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Jabra Bulks Up the Bluetooth Speaker


The Jabra Solemate Max is no ordinary portable Bluetooth speaker. At 6.2 pounds, it weighs 130% more than the Jawbone Big Jambox, a popular competitor. At $399, it costs 60% more. Its rugged design is dust- and splash-resistant. And it has a USB digital input, so you donít even have to use the Bluetooth if youíve got a computer handy. But is all this bulk what people really want in a portable speaker? As Bluetooth speakers go, the Solemate Max packs some serious guts. It has separate woofers and tweeters for better fidelity, plus a rear passive radiator to pump up the bass. A free iOS or Android app adds a seven-band graphic equalizer plus Dolby Sound Space Expander processing. One nice bonus is an included 3.5mm-to-3.5mm analog audio cable that snaps into the bottom, so you can easily hook up non-Bluetooth devices. The internal battery is rated at 14 hours of playback per charge. Bluetooth mating with my Samsung Galaxy S III was fast and reliable, usually taking only about 1 second and confirmed by a voice prompt. Getting the USB digital connection to my HP SpectreXT laptop was just as easy, a totally plug-and-play operation. Playing music through the Jabra app wasnít quite as smooth, because it requires typing in a key code after downloading. The app then becomes your music player; you canít access its features via iTunes or the Android music player. Of course, you don't need the app to play music, but then you can't take advantage of the equalizer and Dolby sound. If you like vocal and light pop and jazz, youíll probably like the Solemate Max. If you like vocal and light pop and jazz, youíll probably like the Solemate Max. Voices sound exceptionally clear for a portable speaker, close to what Iíve heard from some of the better Bluetooth models in the $400 range, such as the Wren V5BT. Female and male singers of all stripes sounded smooth and natural, with just a trace of sibilance here and there to remind me I was listening to a portable system. The Solemate Max plays as loud as the loudest Bluetooth speaker Iíve heard to date, the Soundcast Melody. The Max maxes out at about 102 decibels ó easily enough to fill a large room with sound. Even turned up full-blast, the sound distorts only slightly, and only with really heavy rock music. I should note here that my first review sample had a lot of distortion in the bass, a problem cited in some other early reviews Iíve read. My comments here are based on the second sample, which Jabra says is representative of current product, and which the Bluetooth connection on my phone identified as version 1.1. Whereís the Max lacking? In the bass: I could have gone for a little more. The Solemate Max never sounds thin or wimpy, but it does sound like someone turned the bass playerís volume knob down a notch or two. (Maybe Jabra dialed it down a little to fix that distortion problem.) So if you want something thatíll get your feet tapping or your friends dancing, look elsewhere. Also, the app didnít strike me as worth the effort to download. The Dolby Sound Space Expander only seemed to make the sound slightly louder, not more spacious. The USB digital input is no sonic miracle, either ó with most music, it sounds only subtly better than Bluetooth. Youíd need a better system to hear a big difference between the two. The Solemate Max is a great Bluetooth speaker for a niche market: People who want a wireless speaker with sound quality and volume that approaches that of home audio products like the Wren V5BT or the B&W Z2, and that can also be lugged to the park or the beach ... as long as itís not too far.