a markedly higher peak volume, such that its 75% volume level is roughly equivalent to the Jambox at 100%. However, the sonic comparison isn’t otherwise in Edge.sound’s favor: bass clipping and distortion become very obvious at 80% or higher, and a certain hollowness pervades the audio at all volume levels—the Jambox has richer, though not particularly clearer sound at all of their matched volumes, and Edge.sound only occasionally benefits from a little extra treble. Most of the time, it sounds somewhat flat and uninspired, and in speakerphone mode, callers called the two systems roughly a draw, thanks to muffled-sounding mics, Jawbone’s richer and Cubedge’s wider in frequency but no more intelligible. Edge.sound was the rare speakerphone we tested that actually sounded less intelligible on our side than the Jambox; we occasionally had to ask callers to repeat what they were saying.
Overall, Edge.sound is in the same general ballpark as Jambox—less expensive, but with less impressive overall sound quality, build quality, and aesthetics. If you’re merely looking to save $50 over Jawbone’s price, it might be worth considering, but there are many sonically good to great options now at lower prices than this, with superior industrial designs. Edge.sound merits our limited recommendation.