Over the past three years, most of our small portable speaker reviews have noted how frequently $100 to $200 options rival or outperform Jawbone’s Jambox, which set a standard for industrial design but not sound quality for the dollar. Not every speaker sonically trumps the Jambox, which recently dropped in price to $150, but many do. As it turns out, Chill Pill Audio’s Chill Box ($100) doesn’t beat the Jambox in any regard but price, but it does have a distinctive industrial design. If you’re looking for something less expensive with a number of compromises, your eye might reasonably wander over here.
Measuring 7.3” wide by 3.1” tall and 2.1” deep, Chill Box is most noteworthy for two design elements: a substantial-feeling U-shaped colored metal frame, available in your choice of blue, green, or black, and an always-black top handle that slides upwards as needed for carrying. Oddly, Chill Pill Audio isn’t specific about the metal it’s using—it looks like thick brushed aluminum—and it’s similarly ambiguous about the top handle, which looks and feels enough like real leather that it’s either that or a good leatherette approximation. The unit’s twin speakers are housed in a comparatively unimpressive fabric-wrapped plastic box that’s permanently mounted inside the metal frame, hovering around 0.2” from the unit’s bottom. Underneath, you’ll find four circular black rubber feet alongside very large model and certification text.
Surprisingly, Chill Box doesn’t place any of its buttons or ports on its rear or sides—they’re all on top together in a single line, starting with the aux-in port, continuing through power, calling, and volume buttons, then a micro-USB charging port, and finally a microphone hole. This probably saved some money during the manufacturing process, but it looks odd when audio or charging cables are connected to the speaker’s top rather than its back. It also leaves the back completely blank, while the only power and pairing indicator light is an alternating blue/red box, hidden behind the fabric grille. Cosmetically, none of these choices is terrible, but they’re unconventional and leave Chill Box looking somewhat spartan from most angles.
The biggest issue we had with Chill Box isn’t in its look or feel, but rather how it sounds. On the plus side, the Bluetooth chip inside is something special—Chill Pill’s web site says it’s Bluetooth 2.1, but the unit and instructions suggest that it’s the newer Bluetooth 4.0 standard. Regardless, it pairs quickly with iOS devices, and achieves at least twice the standard Bluetooth wireless receiving distance, playing music without major drop-outs from 60-foot distances. There’s a very quick stutter at the beginning of streaming playback, which is less than ideal but not a dealbreaker; the stutter doesn’t recur as additional songs play.
On the other hand, Chill Box sounds only a little better than a typical FM radio during playback, producing relatively flat, midrange-focused sound, particularly at higher volume levels. Missing both the treble highs and bass lows of a less expensive rival, Chill Box’s frequency response is noticeably more limited than id America’s $80 TouchTone; it’s capable of hitting the same nearly small room-filling peak volume level but exhibits considerable bass and midrange distortion in the process. Small pops in the audio were occasionally obvious during songs, contributing to the radio-like sound. Stereo separation is there, but more limited than we’d have expected from a speaker so wide, and consequently hard to enjoy. Speakerphone performance was also problematic, with a caller telling us that he could hear all of his words echoing back as he spoke, an obvious sign of improper echo cancellation.
Small frills that are sometimes found in small speakers these days are absent here. Voice prompting, second device charging, track controls, and Siri controls are nowhere to be found on Chill Box. Additionally, unlike almost every competitor, Chill Pill Audio doesn’t provide any estimate whatsoever of the unit’s battery life. We played songs for several hours without issues, but as there’s no battery life indicator, and play times can vary based on volume level and other factors, it’s hard to know how much battery life Chill Box really has.
While we’d hoped that Chill Box would bring some new advantage to the $100 small Bluetooth speaker market, its most distinctive feature is its colored metal frame—not exactly an essential component, but definitely something that helps it stand out from the crowd. The top handle is also nice, increasing the comfort factor of carrying an otherwise substantial-feeling small speaker. Unfortunately, it’s not particularly impressive sonically, with a variety of design and specification oddities that make clear that additional development polish could have made a difference. While Chill Box isn’t a bad speaker, it’s not good enough to earn our recommendation, meriting a C+ rating; our hope is that Chill Pill Audio will use the basic concepts to create a much-improved version 2.0.
Company and Price
Company: Chill Pill Audio
Model: Chill Box
Compatible: All Bluetooth-Equipped iPads, iPhones + iPods