Although it can really be used anywhere, Cobra’s AirWave 360 ($150) is a portable Bluetooth speaker designed for the car. Made to fit in a cup holder, it’s designed to be a turnkey solution for vehicles that don’t have a built-in Bluetooth connection, providing both music streaming and speakerphone functionality. With a tall, cylindrical design similar to that of Scosche’s boomBottle, it has a sleeker design, and a greater number of controls, which are also more complex. The speaker comes a micro-USB cable and car charger for its 20-hour rechargeable battery, plus a cabled audio output port, and a rubber X-shaped insert that’ll help keep it in place.
Standing almost 11” tall, AirWave 360 is shaped like an elongated cup, tapering down from a diameter of about 3.3” at the top to 2.7” at the bottom. Its body is glossy black plastic, with less shiny and more colorful controls on the top. Below them, there are three short but wide openings ringing the body of the device, exposing a speaker and allowing audio out. Further down, there’s a rear-facing hole for bass ventilation, right above the audio-out and power-in ports. Finally, on the bottom, there’s a ring of rubber that holds the speaker in place. Recessed inside it is a power switch, as well as a six-pin input and gold ring that works with a docking station that’s mentioned in the user guide, but doesn’t seem to actually be available for purchase.
AirWave 360 uses a combination of buttons, dials, and even gesture controls to control music playback and call answering. Starting from the outside, there’s a ring for adjusting the volume. It turns clockwise and counterclockwise, but only a few degrees in either direction. Holding it at either of its terminal points will continue to turn the volume up or down until it reaches its maximum or minimum level. The ring also hides a number of buttons: pressing down at the 9:00 position plays and pauses music, as does the 3:00 position, despite its square stop symbol. Between them, at the 12:00 position, is a button for answering phone calls and pairing Bluetooth devices. There are also a pair of track-shifting buttons.
The most interesting control method Cobra’s speaker offers is gesture-based. A small sensor mixed in with all the other controls notices hand waves in two directions, either up or down; the instruction manual says your hand should be less than 2.4” away for the best performance. Waving down will advance the track, while waving up will move backwards. When a phone call comes in, gesturing in either direction will answer it, and end the call when you’re done. By default, this feature is turned off; you must turn it on by holding down the track rewind button for two seconds. This notably has to be done any time the power is turned off and back on again.
When it comes to audio performance, AirWave 360 didn’t blow us away, but as an in-car solution, it’s certainly not bad. When compared against boomBottle, Cobra’s dynamic range is narrower. While the bass performance is similar — that is to say, pretty good for a rather small speaker — it doesn’t perform as well in the highs. It also doesn’t get quite as loud as Scosche’s speaker. Where it did impress was speakerphone performance: the speaker’s noise-canceling mic arrangement was able to successfully block out almost all driving noises in our car, properly isolating voices despite sitting at a relatively distant location from the driver. And, as the name suggests, the audio output is omnidirectional.
While it doesn’t have the weather-proofed body or quite the same level of sound as boomBottle, Cobra did well with implementing features that make AirWave 360 a smart choice for cars without built-in Bluetooth capabilities. They’re not perfect, such as the gesture controls, which work but shouldn’t have to be turned on every time the power is toggled. For the most part, however, the features add up to a positive experience. If you want a hands-free calling solution that’s not a headset or visor-mounted speaker, AirWave 360 is a good choice, and earns our general recommendation. Better audio performance and streamlined controls would make this a better option, but as it is, it’s quite good.
Company and Price
Company: Cobra Electronics
Model: AirWave 360
Compatible: All Bluetooth-Capable iPads, iPhones, iPods