Got an old speaker knocking around? The Vamp can easily turn it into a Bluetooth speaker to receive wireless audio from phone, laptop or other Bluetooth devices.
The audio equivalent of a vampire bat - “re-vamp” is the official name inspiration, but we can't help but think of “vamp-ire” - the small cube-like product hangs off its speaker host via a sticky metal disc, injecting Bluetooth audio. Its modern aesthetic gives a twist to traditional speaker design that looks great.
So is the best Bluetooth speaker one you happen to already own? We've been using the Vamp this week to weigh-up whether it's enough to suck the lifeblood from its modern Bluetooth speaker competitors or not.
Direct output design
Let's start by breaking down what the Vamp can do and, therefore, what it can't. This product is designed to wire into an old speaker via the standard black and red speaker inputs (necessary cables are provided in the box, including one with a 3.5mm jack converter). That means mono audio only, not stereo. You can wire up two speakers by stacking together input wires, but you won't get true stereo output.
It also means the Vamp, which is a mini amp in its own right, and capable of powering any passive speaker, isn't designed to be used in conjunction with an existing full hi-fi setup.
For example, we have decent Mordaunt-Short speakers wired to a separate amplifier and would love a way for the Vamp to act as a proper Bluetooth receiver (DAC, really) to then send Bluetooth audio through our existing system. It's sort-of possible - we stripped down an auxiliary cable to the wires at one end to feed into a channel - but the background noise doesn't deliver a clean enough signal. Vamp 2: The Return, anyone?
Portable, less permanent
But the Vamp has never stretched its claims: this is about grabbing an old speaker and turning it into a modern, and even portable, Bluetooth equivalent. And for that purpose the Vamp works really well - there's even a the Save A Speaker campaign, which means you can bag a recycled speaker with your Vamp purchase.
On the back of the product is a micro-USB port for charging the internal battery, on/off/pairing button, those red and black speaker terminals, and a 3.5mm audio jack for wired input. That's your lot. Pairing via Bluetooth in a cinch, happening super-quick via MacBook Air and Samsung Galaxy S5. Airplay is not available, however.
The Vamp is primarily designed with the portable market in mind, something that might not see it find its fullest potential audience. Like a little vampire bat on the hunt for its next meal you'll need to rejuice the device around every 10 hours, which is a decent enough lifespan. However if the makers had used Bluetooth LE rather than last-gen Bluetooth 3.0 then it might last even longer. Vamp 3: An Unexpected Journey?
For those wanting to have a permanent setup in the corner of a room you're in bad luck, unless you have a spare mains-to-USB port (some mobile phones come with them), as you'll need to charge the Vamp each time its battery tires out. Although a DC input would mean more wires, we still think the option for one would suit a secondary set of users.
Assessing the Vamp's sound quality is tricky, as the product depends largely on the speaker to which it is connected. We've tried it wired to two speakers - the battered old one that came in the box with our review sample, and one of our modern-ish Mordaunt-Short speakers. The difference between the two was vast, with the latter setup delivering a considerably better audio experience. But the message is this: use a good speaker and you'll get good sound.
We've squeezed very high volumes from the Vamp, without distortion. Some other reviews online have criticised the lack of available volume - we suspect this is subject to attached speaker, unless said reviewers are simply deaf. No worries in the volume or clarity department anyway.
Richness of sound is also dependent on the balance of speaker. Older speakers will more than likely have been balanced differently to modern ones, where bass-heavy music and to-the-limit mastering is commonplace. It's easy to tweak the output in a programme like iTunes, where a 10-band equaliser is on hand, although many phones may be more limited in their available alternations.
It might be mono, but the Vamp is more than capable of feeding its host speaker ample audio. Sounds good to our ears.
Appreciate the Vamp for what it is and we’ve got a Whole Lotta Love for this Bluetooth receiver. Which is an apt play on song titles, as it’ll more than likely be used to spruce up a 1969 speaker into a modern mono portable.
Those looking for a more permanent Bluetooth DAC setup with full stereo quality will want to look elsewhere, though, as the Vamp isn’t really designed to operate with full hi-fi systems. As a portable, the 10-hour battery life is ample, the controls are simple and the results are quality.
But does the Vamp suck the lifeblood out of modern dedicated Bluetooth speakers though? Yes and no. It’s powerful enough to raise old speakers from the dead, so long as they’re not dead and buried for a reason. Get the right speaker wired up and it’ll easily rival the current stock, which makes it a bargainous £50 investment.