Braven 600 Portable Bluetooth Speaker Review

I am quickly becoming a fan of portable audio speakers and docks. They are convenient and sometimes sound way better than their size would indicate. Last year, I reviewed the wonderful Soundmatters FoxL speaker which impressed everyone who heard it with its jaw-dropping sound. Later Jawbone released the Jambox, which is basically a reworked FoxL in a much prettier case. There was also a company named Spar which made a beautiful, aluminum-wrapped speaker, the Zephyr. Spar (now Braven) has replaced the Zephyr with three new speaker models, the Braven 600, 625s and 650.

I’m reviewing the Braven 600. Right out of the box, you notice the Apple design influence and how beautiful this speaker is. The seamless, anodized aluminum exterior looks and feels great. I had the natural aluminum look, but the 600 is also available in an anodized red. Speaker holes are cut into the front and back, allowing almost 360º air movement which expands the soundstage. Actually, the front and back are identical looking, and it’s only the printed Braven logo on the front that gives you a hint. The 600 is a visual match to the MacPro tower, but truthfully, it will look good next to anything.

Be warned though: The Braven 600 is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde speaker.

Let’s deal with Dr. Jekyll first.

The 600 is a Bluetooth speaker. I’ve said repeatedly that I have issues with Bluetooth. But Apple’s superior AirPlay technology on something this small is not practical, so if it’s wireless, it’s Bluetooth or nothing.

Pairing the 600 to the iPhone and iPad was simple and straightforward. Press and hold the pairing button for a few seconds, and that’s it. One recurring problem I had was reconnecting using Bluetooth after a period of the 600 not being used. More than once, I had to re-pair the speaker with my iPhone to get a connection. It wasn’t difficult, but it was annoying.

While using Bluetooth, I could walk around my studio office with no dropouts or skipping. I have a rather large studio/office, and this is better reception than I’ve had with some other Bluetooth speakers. However, its advertised 30+ ft. range is still nowhere near the range of AirPlay.

The sound quality using Bluetooth was a bit better than I expected. Volume could get fairly loud, but nowhere near as loud – or as clear – as a wired connection. Also, I found out quickly that using the built-in equalizer on the iPad or iPhone severely cuts into the already compromised volume. Also using Bluetooth, the highs at full volume become uncomfortably brittle.

All in all, a mild-mannered and respectable – for Bluetooth – speaker.

Then there’s Mr. Hyde.

Disconnect Bluetooth and hard-wire the 600 directly into an iPod, DAC (digital audio convertor) or computer and everything changes. The 600 is no longer Mr. Nice Guy. The volume is considerably louder, clearer and fuller. Audio performance is improved in almost every way. A wired Braven 600 speaker can fill a small room with decent sound for such a small speaker.

But Mr.Hyde doesn’t like to be pushed too far.

The 600 does not have powerhouse bass like the similar FoxL or Jambox speakers. But, with the 600’s better audio clarity, you may discover that you prefer the Braven over those bass monsters. I did. The 600 is much easier on the ears with extended listening. Just don’t throw any woofer-testing music at it, because the 600 just can’t handle a bass-heavy song at full volume without distortion.

So you have a choice: The subdued, polite Dr. Jekyll approach using Bluetooth or the hard-wired volume monster Mr. Hyde who can get out of control when pushed. Even with the drawbacks, Mr. Hyde is much more entertaining.

Controls and ports are placed at both ends of the 600 speaker. One side has an on/off switch, mini USB for charging, Bluetooth pairing button, and AUX IN port. The other side has an audio AUX OUT port, battery check button and light, and a standard USB port for charging an iPhone or iPod. That’s right – the 600 will charge your iDevice while it plays music from that device. But please realize that if you choose to charge your phone that way, it will substantially shorten the life of the speaker’s battery. Still, it’s a good option for battery emergencies.

The buttons on the Braven are small – tiny really – and I had trouble seeing what they were unless I looked closely. These small buttons are elegant, but impractical. It’s only after hours of use that I instinctively knew the button’s functions without having to think twice.

The 600 series speakers can be daisy-chained for increased sound, letting you add as many Braven speakers as you care to the chain. You can also individually control the volume for each speaker, if you wish, using that speaker’s volume buttons.

Because the Braven 600 distorts when overloaded with bass, it works better with rock and country rather than hip-hop or techno. “Start Me Up” from the Rolling Stones, leaps out of the speaker with power and authority. It’s hard to imagine Keith Richard’s killer intro guitar riff sounding weak in any speaker, but Braven does it proud.

Folk and vocal music also benefit from the 600’s tuning. Leonard Cohen’s melancholic ballads sound distinct and depressing, exactly as they should. “The Partisan” is a particularly sad ode to French freedom fighters during World War II. The plaintive guitar supports Cohen’s deadpan delivery. The clarity of the 600 is more evident when female backing vocals enter the mix. With excess bass, the song could have devolved into mud, but on the 600, the song’s mood remains intact. The same could be said for the John Prine song, “Hello In There,” sung by Bette Midler on her 70s debut album. The lone piano backing Midler’s aching singing are a good match for the 600.

Using the 600 as a speaker phone was simple. As long as Bluetooth is enabled, you can remain hands-free. However, I noticed with embarrassment that if I had the speaker volume at a comfortable level for music, any ring-tone from an incoming call was much louder. I jumped a few times when this happened. Also, I had to press a couple of buttons on my iPhone before I could answer the call and begin talking. Once the call was connected though, my party and I could hear each other speaking is a normal tone of voice with no difficulty.

The 600 is the least expensive of the three models Braven sells, but I wouldn’t call it entry level. The main difference between the 600 and the identical looking but more expensive 650 speaker is the battery – 12 hours playback on the 600 vs 20 hours on the 650. The 650 also has what Braven calls HD Audio with APTX. I haven’t heard the 650, so I can’t speak about the difference in audio quality. The mid-range 625s is made for outdoor use with a protective rubberized exterior instead of aluminum and comes with a flashlight attachment. The 600 has a draw-string bag for carrying, but it’s sized to only carry the speaker and is too small to include the extra connection wires and charging plug.

If you are looking for a small, unobtrusive speaker for desktop use, the 600 speaker is just about perfect, especially when hard-wired to an audio source. Plus, it’s absolutely gorgeous. And even though it’s also convenient to use as a portable Bluetooth speaker, the volume penalty is something to consider if Bluetooth is your primary reason for the speaker.

 

Product Information

Price:$149.99 US
Manufacturer:Braven
Requirements:
  • Audio source
  • Bluetooth or mini plug
Pros:
  • Clear, balanced audio
  • Not too bassy
  • Can be daisy-chained
  • Beautiful design
Cons:
  • Expensive
  • Distorts at max volume
  • Bluetooth volume not as loud as hard wired
Posted in: Audio, Video, TV Gear, Reviews

17 comments… add one

  • Jean-Denis Haas September 2, 2012, 2:14 pm

    Thanks for this review!

    Would you put the Jambox over the FoxL? If you had to pick one, which one would you pick?

    Thanks!
    JD

    1
  • Bill Henderson September 2, 2012, 3:16 pm

    JD,
    Underneath the exterior design, the Jambox and FoxL are almost identical. The Jambox is based on the FoxL. The Jambox has improved bluetooth. I would choose what looks best to you. However, neither looks as classy as the Braven speaker does.

    Bill H.

    2
  • Jean-Denis Haas September 16, 2012, 9:44 pm

    Thanks for the reply!

    I was able to listen to the Jambox yesterday and the sound is indeed pretty good, given the compact size (I listened to a bluetooth connection).

    The only drawback is that it moves around, depending on how much bass there is in the track you’re playing. Other than that, the pairing with my iPhones was very easy and again, the sound was very good.

    3
  • Bill Henderson September 16, 2012, 10:12 pm

    The FoxL will move also because of heavy bass. It comes with a non-slip mat to help prevent such movement.

    4
  • Jean-Denis Haas September 17, 2012, 12:02 pm

    That’s perfect!

    5
  • Ben W May 16, 2013, 8:45 am

    Bought one of theese and was exited about the good sound.

    Unfortenatly the third day you couldn´t adjust volume and on the second week the on/off button stopped work. (Not possible to switch on the unit).

    QC seems to be extremely poor and it frightens me about long term reability?, i´ve read some other post that have similiar problems and this causes me to think Braven has released a not finished and throughfully tested design on the market. It´s a pity
    as it truly have a wonderful sound.

    / Ben W

    6
  • Bill Henderson May 16, 2013, 8:49 am

    Ben,
    Sometimes, a bad unit will slip through. My review unit is still working great.
    I hope you are not taking this lying down and are in contact with Braven to make it right.
    Please keep me posted on their customer service through this process.

    Bill H.

    7
  • Todd Bartlett August 22, 2013, 2:09 pm

    Wow a very thorough review of the product. You are an Airplay junkie…I am one who has not drunk the Kool-aid.

    8
  • Bill Henderson August 22, 2013, 2:17 pm

    Todd, I drank the Kool-aid back in 1989 when I bought my first computer, a Mac SE30. I have NEVER used Windows in my life. So, yeah, I am an Apple junkie. However the reason I prefer AirPlay over Bluetooth is the range – 150 ft. vs 30 ft and the sound quality. I will admit that Bluetooth continues to evolve for the better and it is cheaper to put into a speaker since Apple charges a hefty premium for AirPlay.

    Bill H.

    9
  • Bill Henderson August 22, 2013, 2:18 pm

    Todd, Also, I will be reviewing the Braven 850 soon. It’s a beast.
    So stay tuned.

    10
  • Rob Tillotson August 23, 2013, 11:58 pm

    WRT Airplay vs Bluetooth … besides licensing issues, there is a technical reason why there aren’t more small speakers like this using Airplay, and that is that Airplay runs over an existing network (in a sense, it’s more comparable to, for example, Sonos than it is to Bluetooth). That’s good if you’re in a home/office setting where you have wifi, not so good if you’re in a portable situation where all you have is a speaker and something that wants to play music through it.

    Audio quality used to be a big drawback of Bluetooth but the Apt-X codec does a lot to fix that if you have devices that support it (Apple, Samsung, HTC, etc.). I’m not convinced you’ll hear the difference on 2″ speakers though…

    11
  • Bill Henderson August 24, 2013, 7:53 am

    You are right, Rob,
    My main beef with Bluetooth isn’t so much audio quality, especially with the new AptX, but with the distance. 25-30 ft can be maddening. Airplay gives you 150 ft. easily. Plus, Bluetooth audio still doesn’t compare with hard-wired.

    I agree that the sound quality difference and the added AirPlay royalty fee to Apple just isn’t practical with smaller speakers.

    Bill

    12
  • Rob Tillotson August 25, 2013, 7:01 pm

    I guess my point is that the range of Airplay and the lack of small Airplay speakers are directly related, because both things are entirely due to its use of wifi networking. Since you have to have a wifi network to use Airplay that means that either a Macbook (since they create an ad-hoc wifi network automatically) or portable hotspot would be an essential accessory to your “portable” speaker, all just to support something that Bluetooth does almost as well but much more simply.

    (I also tend to doubt that a pocket sized Airplay speaker would actually get 150′ wifi range, due to power/battery size and antenna issues. But that’s just a guess…)

    13
  • Bill Henderson August 25, 2013, 9:15 pm

    Rob,
    I never think about AirPlay and WiFi, since I always have WiFi on at my house. As far as range on smaller speakers go, I wouldn’t think the size has anything to do with signal strength. Some routers can be quite small. So who knows, it may be worth researching.

    I compare the Bluetooth/AirPlay battle to USB/Firewire. Apple started Firewire and it was vastly superior to USB. But over the years USB got better and better and Firewire got one speed bump and was forgotten. Now USB is the champ and Apple even uses it. I see a similar future for Bluetooth if they keep improving it.
    Bill

    14
  • John Storlie September 3, 2013, 5:33 pm

    If the sound quality is as good as I’ve been reading about I am considering upgrading to this. Right now I am just using a cheap speaker set and with my new phone I need to upgrade. Thanks for the review! Bookmarked.

    15
  • Alan Valenziano December 1, 2013, 9:13 pm

    My friend has this Braven 600 Bluetooth Speaker and I really like its quality and looks. I think I’m gonna buy one for me soon. Great Review! Thanks. Alan

    16
  • Bill Henderson December 1, 2013, 9:53 pm

    Thanks, Alan
    It is a really good speaker. Stay tuned; I will be reviewing the Braven 850 soon. It’s the 600 on steroids.

    Bill H.

    17

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