Review: HMDX Jam Plus Bluetooth Wireless Speaker
While we won't claim to be thrilled by the bland shape or five color choices HMDX came up with for its new Bluetooth wireless speaker Jam Plus ($60), there's no question that the budget audio company has an ace up its sleeve with this model. For the same price as JBL's Micro Wireless -- a more handsome hockey puck-sized Bluetooth speaker with a single driver inside -- Jam Plus adds the option of simultaneous two-speaker wireless streaming, enabling two monaural Jam Plus units to work together as stereo sound sources for Bluetooth-equipped iPods, iPhones, and iPads. As common as we expect this dual-streaming feature to become over the next year, it's in relatively few speakers right now, and none are as small or affordable as Jam Plus.
Jam Plus tapers upwards from a 3.25” base to a 2.75” top, mixing matte plastic, swirled metal, and shiny anodized-style metallic finishes in a combination that we can only describe as regrettably cheap-looking—large seams around the unit’s base, as well as it integrated lights and volume and play/pause buttons, contribute to the less than impressive build quality, as do HMDX’s choice of yellow, purple, blue, pink, and gray color options. As contrasted with Micro Wireless, which looks classy and restrained enough for any adult to carry with pride, Jam Plus has a certain tackiness that we don’t generally expect from Apple accessories, except for ones designed for kids.
Thankfully, Jam Plus makes up for its cosmetic issues with better than expected sound quality. It plays somewhat louder than Micro Wireless, with noticeably stronger bass, though equally less capable treble—a warmer-leaning sound signature that has traditionally appealed to budget-conscious speaker buyers. While Jam Plus is somewhat flatter, with less obvious dynamic range, it has enough low-end power to perform good-sounding music for the price.
Jam Plus’s killer sonic feature is dual Bluetooth streaming. Just as with the several earlier systems we’ve tested from Soundfreaq, SuperTooth, and Ultimate Ears, pairing two Jam Plus units is quite easy—set one Jam Plus’s bottom switch to L, the other to R, turn them both on, and they’re linked. Pair your iOS device with one of the speakers and music plays in stereo, with the ability to separate the speakers from one another at your chosen distance within Bluetooth range. A little chime lets you know that the speakers have paired with each other, and another sound effect plays on re-pairing.
Dual streaming is not completely seamless, as you’ll hear the occasional hiccup during pairing, and the sonic quality isn’t as impressive as you’d get from a single excellent $100 speaker. There’s still a bit of hiss in the audio—an issue we noted in HMDX’s Jam Party speaker—and the chimes are a little clipped. Apart from that, the Bluetooth and dual streaming features are executed pretty well; volume levels and audio remain synchronized, and you can nearly fill a small room with sound by positioning two speakers in significantly different places.
There are some tradeoffs relative to Micro Wireless. Jam Plus’s rechargeable battery only provides four hours of playback, versus JBL’s already low five, and you’ll need to self-supply an auxiliary audio cable if you need one for the wired aux input on Jam Plus’s back. HMDX does include a short micro-USB cable for charging, but no soft carrying case for the speaker; it sells Jam Plus in a plastic can that it wisely recommends recycling.
If we had to pick only one small $60 wireless Bluetooth speaker, we’d be inclined to go with JBL’s Micro Wireless solely because of its compact, nicer-looking enclosure; in most other regards, Jam Plus beats or ties JBL’s package. Assuming that one of HMDX’s color schemes and the taller physical size are acceptable to you, Jam Plus is worth considering; it delivers very good sonic performance for its price, particularly given the dual streaming option, and enough battery life to be used for short spurts on the road. It’s a good enough option to merit our B+ rating and strong general recommendation.