Review: Pyle Audio SoundBox Splash Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker
Some of the most notable new small Bluetooth speakers have supplemented their portability with ruggedized features, and Pyle Audio has joined the pack with its SoundBox Splash ($70, aka PWPBT60). Previously known as Sound Flow, a name that appeared on the box we received for review, SoundBox Splash is an unusual speaker for several different reasons. Roughly Jawbone Jambox-sized, the speaker has a metal grille set back behind raised rubber, with two speakers and a 30-Watt amplifier inside -- surprisingly high quality and power for the low price tag. Pyle claims that SoundBox Splash is "marine grade" waterproof and shock resistant, with packaging showing it in water, however, there's no submersion test certification for the speaker, and its actual waterproof performance turned out to be questionable. That might explain some inconsistencies with the pricing: despite the stated $70 MSRP, the speaker is listed at $75 on the link to purchase from the company's website, down from a one-time list price of $147, and at review it, it was available for only $57 on Amazon.
Although the shape is different, the dimensions and many of SoundBox Splash’s features are quite similar to those of Scosche’s boomBottle. They’re both billed as somewhat waterproof and shockproof, although Pyle Audio notably doesn’t specifically identify the IP rating or certification; boomBottle is IPX4-certified against splashes. Given SoundBox Splash’s lower price, we were really surprised by just how solid it feels, due in part to its weight of over 1.5 pounds—it has the heft of a brick, in a good way. The material choices, including the brushed silver metal surrounding the removable ring, are nicer than we would have expected for the sub-$100 price. Despite the multiple colors shown on the packaging and online, SoundBox Splash is only being offered in black, with a shiny grille and matte housing. A detachable metal ring on one end allows Sound Flow to be connected to a carabiner, chain, or bag.
Because there was no clear indication of what Pyle Audio meant by “waterproof” besides the submersion imagery and “marine grade” claim, we tested the speaker to see just what it could stand up to. After one round of complete submersion, the speaker went out for a few moments, before sputtering back on and eventually returning to full strength. Another test wasn’t as positive. SoundBox Splash played for a few seconds underwater before giving out. Once removed from the water, we could hear liquid sloshing around inside, and the power light was on, but it didn’t seem to be responding to any controls and couldn’t establish a Bluetooth connection. So despite the marketing, it’s clearly not made to be dunked, and might or might not survive an accidental drop into water, but splashes shouldn’t be an issue.
The only other truly questionable element of the otherwise nice design is the button layout. There are three hard plastic controls, labeled with power, volume down, and volume up. Below them are embossed play/pause, track back, and track forward icons, respectively. A short press of any of the buttons actually activates the lower control—pressing the middle one, for example, takes you back to the beginning of your song—while you must hold them down for the main function. It’s not intuitive, and rather clumsy, but works once you learn the timing. A rubber-topped compartment hides the micro-USB recharging port, which can be connected to a power source with the included cable. The battery is rated to last for six hours of music playback.
Given the price, the sound quality is even more surprising than how good SoundBox Splash feels. It’s good—really good. The bass response is strong enough to vibrate the desk it’s resting on, and Pyle doesn’t rely on the bass as a crutch to make up for weak mids and highs; they’re both solid, too. Compared to boomBottle, they’re just ever so slightly weaker, but we’re still really impressed with the speaker performance given the low price point and build quality. While we did notice some distortion at the very top volume, it’s certainly not as bad as what we’ve heard from some other similarly-sized units. There is one hangup, though: the Bluetooth range is strangely limited, with dropouts starting about 15 feet away, or at roughly half the distance of boomBottle and most other Bluetooth speakers.
There’s no question that something odd’s going on behind the scenes with SoundBox Splash: between the wide range of prices, the surprising build quality, the very good sound performance, and the last-minute change of product names, this isn’t a typical speaker. It’s possible that the “marine grade” waterproofing didn’t work out quite as planned, leading to a lower price than originally expected, but SoundBox Splash is a very good value so long as you’re not expecting to submerge it. It’s close to a boomBottle-quality product—without a mic or an audio-in port—at around half the price, and even the battery life is comparable. The buttons are an issue, but considering it’s a wireless system, it’s not as troublesome as it could be. Bluetooth range, on the other hand, is a more serious problem, and one of the unit’s biggest faults, alongside the problematic underwater performance, which doesn’t live up to the marketing hype. Even so, this is a very good system, and worthy of our strong general recommendation. If it was as watersafe as advertised, it would have merited an even higher rating at this price point.