Review: Outdoor Technology Buckshot Rugged Bluetooth Speaker
Despite the crazy number of different accessories we test every year, we still get excited when a company evolves an initially good idea into an even better second product. Outdoor Technology has done just that with Buckshot ($60), the sequel to last year's Bluetooth wireless speaker Turtle Shell. Once again, the developer has released an audio system featuring a distinctive triangular grid design, but Buckshot improves upon its predecessor, shrinking the pattern to form a ruggedized rubber grip around a tube-shaped speaker. Apart from its lack of more sophisticated audio hardware, it's effectively everything Turtle Shell offered, only at less than half the price and in a much smaller package.
Buckshot’s name comes from a shotgun shell, though the palm-sized black speaker is markedly larger, measuring 3.55” tall with a 1.5” diameter. Up top is a perforated metal grille for a single speaker that’s nearly as large as the silver metal tube that surrounds it, while the bottom features very small power, volume up, and volume down buttons above a micro-USB charging port, all covered in a thick layer of rubber. Holding the volume buttons down lets you change music tracks, while the power button doubles as a play/pause control. You’ll need a sharp fingernail to pop the rubber cover off the port, which connects to an included USB cable to charge the speaker. A small red light sits between the power and volume down buttons to indicate charging, and a small blue light between the power and volume up buttons indicates a full charge. That’s it for indicators and obvious external frills—Outdoor Technology kept Buckshot very simple on the outside.
Beyond its ruggedized exterior, which is capable of resisting splashes and dust to an IPX5 level, Buckshot also has a practical pack-in: a soft rubber bicycle handle mount enables active users to take it out and about without the purchase of a separate accessory. It’s worth noting that Outdoor Technology sells Turtle Shell’s Turtle Claw Bike Mount separately for $20 above its current $130 price, so if you’re a biker, you’ll find Buckshot’s pack-in to be plenty sturdy and a nice value.
Inside, Buckshot is more fully-featured than might be expected given its price. As contrasted with the similarly single-driver JBL Micro Wireless, Buckshot works as both a monaural speaker and a speakerphone, using a top-mounted microphone to let you handleiPhone calls. Tapping the power button lets you start or end calls, which may be a challenge under some circumstances given the button’s tiny size and location. There’s also a nine-hour rechargeable battery inside, versus a five-hour cell in Micro Wireless, with actual run time varying a bit based on the volume level. What you give up from Micro Wireless are aux-in functionality and a larger audio driver: JBL includes a 3.5mm audio cable for devices without Bluetooth, which aren’t supported at all here, and uses a 40mm driver, versus the roughly 28mm speaker in Buckshot.
Although their prices are similar, there are some practical real-world differences between Buckshot and Micro Wireless. Outdoor Technology boasts that Buckshot can get surprisingly loud given its small size, and it can: the peak volume level is roughly the same as Micro Wireless’s. However, Buckshot exhibits substantially higher distortion than Micro Wireless at its peak level, and quite a bit even at lower volume levels. Heard on its own, Buckshot performs music with relatively flat sound, tuned for mid-treble, midrange, and mid-bass performance with little high treble or low bass response, sound that’s better suited to outdoor listening than indoor critical music appreciation. This isn’t a surprise given Outdoor Technology’s focus or the fact that Buckshot’s small driver is straining to do as much as it is, but if raw music sound quality was the only factor that concerned us, Micro Wireless would win in a heartbeat. It’s also worth noting that Buckshot’s Bluetooth performance is pretty solid at close distances, but falls off quickly at the edge of its 33-foot promised range.
On the other hand, Buckshot’s speakerphone performance is a perk that JBL doesn’t offer at this price point. Callers told us that we sounded closer to the accessory’s microphone than we did to an iPhone 5 sitting at an identical distance, however, they said that we sounded more intelligible through the iPhone 5 than Buckshot. On our side, callers sounded a little louder on Buckshot, but also a bit softer, while the iPhone 5’s slightly quieter speaker delivered crisper sound. The primary benefits of the feature are therefore the additional amplitude and the ability to locate the wireless speaker elsewhere, such as on bike handles, while the iPhone is in a pocket or on an armband.
Overall, Buckshot is a very good small wireless speaker, combining a particularly impressive industrial design with solid speaker and speakerphone functionality. While some of the unit’s issues could stand to be improved in a followup model—larger and more bike-friendly controls, for instance, plus additional sonic tuning or driver enhancements for better indoor audio—we really liked almost everything Buckshot delivers for its attractive $60 asking price. It’s a distillation of Turtle Shell’s best features into a more practical form factor; even the triangular grid design that seemed somewhat iffy before works really well here. If size and convenience are more important to you than raw audio power or quality, give it serious consideration.