Review: SuperTooth Disco 4 Bluetooth Speaker
Up until the release of Disco, SuperTooth was best known for its Bluetooth headsets and car accessories, but the company's Bluetooth speakers have since become its flagship products. The much-improved 2012 model Disco 2 signaled the start of SuperTooth's focus on impressive budget speakers, which it followed up with 2013's Disco Twin and the obscure European-only Disco 3, which had slightly different color schemes and battery life than its same-shaped predecessors. Now there's Disco 4 ($49*), the first significant redesign in years, and it's more of a lateral release than a clear step forward for the family. [Editor's Note: This review was edited on February 7, 2014. Please see the end of this review for updated details on pricing,]
Shaped like a larger Disco 2/Twin/3 that’s been cut in half and laid on its side, Disco 4 resembles a boxy, cropped-off megaphone thanks to its new signature design feature — a rubber top handle. As the only new material on the otherwise matte plastic and fabric-faced speaker, the handle roughly color-matches the plastic, which SuperTooth will offer in a small collection of color options. Because of the handle, Disco 4 can be grasped in one hand as the rubber top rests on your knuckles like a semi-taut strap. The iPad-like weight of 1.12 pounds enables Disco 4 to feel surprisingly light given its size, although it’s hard to picture people actually holding it for extended lengths of time during music playback.
Like the last three Disco models, Disco 4 supports Bluetooth 4 — a feature that’s still rare today in Bluetooth speakers— and packs a rechargeable battery that’s rated for three to twelve hours depending on the volume of your music. That’s slightly higher than the three to ten hours promised by Disco 2 and Disco Twin, and a little below the three to fifteen hours in Disco 3, but the difference isn’t significant; each is slightly below par with most Bluetooth speakers. The runtime is offset by SuperTooth’s inclusion of both a wall adapter and micro USB charging cable that can keep the system running off a nearby outlet whenever you’re not carrying it around. Many $100 speakers pass on including the wall adapter in favor of pure USB charging, so it’s nice that Disco 4 offers users the choice.
Controls have been radically simplified this time out. Regardless of the hand you use to hold it, your thumb will rest near the unit’s only button — a circular power button on the back — while a single connectivity light, micro-USB charging port, and aux-in port sit alongside it. If you want to change the volume level or track, you do that on your iOS device rather than on the speaker, a change from prior Disco models. Tapping the power button can play or pause tracks, holding it down while the unit is on will turn the power off, and holding it down while the unit is off will initiate Bluetooth pairing mode. Unlike Disco Twin, which included voice prompting, there are no frills in powering on or pairing this unit: you’ll hear different beeps and tones rather than verbal status acknowledgements.
Disco 4’s single biggest issue is its sonic performance, which we’d characterize as good rather than great for the price* — arguably a step down from what we previously heard in Disco 2 and Disco Twin. On a positive note, Disco 4 presents music with a somewhat more bass-heavy emphasis that users will find pleasingly warm by contrast with the crisper Disco 2 and Twin models. Unfortunately, perceived clarity suffers across the volume range, and distortion in the low end becomes quite obvious at the unit’s less than small room-filling peak amplitude. Treble performance is noticeably reduced by comparison with the earlier Disco models, and more surprisingly, stereo separation remains completely absent. This limitation began in Disco 2, but makes less sense in a wider-faced unit like Disco 4. Popping the face open, we were all but amazed to find that all of the unit’s output was coming from a right-mounted 1.8” speaker with a roughly 2” bass reflex port and 8-Watt amplifier. That’s down from 16 Watts in Disco 2, though you wouldn’t recognize the power difference from their virtually identical top output levels.
Overall, Disco 4 is a solid Bluetooth speaker system, though there have been so many impressive new $100* options over the past two years that it doesn’t stand out in the way Disco 2 did back in 2012. Rather than making sonic improvements or lowering the price to become more competitive, SuperTooth went with a less exciting change—a semi-useful handle—and found other ways to cut costs rather than enhance value. As a result, Disco 4 merits our general-level recommendation and B rating; consider it if you really hope to use its integrated handle or strongly prefer bass-focused sound, otherwise Disco 2 or Disco Twin will be more likely to satisfy your needs.
Updated February 7, 2014: Following publication of this review, SuperTooth contacted us to note that the official MSRP for Disco 4 will actually be $49 rather than $100—a seriously aggressive price that regrettably wasn’t communicated before or during our review process. While we have a policy against updating ratings based on price changes, we will note that this price makes Disco 4 considerably more appealing than at $100, where it faced direct competition from numerous two- and three-driver Bluetooth speaker systems. At a sub-$50 price, it competes effectively with smaller, less powerful single-driver speakers, and should be worthy of your consideration unless you prioritize more compact size over horsepower.