Every few years, an accessory category reaches saturation due to the number of similar options already in the marketplace — right now, that category is Bluetooth wireless speakers. Unknown developers are releasing new speakers every week, and established companies are already on their third, tenth, or twentieth iterations on the genre. Today, we’re looking at three new portable options with somewhat different features: Cambridge Audio’s Go V2 ($180), Soundfreaq’s Double Spot SFQ-09 ($120/$150), and iHome’s iBN6 ($100). Each speaker connects to your iPhone, iPad, or Bluetooth-ready iPod.
Last year, we covered Cambridge Audio’s Minx series of speakers, which like other Apple AirPlay-standard wireless audio systems were saddled with unjustifiably high price tags and unimpressive wireless performance. Despite sharing its predecessors’ industrial design, Go V2 is a very different beast. Armed with Bluetooth rather than AirPlay and five total speakers — twin 0.75” tweeters, two 2” woofers, and one 5.4”-wide rear-firing bass radiator — it’s uncommonly well-equipped by small Bluetooth stereo standards, and more capable than similarly sub-$200 options sold by rivals such as Jawbone and Braven. The tradeoff is in physical volume: 9.3” wide by 4.8” tall by 2.4” deep at its largest points, Go V2 is closer in size to Jawbone and Braven’s sub-$300 models such as Braven’s 850, which are capable of being tossed into backpacks but do better on a desktop or bookshelf.
Go V2’s curved black or silver and white chassis would have been right at home in Bose’s old SoundDock lineup. Like Bose, Cambridge includes only ultra-simple top controls, specifically power, Bluetooth pairing, volume, and aux-in buttons. Most of the body is plastic, but there’s a metal front speaker grille, ringed by metallic plastic on the otherwise white version. Though Bose went with a thinner, boxier shape for its Bluetooth SoundLink speakers, Cambridge’s model actually compares well to the latest version of SoundLink: for $120 less, you get not only the audio hardware inside Go V2, but also extra battery life — an impressive 18 hours rather than 14 — and the ability to use Go’s rechargeable battery to recharge an iPhone or iPod at 1-Amp speeds. This charging feature reminded us of the aforementioned Braven 850, which currently sells for $280 and has a 20-hour battery with 8800mAh of device-charging output. Go V2’s very close features and $100 lower price make it seem like a comparative bargain; it helps further that Cambridge includes frills such as a carrying bag and a wall charger with international plugs in the package.
Not surprisingly, there are compromises. For one, Go V2 isn’t exactly the 850’s equivalent in sonic horsepower: whereas Braven’s speaker can completely fill a small room with sound, Go V2’s peak volume level is quieter — good for bookshelf or up to five-foot listening, but not more than that. This is somewhat of a surprise given the number of $100 to $200 speakers we test that can scream, albeit they almost invariably deliver high-volume sound with distortion. Cambridge’s approach was clearly to limit Go V2 to what it could do safely, and it succeeds at doing less better. Speakerphone functionality is also entirely missing in Go V2, an omission that will mean more to some users than others.
Similarly, despite the presence of dedicated tweeters, which normally help small systems deliver strong treble, Go V2 is more of a balanced, midrange-focused speaker with just enough high- and low-end output to sound good rather than striking in both regards. Turn it on with whatever song you prefer, and there’s a very high probability that you’ll find the audio to be “very nice,” with enough warmth to be fairly called warm and sufficient oomph to feel like a real sonic upgrade to the iPhone, iPod, or iPad you’re using it with. To the extent that the 850 sounds louder and a little sharper in the treble department, it’s easy to fall back on the $100 price difference as a justification. But the better way of understanding Go V2 is as an option for people who found Jawbone’s and Braven’s nearly pocket-sized options underwhelming, and would prefer something similarly-priced but capable of achieving superior sound quality. You won’t hear any Jambox-style strain or distortion in Go V2, but it won’t get much louder than the small sub-$200 speakers, either.
If Go V2 was capable of performing at higher volumes, it would have been a home run for Cambridge Audio – as-is, it’s a respectably portable speaker with a pleasantly neutral design and similarly pleasant sonics. The one obvious thing that will surprise users is its relatively low peak output level, with the lack of speakerphone functionality coming in as a very distant second. Go V2 merits our B+ rating and strong general recommendation; we look forward to seeing what Cambridge Audio does in a future V3.
Company and Price
Company: Cambridge Audio
Model: Go V2
Compatible: All iPads, iPhones + Bluetooth-Equipped iPods