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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Jabra Solemate Max review - a portable Bluetooth speaker that's big on price and lacking in bass

In the dense forest of Bluetooth speakers, Jabra’s Solemate is one that stands out. Both in terms of looks and sound quality, the diminutive speaker punched above its weight. Plus, it’s great value at around £80. See also: best portable speakers

The Solemate Max – as the name suggests – is a giant version of its smaller brother, and has very similar features.

You can pair it via Bluetooth in the usual way, or use NFC pairing if your smartphone or tablet supports it. If someone brings a music player without Bluetooth, you can simply use the 3.5mm minijack cable that’s handily clipped in place on the ‘sole’ of the speaker.

Inside this near-4kg monster is a whopping battery that’s said to last 14 hours (we’ve no reason to quibble about this figure) and no fewer than five drivers: two tweeters, two woofers and a “custom-designed bass slave”.

There’s a useful rubber carry handle, and the Max will happily play music no matter where you are since it’s dust, dirt and water resistant. You can’t exactly take it swimming, but it will withstand the occasional splash beside the pool.

Using membrane buttons on top of the speaker you can control audio playback – play/pause, jump to the previous or next track and adjust volume. The button in the top corner reports remaining battery life in American voiceover style, and there’s a cheesy background tune which plays behind the spoken instructions when you’re pairing the speaker to a Bluetooth device.

There’s a USB port on the side for charging your smartphone or tablet, which will obviously reduce the 14 hours of playback. Plus, the Max can be used as a hands-free speaker for phone calls, although we can’t imagine many people doing that.

A nice touch is the raised lip around the top, making a useful tray for your phone or other odds and ends. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but the speaker is angled slightly so the drivers point upwards, which is sensible as the Solemate Max is likely to be used mainly on the ground.

Given the impressive sound quality from the smaller Solemate, we were expecting good things from the Max. Although it is most certainly loud – which is ideal for outdoor parties – it doesn’t have the kind of forceful bass you’d expect from something this big.

We tried a variety of different genres, and at no point did the Max make us think “Wow, this is so worth over three times the price of the original Solemate”. If anything, the Max sounds a bit thin and lacking in warmth, particularly for vocals. Unless it’s a particularly simple track, things get slightly muddy with instruments blending into each other instead of being distinct.

You can download Jabra’s Sound app which includes Dolby technology to expand the soundstage, but it doesn’t entirely solve the problem.

Even if the sound quality was up to scratch, £299 is a steep price to pay for a portable Bluetooth speaker. The fact that is isn’t means you’re highly likely to be disappointed by the Solemate Max.

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