Jawbone Big Jambox review

The original Jambox was one of those devices that just surprised everyone. A tiny box that produced enough sound to fill a modestly-sized room. It wasn't cheap, of course, but it was sturdy and had a decent battery.

Now, the Big Jambox has arrived. As soon as we saw it, we became very excited indeed. Here was something that could only improve on what we'd seen previously and could fill an even larger room.

Design

There are three possible colour combinations for the Big Jambox. We were given a black model but there are also red and white versions. Each has a slightly different pattern on the front grille, which gives them a unique look.

On the top are some chunky, oversized buttons. One, is a Jambox button, hitting this will give you an update on the battery level, spoken by whichever Jambox "character" you've most liked the sound of. Next to it, a play/pause button that controls your device, over Bluetooth. Then there are two buttons for track navigation, moving forward and backwards through your playlist, and a pair of volume buttons.

On the right of the unit there's a power button, redesigned from the version on the little Jambox. Beneath it, there's a pairing button - on the smaller model, the power and pairing button was one and the same; a bit clunky, to be honest. Then there's a 3.5mm line-in jack, for hooking up anything that doesn't have Bluetooth - perhaps a TV or computer. You'll also find a USB jack, but unlike the original Jambox, you can't charge this one from here, this is just for software updates. And then, finally, a power input.

On the base, you'll also find some little feet stickers. They offer a way to cut out rattles and keep the Jambox sounding as good as possible. So we're told, anyway.

One thing to note though, unlike the original Jambox, no carry case is supplied. You have to buy your own, to protect the speaker, if you want to lug it around with you.

Constantly changing and improving

Unlike most Bluetooth speakers, the Jambox is kept up-to-date via Jawbone's excellent My Talk service. Here you can adjust the voice used by the speaker to greet you, give battery status messages and generally inform you of things in a Star Trek style.

But there are other updates that come along from time to time too. With the original Jambox, you could add voice dialling and tweak the settings to suit you. It's a clever and simple system that ties in with the Jawbone website, and makes what is, essentially, a firmware update simple enough for your granny to manage.

You'll also find seasonal voices, and special updates. All make your Jambox different every time, and while none has earth-shattering importance, they're all nice updates.

Sound quality

With a speaker - especially one that costs £260 as the Big Jambox does - the only thing that matters is how it sounds. The really good news is that the Big Jambox has no problems in this regard at all. Jawbone has spent a lot of time and effort making this speaker sound as good as hi-fi systems that cost a lot more.

The arrangement of speakers is partly responsible for this. There are two front-facing tweeters, and a low-frequency woofer. The speakers are sealed, which Jawbone tells us is crucial to the sound quality, and achieving deep, powerful bass with what is still quite a small speaker.

Indeed, Jawbone is so confident in the sealed design, we were told to push the volume as loud as we wanted, there's no risk of blowing the speakers. You can push both your phone and the Jambox to max, and the sound is still very respectable indeed. You'll hear a very small amount of what could, charitably, be called distortion, but that isn't especially offensive to the ear.

In terms of the overall sound, we rather love the Jambox. During our talk with the company, it told us that it had done a lot of work to make the speaker very responsive to bass. While we love that, it's not going to be to everyone's taste. But in fact, what comes out of the Jambox is incredibly balanced.

Of course, much of the sound quality and balance is determined by what you're playing music from, and how it is connected. We used a Motorola Razr for our tests, connected via Bluetooth. We were very happy with sound from the built-in player, but we did opt to use the bass boost mode.

Sadly, because of the way Android works, if you're using an app like Spotify or Rdio, sound doesn't pass through the EQ - unless you fork out for a third-party solution - so you're stuck with the phone's untweaked balance. For us, this was a little bass light and treble rich. Not a big deal though, and overall the sound was still superb.

What the Jambox does with bass is quite clever: the goal is to keep it producing a rich sound, all the way down to minimum volume. It works pretty well too, so you don't get quiet music that lacks dynamic range.

More than just music

Of course, the Jambox being made by Jawbone, it's not just aimed at the music listener, it's also a competent speakerphone. As with the first Jambox, you get a noise cancelling microphone and a powerful speakerphone. It also supports voice dialling, which makes it even more useful.

Sound quality is very good, at least for the person using the Jambox. And for phone calls, there's no problem for either end. If we had one quibble, it would be that the quality still isn't as good for Skype as some Bluetooth headsets we've seen. It's a minor point, but it's not the best we've used.

LiveAudio and multiple device pairing

Another way that the Jawbone tries to make the Jambox more attractive is by adding a feature called LiveAudio. This is a pretty interesting idea, and one that capitalises on certain recording methods. If you've heard of binaural recording before, then you'll know that it can produce some pretty incredible surround sound, via headphones. Have a listen - with headphones - to this for a demo:

Here, the Jambox does a pretty good job of giving you the same experience without headphones. It has to be said that it's not quite as good, but you certainly do get an incredible sense of stereo space. Of course, headphones work because these recordings are made with microphones placed on a dummy head, in the position of your ears. Speakers aren't placed in that way, so the effect will always be diminished. That said, it's still very good.

Another nice feature is multiple device pairing. This means that, say at a party, you can have several Bluetooth devices connected to the Jambox at the same time. People can then send tunes over as and when they like. The Jambox will always accept the new stream over the old, so as long as everyone respects everyone else, you can have quite a dynamic playlist.

You can see a full list of all the paired devices if you connect the Jambox to the My Talk service, and delete old entries if you so please, although it's not necessary to do so.

Battery life

Jawbone tells us that the battery in the Jambox will last about 15 hours, but you need to bear in mind that having a device connected via Bluetooth, and having the Jambox turned up to full, will run the battery down a lot quicker. Using the line in and modest volume will get you more life.

In our testing the battery is a beast. We've had it on for a whole work day with no problems at all. And we suspect that's what a lot of people will want to hear, as it's likely these devices will be ideal for playing music out in a shared office. Especially with that ability to add more than one Bluetooth device.

Verdict

When you hear that the Jambox costs about £260, you might take a deep breath. It's a lot of money to spend on a small, portable speaker. But we have to say, from a quality point of view, the Jambox is second to none. It's improved hugely on the original small version, producing more sound and at a better overall quality.

And while it IS expensive, there's plenty of flexibility here. It may not dock with your iPod, but it also - by virtue of its Bluetooth and line in connections - doesn't exclude the hundreds of millions of other, non-Apple devices in the world.

In short, we adore the Big Jambox. It's great quality, portable enough to take almost anywhere and it looks incredible. It's also a competent, though not exceptional, hands-free phone, but again it makes itself useful to loads of people with needs beyond just music. A clever system.