Review: SuperTooth Disco 2 Bluetooth Speaker
Bluetooth speakers aren't all created equal, and a company that's good at one genre -- say, in-car speakerphones -- might not be good at another, such as traditional desktop speakers. That was the story last year with SuperTooth, which last year simultaneously delivered the highly impressive visor-mounted speakerphone SuperTooth HD and a seriously underwhelming portable speaker called Disco. Virtually all of the company's in-car audio systems had been impressively designed to deliver great inbound and outbound sound in very small packages, but the company stumbled when trying to create something much bigger and more powerful. Undaunted, SuperTooth has returned this year with Disco 2 ($100), a substantially rethought version that doesn't look, feel, or even work like its predecessor. It's a completely different speaker, and substantially better, though with a few of its own small idiosyncrasies.
To start with the positives, Disco 2 is a considerably more fashion-forward design than its predecessor, which resembled an elongated black brick with a neoprene carrying case. This time, SuperTooth has chosen a novel tower-like shape that looks like an extruded rounded rectangle, gently double-tapering to become thinner near but not at its base, somewhat akin to an exclamation mark. Disco 2 measures roughly 7.2” x 4.3” x 2.8” at its peaks, though the tapers make it narrower and shallower closer to the bottom than at the comparatively oversized top. The company has also shown Disco 2 in a wide variety of different colors, ranging from bright pink, green, and blue bodies to muted red, silver, or black versions, with the color coming from wraparound fabric speaker grilles alongside a plastic base. Our review unit was jet black, and it wasn’t clear at press time how many of the colored variations will actually appear in stores.
While the shape mightn’t appeal to everyone, it’s definitely more imaginative than the prior version, and creates a very obvious place for the controls: power, volume, track forward/backward, and play/pause controls are together on the top, while power and audio input ports are found on the rear bottom alongside a Bluetooth status indicator. Each of the buttons is illuminated, though to conserve power, Disco 2 doesn’t keep them on all the time; they oddly flash and make a corresponding beep sound only when they’re pressed. SuperTooth includes a wall adapter, microfiber drawstring carrying bag, and 3.5mm audio cable in each package; our review unit’s wall adapter was foreign and included U.S.-ready detachable wall blades, but this will likely change in other packages.
As before, Disco 2 includes a rechargeable battery rated for 3-4 hours of high-volume playback or 10 hours at medium volume, with a charging time of around 2 hours, down from 3 hours in the prior model. While some of the speakers we’ve tested offer longer running times, Disco 2’s is respectable, and it should be said that it’s not a shrinking violet at peak volume: it’s actually much too loud for near-field listening, and capable of filling a small room on its own. Notably, volume levels set on the speaker and your iOS device won’t mirror each other, so the actual battery life you’ll get from Disco 2 may depend on its own setting rather than the volume you’ve picked on your device.
A more major positive distinguishing feature in Disco 2 is SuperTooth’s pioneering inclusion of a Bluetooth 4 chip inside, making this the first Bluetooth 4-ready speaker we’ve tested. As it turns out, Disco 2 doesn’t behave in quite the same way as most Bluetooth speakers: once it’s been paired with an iPhone 4S or third-generation iPad, for example, re-pairing the devices for playback is virtually instantaneous—there’s no perceptible delay, even when waking Disco 2 up from a power-conserving state—and the speaker can be paired with multiple devices, though not simultaneously. Unlike some Bluetooth 4 devices we’ve tested, Disco 2 remains backwards-compatible with Bluetooth 2-ready iOS hardware, so you can still use it with earlier iPod touch, iPhones, and iPads. The only negative we noticed was what appears to be a higher rate of Bluetooth battery drain in Bluetooth 4 devices in standby mode with Disco 2, something that may or may not be a correctable software issue.
Sonically, Disco 2 is in the “very good” rather than “great” category, though only for one reason: SuperTooth opted this time to go with a monaural rather than stereo design. Consequently, there’s no stereo separation, and the unit has dropped from Disco’s 28-Watt output down to 16 Watts, with two front-firing speakers and a passive bass radiator on the back. SuperTooth’s packaging refers to Disco 2 as a “Bluetooth Stereo Speaker,” which isn’t true, as stereo songs play completely in mono from the unit, such that both channels appear to come from the same place. If this sounds unappealing, however, consider that our review of the original Disco noted that it redefined the term mediocre because of “a seriously sub-par amplification system,” making “even tiny, less powerful speakers… sound clear by comparison.” Put another way, it would be entirely possible for Disco 2 to sound better than Disco, even if it had fewer or less powerful components inside.
And that’s exactly what’s happened here: SuperTooth has done more with less. If you can put aside the lack of stereo separation, Disco 2 is a decidedly superior option than its predecessor, with zero of the scratchiness and virtually none of the amplifier hiss that sunk Disco. Music sounds both reasonably detail-rich and full-bodied, with a bit more treble and a lot higher maximum volume than Soundfreaq’s Sound Kick, though again minus the stereo, and in a form factor that’s arguably a little less bag-friendly—depending on the size and shape of your bag. While there’s a little bass distortion at Disco 2’s top volume level, it’s not too bad, particularly given the $100 asking price. In light of pre-release publicity suggesting otherwise, it’s worth noting that the final version of Disco 2 does not include a wired way to join two speakers together for stereo-separated sound. The rear audio port is for input, and SuperTooth no longer makes claims that Disco 2 can be paired with anything other than an audio-producing device.
Overall, SuperTooth has done an impressive job of rehabilitating the Disco brand with Disco 2. While the new model loses one potentially key feature due to its lack of stereo separation, and its somewhat unusual control lighting system could use some additional work, the improvements in sound quality, Bluetooth, and pricing are all big steps forward. This is one of the best $100 wireless speaker systems we’ve tested, falling right on the edge of general and high recommendations; we ultimately believed that it was worthy of our A- rating due to its unique design, aggressive pricing, and strong overall performance. Give it serious consideration if you’re interested in an inexpensive but powerful portable Bluetooth speaker.