After testing a relatively large collection of wireless Bluetooth and AirPlay speakers for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, our expectations for new options are pretty straightforward: we like systems with simple controls, clean designs, and respectable sound. So on the surface, SuperTooth’s Disco ($150) seemed like an easy winner, priced very aggressively for a system of its size and power, and marketed with a couple of neat extras.
Though it only has three speaker drivers inside, that’s one more than many of the low-end Bluetooth audio systems we’ve tested, and SuperTooth’s design strategy here is sound: it divides 28 total watts of power between two 8-watt left and right drivers and a larger 12-watt “subwoofer” for bass. Control of the speakers is handled by a highly simplified control system on the face—a volume dial with separate track, play/pause, bass adjustment, and power buttons surrounding it—which uses lines of light to illuminate like a star when the system’s turned on, with a blue and red light to indicate power and pairing status. A smaller red light turns on and off to indicate whether the “bass” feature is being used. Anyone could figure it out.
SuperTooth bundles Disco with a wall power adapter, an auxiliary audio input cable for use with wired devices, and two extra features that aren’t necessarily common in Bluetooth speakers at this price. First is an integrated rechargeable NiMH battery that’s rated for 10 hours of play at medium volume, or 3 to 4 hours of play at high volume—solid for any portable speaker, and good for a Bluetooth system of this size. Second is a neoprene, play-through carrying case that can be kept on when Disco’s in use, complete with rear venting, port holes, and a Velcro closure. It’s easy to imagine the combined value of all of these parts: you can keep Disco plugged into a wall inside the case, detach the charger and take Disco with you anywhere, use it for hours at a time, then take it home and recharge it. What wasn’t to love?
Short answer: the sound quality. We’ve heard some mediocre Bluetooth speakers in our time, but Disco redefines the term due to what appears to be a seriously sub-par amplification system. No matter whether we connected a device wirelessly using Bluetooth or with a direct wire to the rear auxiliary audio port, Disco put out scratchy, static-filled audio that made even tiny, less powerful speakers such as the Jawbone Jambox and Soundmatters foxL V2.2 sound clear by comparison. The scratching issue mostly appeared to be affecting the treble, creating something like sibilance with every high note and beat, but persisted somewhat even when no device was connected. This is really a shame, because the speaker drivers otherwise put out reasonably powerful, full-bodied sound for the price, but the scratchiness is distracting to the point of utterly ruining the sonic experience.
Otherwise, we found the unit’s Bluetooth performance to be fine—though it’s behind the specs of the Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR chips used in recent iOS devices, the Bluetooth 2.0 chip was easy to pair with our iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads, and proved capable of remembering multiple paired devices; however, we did have to turn each device off and manually re-initiate the connection when trying to switch between them. Disco has a rated 33-foot operating distance, and to its credit, we were able to go well beyond that distance and still maintain a working wireless connection.
As much as we liked everything else in Disco, there’s no way to get around the the scratchy sound. Hopefully SuperTooth will come out with an updated version of this speaker that improves upon the amplification and tuning inside, because the form factor, pack-ins, and speaker drivers all struck us as winners; small improvements to the Bluetooth and amp could make it worthy of recommending.
Company and Price
Compatible: iPhone 3G/3GS/4, iPad/iPad 2, iPod touch 2G/3G/4G