Review: Nyne Multimedia NB-250 Portable Bluetooth Speaker
We've been inundated with portable Bluetooth speakers over the past year -- so many speakers from so many different companies that we wonder whether there's any legitimately new territory left to be explored. The latest young developer to join the pack is Nyne, which announced the NB-250 ($170) in late 2012 and actually began to sell it this year. Larger than most of today's sub-$200 portables, NB-250 is a throwback to the "good old days" of portable iPod speakers, when developers didn't try to squeeze ultra-miniature drivers into tiny boxes and pray for "as good as possible" performance; that said, besides its inclusion of Bluetooth 2.1 wireless functionality, it's not a huge evolution from similarly-sized speakers we covered many years ago.
Measuring roughly 10.2” wide by 6” tall by 2” deep at its largest points when closed, NB-250 has a curved profile that looks from the side like two inverse waves meeting at sharp top and bottom points; a kickstand pops out an extra 1.5” from the back to let the gently-sloped speaker stand on a recline. NB-250 is made entirely from black plastics, including a sturdy enough but not heavy-feeling perforated front grille that interrupts an otherwise soft-touch finished chassis, protecting two front-firing active drivers. The back has a large pill-shaped hole that lets two passive bass radiators breathe, situated right above the kickstand, audio, USB, and power ports, plus a power on/off switch. It’s a nice-enough-looking speaker, but me-too in the sense that it completely blends in with dozens of other designs we’ve seen over the years; NB-250 could have as easily been a 2007-2011 Altec Lansing speaker, minus the iPod dock.
Since there’s also a power button on the unit’s top, alongside volume, track, and Bluetooth controls, Nyne’s inclusion of a rear power switch is somewhat odd—another throwback to the days when button-style power controls couldn’t be trusted on their own to keep the battery safe in idle mode. However, regardless of how long we left NB-250 connected to wall power, what looked like a three-stage battery indicator on its upper left corner never became “full” to actually indicate remaining power; the light actually turns off when the unit’s running off of its eight- to ten-hour internal battery, which can double as a backup USB charger for your device if you self-supply a USB cable.
Nyne includes one nice frill in the package, and that’s a carrying case designed to be used with an integrated armstrap. We liked this idea a lot when we first saw it in Memorex’s 2007 iPod speaker iTrek, and while the case here isn’t quite as rugged-feeling as Memorex’s, it enables the speaker to be fully used inside—full rear stand and port access is provided, as are clear white-outlined indicators of the top button controls. NB-250 also comes with an audio cable for wired connection of an auxiliary audio device, should Bluetooth not be available.
NB-250’s wireless performance was somewhat mixed. On a positive note, it roughly doubles the normal 30-foot Bluetooth range, and only exhibited drop-outs and hiccups when we moved a connected iPhone roughly two rooms away. Unfortunately, it never properly re-paired the Bluetooth connection automatically with our test iOS device. Manual re-connection always worked quickly, but this was pretty odd by comparison with almost every other Bluetooth speaker we’ve tested in recent years.
Sonically, NB-250 made a great first impression. We tested it first at a moderate volume level, listening to it with a variety of different tracks while tweaking the volume levels before comparing it to anything else. While it wasn’t quite on par with the most treble-capable speakers we’ve tested at or below its price range, we really enjoyed the strength and warmth of its mid-bass and bass, finding the presentation of songs engrossing and occasionally even really impressive with stereo separation. Music appeared to be at least a little wider than the unit’s 10.2” front frame, a major contrast with smaller but peer-priced speakers such as Jawbone’s Jambox. The small room-filling peak volume puts it in a different league for amplitude, as well.
But soon after we started testing at higher volumes, we began to notice more than a fair bit of sizzling distortion in the bass, which then continued to be obvious at lower volume levels as well. While it wasn’t terrible in most songs, it was impossible to unhear, and in certain tracks (Ivan Ives’ California, for example), the mid-bass and bass collapsed into a distorted mess. Our impression is that the bass drivers may have developed a reinforcement issue or tear when the volume level was turned up, but this might just be NB-250’s normal functionality.
In sum, though we generally liked most of the experience we had with Nyne’s NB-250, a handful of issues took away from our ability to generally recommend it. Some of the issues were small, including potentially fixable issues with the controls and re-pairing to previously recognized devices, but others were large, most notably the bass distortion. Given the current competitive landscape, NB-250 merits only a rating of “okay,” but it wouldn’t take too much for Nyne to release a considerably improved sequel that we could recommend broadly to our readers.