With the rise of better music players and streaming services in the last few years, we have also seen a rise in the number of speaker systems, personal earphones/buds and other ways to actually hear the music being offered up. In public situations, folks usually want to have their music pumped directly into their ears, both for music fidelity and for privacy. (Let’s leave the discussion of using speakers in offices and street benches intruding into the soundspace of others for another time, OK?) Sometimes a small speaker is needed when you do want to share music, and the Pluto Air Hifi Bluetooth speaker from Avantree looks like a good candidate as a travel speaker. Let’s give it a look.
The Pluto Air speaker is a 2″ high 1.75″ square. There is a metal perforated grill on top, and a rubbery ring on the bottom with an inset, three-position switch on the bottom. Two round plugs (charging and AUX IN) complete the package. There are many color combinations available, from solid charcoal to woodgrain and black to pastels with white on the upper half. I was sent a blue and white model to test.
The speaker comes in a plastic vacuum-formed case surrounded by a cardboard hanging box. Included with the speaker are a 18″ USB to round charging cable, a 36″ standard mini stereo AUX audio cable, and a beige cloth drawstring bag sized to hold all components. The unit arrived with a partial charge, so that I could start using it right out of the package.
Usage is standard for both AUX-in and Bluetooth. For AUX, merely set the slider switch on the bottom to “Wire”, connect source to the “AUX in” port, and hit play. Bluetooth, of course, requires pairing. Hold the bottom switch to the Bluetooth symbol when moving from the other positions, and a blue light flashes to indicate discovery mode. Put your source in discover, find the Avantree speaker, and connect. Easy peasy.
Once connected via either method, you’ll be quite surprised by the clarity and volume of sound that emerges from this little speaker. It’s not directional, so the sound from a video seems to be coming right from your screen, unless you’ve placed the speaker far away. I went on a bike ride, with the speaker in its drawstring bag hooked to my handlebars, and enjoyed music, occasionally punctuated by Runkeeper’s progress reports on my mileage/pacing. I got about 90 minutes of playback time from a fully-charged unit before it stopped working. A few days later, in the office early for some dull desk work, I paired the speaker with my phone (in my pocket), and went about my work bathed in sound. I connected it to one of the computer’s USB ports for charging, so I left work with it fully charged! Nice touch, Avantree! That same day, I came home and watched a video podcast in the kitchen on my iPad, and was surprised how much more volume I got from the Bluetooth connection than from the built-in speaker. When I walked over to another part of the room, I could just take the speaker, and leave the iPad on the stand and keep up with what was going on, rather than balancing my iPad. Nice.
Negatives are few: battery life is a bit sparse. You’ll be hard-pressed to complete a full movie using it in Bluetooth mode. Wired mode may give a little longer life, but I’d doubt you’ll get past two hours. There’s also no feedback on how much battery you have left, whether it is charged, or anything of the type. Best bet is to just charge it up and use it ’til it dies. The USB cable for charging has a round, pin-in-the-middle plug on the other end, which means it’ll be impossible to replace if you leave it at home or lose it. Why it’s not mini- or microUSB is a mystery. It’s only passing charging voltage, not sound or anything, and surely the more common USB jacks are less expensive. (I know, Apple added a proprietary connector with the iPhone 5 and newest iPod touches, but they have already shipped more phones than this company will ever make of these speakers! If you have that kind of volume, plus available replacements, make your cables whatever shape you choose. Otherwise, stay with standards!)
Last on the list of negatives is a slight hum as the battery gets to about the last third of life. Not noticeable in many environments, but if you’re using it to watch a quiet movie, it’ll drive you crazy. I’m not sure if this is a problem with just my specific unit, or if it’s interference or what. I noticed it in several different places – my home office, my work (where none of the same machines except my phone were operating), and in my dining room with only my iPad.
Even with the slight quirks listed, it’s still a great little speaker and enhances listening in a major way. Four stars out of five!