Choosing a great Bluetooth wireless speaker isn’t difficult — few deliver truly outstanding performance at a given price point — but the number of options is increasing every week, and in the wake of Jawbone’s Jambox, many companies are rushing to compete in the sub-$200 small speaker market. Love it or hate it, the Jambox established that a nicely designed compact speaker could appeal broadly to iPad and iPhone users, despite carrying a price tag equivalent to something much larger and better-sounding. Today, we’re looking at two more Jambox alternatives: Philips’ Shoqbox SB7300 ($200), which offers a brawnier design for the same price, and iLuv’s Mo’Beats iSP245, which sells for half that price. Of these models, the Shoqbox is the clear victor on features, audio performance, and design.
Unlike Mo’Beats, which is set apart from the others by combining an inexpensive stand and speaker, Shoqbox SB3700 takes on the Jambox by one-upping it in almost every way. Jawbone placed three speakers inside a rubbery box; Philips instead packs four drivers into a nicely finished and more substantial-feeling silver aluminum and black mesh enclosure. Jambox had stylish rubber buttons on its top and side; Shoqbox SB3700 instead goes with a fancy glowing pop-up power and volume dial, plus a multifunction button that can tell you how much battery life is remaining in multiple languages.
Both speakers use micro-USB for charging, but Philips hides its charging port under a hard plastic flap for safety. And both can be used in landscape orientation, but only Shoqbox is designed to stand upright as well, like a miniature tower, reducing its footprint on a desk to a 2.5” square. Finally, though Shoqbox operates in stereo mode on its own, two Shoqboxes can be paired wirelessly for expanded stereo sound. Philips includes a wall adapter, two charging cables, and an audio cable in the package. One of the charging cables works with the adapter; the other uses two USB ports at a time to charge the battery at up to 2A speeds for eight hours of play time.
Without compromising on price, Shoqbox SB3700 is a nicer-looking, better-feeling, and slightly more versatile little audio system than the Jambox. All of the little touches, such as the diamond-cut edging around the blue volume knob, and the gently curved metal body, are hallmarks of Philips’ increasingly impressive industrial design department, contributing to a sense that you’re actually getting a little system that’s almost worthy of the $200 price tag. Our gut feeling is that Shoqbox was really designed to be used in tower mode, as it best spotlights the volume knob; however, rubber feet do enable the system to rest on a 45-degree angle, while providing proper left-right stereo separation. Shoqbox is around an inch wider than Jambox, as well as roughly 0.2” taller and 0.6” deeper, not huge enough differences to make Shoqbox harder to carry around, though it seems bigger than that because it sits on a diagonal.
Another interesting difference between the models is a feature that Philips barely emphasizes on the box, and that’s the Smart Sensor, a glossy black bar on the unit’s front edge. Rather than adorning the Shoqbox with a bunch of control buttons, Philips lets you use simple gestures—a proximate wave of the hand downwards, forwards, or backwards—to change tracks and pause or resume playback. You can enable or disable Smart Sensor by double-tapping the multifunction button, and it does indeed work as explained in the manual. The jury’s out on whether you’ll find it gimmicky or not, but at least Philips has included this as an extra control option, and made it easy to disable if you don’t want to use it.
Philips’ one-upsmanship continues with Shoqbox SB7300’s audio, which sounds like an enhanced version of the Jambox, with better treble and a noticeably higher maximum volume level. While we weren’t really blown away by the original Jambox’s sound for the $200 asking price, noting that it was a “midrange-heavy speaker with just enough treble and bass to sound ‘good enough,’ ” Shoqbox SB7300 uses its four drivers to provide a little extra sparkle on the high end without compromising on the mids or lows, a superior balance that’s eclipsed only by considerably larger portables we’ve tested. The EQ balance isn’t night-and-day different, but the Shoqbox’s added power is close to profound: Jawbone marketing hype aside, Shoqbox comes much closer to being able to fill a small-sized room with sound, producing perhaps twice the volume at its peak, with similar distortion levels.
Shoqbox SB7300 only has a couple of small weaknesses that are worth noting. First, while it does perform wirelessly at its promised 10-meter/33-foot transmission distance, the audio signal does begin to break up soon after that distance. Another is seriously weird: SB7300 includes a microphone that is not mentioned anywhere on the packaging or in the instructions; we were only made aware of it by a reader who spotted the feature on an official product listing page. Philips may not be playing up the microphone because it’s not fantastic—an unassisted iPhone 4 or 4S sounds noticeably clearer, and the mic is seemingly unidirectional, unable to pick up voices if they’re not directly speaking to the unit—but at least it’s there. [Editor’s Note: This review was edited on the day of publication to include this latter finding. Thanks to Ernie G. for pointing this feature out!]
Small issues aside, however, Shoqbox SB7300 is a very good compact wireless speaker—we’ve been skeptical of the ability of small speakers like this to offer $200 in value, but the total package here comes closer than most to accomplishing that feat. Thanks to its thoughtful, interesting industrial design, SB7300 is the rare audio system capable of being used in two different orientations, and the four speakers inside deliver sound that easily surpasses similarly-sized alternatives in both quality and peak amplitude. While users will vary in appreciating or even using the Smart Sensor, Philips’ approach to offering cool-looking and useful controls is welcome here. Overall, Shoqbox is worthy of our strong general recommendation; it’s not the very best-sounding portable Bluetooth speaker we’ve seen at its price point, but it does deliver an impressive collection of features inside a distinctive form factor. Give it very serious consideration if you need something roughly the size of a Jambox but want a decidedly superior sonic experience for the same price.
Company and Price
Model: Shoqbox SB7300
Compatible: All iPads, iPhone 3GS/4/4S, iPod touch 3G/4G