Review: Jabra Solemate Max Portable Bluetooth Wireless Speaker
Jabra calls its family of Bluetooth speaker systems Solemate. Following the release of Solemate Mini and an in-between model called Solemate, Solemate Max ($400) is now available. While it's the largest member of the family, it’s actually not that big compared to some other speakers. A foot long, 5.5” tall — the wedge-shaped rubber base lifts the front a little higher than the back — and 4” deep, it would be mid-sized rather than "max" for most speaker families. It is dense, though, weighing over six pounds. Packed in with the speaker are a power supply and micro-USB cable for connection to a computer.
Solemate Max’s exterior is a combination of plastic, rubber, and metal. Although it looks nice enough, the materials aren’t as premium as one would expect from a $400 speaker. It doesn’t seem quite as fancy, and specific design features such as the rubber handle are more appropriate to budget speakers than expensive ones. To be clear, Solemate Max doesn’t look bad at all; it’s just not as obviously deluxe as other units in the price range, such as Wren’s V5BT. There are a handful of physical controls, arranged in a circular panel on top of the speaker, off to the right. The buttons control volume and playback, with a small circle up and to the right used to answer and hang up on calls through the speakerphone. Although the physical design doesn’t make it obvious, the speaker is dust and splash resistant.
Jabra located all of its inputs and outputs in the same space—the right side of the speaker—with the exception of the charging port, which is on the back. The rest, including the power/Bluetooth pairing switch, audio in port, micro-USB port for connecting to computers, and full-sized USB port for charging devices on the go, are arranged in a vertical line. Also on the unit’s right side is the speakerphone microphone, a dot-shaped hole off to the left of the ports. Because it’s designed to be portable, Solemate Max has a rechargeable battery that can last for up to 14 hours at a time. One of our favorite design elements is hidden on the underside of the speaker. Within the ridged rubber base, a fabric-covered aux cable nestles in place, remaining ready for use when needed.
It goes without saying that $400 is a large investment for a speaker, and users expect truly special audio quality for that price. Solemate Max performs music well, but nothing about its performance really stood out for the price. In fact, we found the quality to be surprisingly similar to G-Project’s $100 G-Boom, which is abnormally great-sounding for its price, while Solemate Max is underpowered. Jabra’s speaker technically has the advantage of one more audio driver — a box-shaped bass radiator in the back, beyond its two tweeters and two full-range drivers — but side by side, the two were remarkably similar. Under ideal circumstances, Jabra’s speaker represents the full audio spectrum well, with clear highs and relatively strong, accurate bass performance, but it needs to be turned up to its loudest, small room-filling level to really shine. Notably, it doesn’t get nearly as loud as we’d expect for the price, and is entirely matched by G-Boom in both volume and clarity; Solemate Max had only a small edge on bass accuracy. As for the speakerphone, we found it to be about as good as the iPhone’s itself, but not better apart from amplitude.
Solemate Max is simply far too expensive. If it was priced at $200 or $250, we’d have no hesitation about calling it a good speaker and recommend it. The price makes it a clear miss, though, so out of line with competing options that the speaker earns our C+ rating. There’s no way we can suggest someone pick up this speaker at its full retail price. Street pricing appears to be falling pretty rapidly, though, coming closer to where it should be at around $320—still too high. We hope that the price continues to move in the right direction, as we liked listening to the speaker and found it to be a nice overall package.