Most of the Bluetooth wireless speakers we’ve covered over the past two years have fallen into simple categories — all-in-one docking speakers with Bluetooth as a backup, all-in-one dockless speakers with Bluetooth as a primary feature, or traditional multi-piece speakers with Bluetooth and wired options. But over the past few weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to test a number of new and very different Bluetooth speakers that go further afield from prior concepts, with shapes and neat features that are either unlike anything we’ve seen before, or just executed better. Today, we’re looking at three of them: DBEST’s Transformative Bluetooth Hi-Fi System ($250), Swissvoice’s BH01u ePure ($140), and Yantouch’s Black Diamond 3 ($129). All three include two speakers and Bluetooth 2.1 or newer chips, so they can wirelessly play music streamed from virtually every iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, as well as the latest seventh-generation iPod nano. But they’re otherwise completely dissimilar from each other.
Yantouch is unquestionably one of the most obsessively iterative developers we’ve ever seen, constantly tweaking and improving on designs that we thought we knew before. Nearly two years ago, we reviewed the company’s Black Diamond, a “3D Dock for iPhone” that looked very unique but ultimately didn’t make a lot of sense, requiring an iPhone to sit inside and serve as a color-shifting lighting system. Six months later, the company tried again with Black Diamond 2, which added a small LED lighting system inside, and dropped the price to a more reasonable level. And this year, there was a third version called Black Diamond Lamp, which again lowered the price while dropping the iPhone dock concept entirely; this version was just a USB-powered desktop lamp with a USB passthrough port on the back. Yantouch knew it had a neat form factor on its hands with the heavily faceted, smoke black translucent shape, but figuring out what to do with the idea was more challenging.
The single biggest problem Yantouch will have with Black Diamond 3 is convincing people that it has changed as much under the hood as it actually has for this model. From the outside, Black Diamond 3 looks so similar to the Black Diamond Lamp that you’d have to turn it around and closely inspect its sides and back to discover what’s changed: there’s now a 1” speaker driver on each side, a set of two small holes on the top, and a single Mini-USB port on the back. It’s much heavier than the other Black Diamonds, but the same physical size, and a twin-ended Mini-USB cable leads out to 3.5mm audio and full-sized USB plugs. Notably, Black Diamond 3 can be used in a wired audio mode, or paired with another Black Diamond 3 for expanded sound, assuming you’re willing to purchase a second unit.
A wall adapter is included to let you power Black Diamond 3 with something other than a computer, and a black remote control is also in the package—a much bigger deal than one might initially assume. Yantouch not only lets you store this remote in one of the unit’s top holes, but also relies upon it to change the accessory’s lighting and volume, as well as your device’s audio tracks and play/pause status. Anyone familiar with the company’s cute but unintuitive “blow,” “tap,” or gesture controls will instantly love this remote, even if it signals a more conventional and less bold user interface than before. The only remaining issue is in re-initiating Bluetooth 3.0 pairing with Black Diamond 3: using the remote’s Bluetooth button merely toggles between two different input modes, rather than forcing the speaker to re-initiate a connection with your iOS device; sadly, it doesn’t do this automatically, so you’ll need to go into the Bluetooth menu to resume pairing on your own.
To say that Black Diamond 3 has improved as a light would be an understatement. It is now equipped with a bright 16-million color LED system that can be locked into one color, allowed to wander through different shades one at a time, or used for multi-colored static or moving lights—all closer to the company’s premium JellyWake lamps than ever before. By comparison with the Black Diamond 2 and Black Diamond Lamp implementations, which were relatively flat and rendered interesting solely because of the faceted translucent plastic, Black Diamond 3’s lighting system is entrancing: fading from color to color, or locked into one of several different scattered rainbow-style patterns, it is truly beautiful. Brightness settings on the remote let you bring the colors from richly saturated tones up to more white-tinted, subtle version that may go better with your room or mood. As a pure lamp, the only thing we could ask for from a future iteration would be even more and brighter lights, but what’s in here is pretty dazzling.
Combined with Black Diamond 3’s speaker capabilities, the lighting is even more interesting. Yantouch’s remote lets you select various beat-matching light patterns which enable the unit to flutter its lights together or separately in neat ways. As with the standard light patterns, the beat-matching effects are gentle and gradual, which will lend itself better to some genres of songs than others. If there’s any obvious weakness in Black Diamond 3, it’s that this feature could stand to more responsive for the types of songs that are faster and more beat-driven, but what’s here is pretty nice.
Sonically, Black Diamond 3 is pretty much exactly what we’d expect from a simple and relatively inexpensive two-driver audio system: entirely competent and respectable as a desktop speaker, rather than stunning. The drivers are powerful enough for nearby listening, and equipped with enough frequency range to let you hear treble, mids, and mid-bass in your music, though the bass isn’t particularly strong. Thankfully, there’s no major distortion in the speakers, and the stereo separation is solid, thanks to the side positioning of the drivers. Additional bass and power would make a sequel better, but at this price point and given the lamp functionality, Black Diamond 3 is very well equipped.
Overall, Black Diamond 3 is a huge improvement on its predecessors, finally getting everything from the lighting and sonic performance to the user interface very close to completely correct. Judged solely as a desktop lamp, it’s worthy of “wows” when you see it, and it’s certainly good enough as a speaker to outperform most users’ expectations for the price. That having been said, the Bluetooth re-pairing interface could use some work, as could the beat-matching lighting feature; both will benefit from the type of iteration we’re so accustomed to seeing from Yantouch. While this is clearly a sequel in some ways to the earlier Black Diamonds, it really feels like the start of a whole new product category for the company—gorgeous illuminated speakers—and we are seriously excited to see where Yantouch takes this idea next.
Company and Price
Model: Black Diamond 3
Compatible: All iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches