Beats Pill portable speaker

Beats is renowned for bringing the bass. The company's latest portable speaker, known as the Beats Pill because of its pill-shaped design, is a change of tack for the company in many respects. With four, 1-inch speakers arranged under its casing with 12W of output, there's not the usual scope to deliver the brand's famed earth-shaking low-frequency range. But with NFC, Bluetooth and wired connectivity available can this Pill deliver the right dosage of sound?

Poppin' but pricey

Best get this little nugget out of the way before we proceed any further: the Beats Pill costs £170. It's not cheap by any means, particularly when considering some of the more budget competitors out there, such as the Pasce Minirig.

READ: Pasce Minirig portable speaker review

But for the cash the Pill does come loaded with plenty of features. Pair with a device via Bluetooth, or simply touch to pair if you own an NFC-capable device - something more budget wired-only offerings won't feature. And the Pill can play the the usual 3.5mm game too for wired connections. It even features a built-in mic so conference calls are possible while plugged in or paired to a smartphone - if you happen to care for that sort of thing.

It might not wash your dirty dishes - and probably should for the money - but we reckon that a chunk of the cash is going towards the brand name. Beats is much like the tech world's high-street fashion label these days.

Indeed the Pill comes all dressed up with its own zip-up soft carry case. The speaker equivalent of a  suit and tie. The design of the unit is well thought out too, from the quirky shape through to the trademark red and black 3.5mm and USB leads that come in the box.

The USB is used to charge the Pill's battery, which we found lasted for around five or six hours - not bad, but not incredible by any means either. Once charged there's a short delay while the Pill powers up via a button press, complete with a techno-futuristic doorbell sound and glowing "b" emblem on the front of the unit. Like we say, it's got the style down.

There are also volume up and down controls towards the centre of the unit but these, unfortunately, don't light up whereas the USB in port on the rear glows green. Seems an odd choice of illumination that could have been better placed - ie, swapped around.

The near-20cm long unit is cylindrical but for a flat rubber foot to the base which angles it to project sound outward and upwards - an essential from such a small unit. The quad of speakers are small, so bass may not be their preference but volume is no issue at all. It's definitely loud, but don't push it too hard or all that pill popping will result in…

Overdose

Yup, push the volume beyond its means and it's overdose time where there's distortion to be heard. Inevitable really, although we're half surprised there's no limiter to keep the sound loud yet clear rather than loud but whatever. The volume's a positive and a negative really: it can be great for certain tracks but detrimental to quality in other cases.

Bass, too, tries to kick itself out but fails to deliver. Listening to the new Foals' album and even the bass guitar parts on Inhaler sound like they're overexerting.

The high-end does sit away from the mid-range well, with high-hats and shakers taking on their own prominence - but, if anything, it's the more central frequencies that can sound a touch muddied, more so with the volume up.

We popped on Counting Crows' Colorblind and everything was sounding all rather glorious and wide until the occasional clip-distort moment from the vocal would disrupt the listening experience.

Used at sensible volumes, the Pill is clear enough, albeit not the most crystal clear speaker unit we've ever heard. The problem is, it's not £170 worth of clear to our ears. That's put more in to perspective when pitched against the Jawbone Jambox which, while not able to kick out quite as much volume, can be now found for a penny-shy of £100.

READ: Jawbone Jambox portable speaker review

We may sound to be nothing but negative about the Pill's sound, but despite our criticisms that's not the overall case. In isolation the Pill pumps out plenty of volume and, considering its small scale, the sound is full enough.

We've been using it to enhance laptop output with great success throughout a working week. The Pill even came on a little adventure to the outskirts of London to act as the replacement for a broken car stereo. It sure has come in handy to pump out a mixture of music and we think that will deliver what plenty of purchasers want from such a unit, but to critical ears and at this price point there are shortfalls.

Verdict

If Beats minus much of the bass sounds like a hard pill to swallow then the Pill won't be the product for you. There's volume aplenty though and, in isolation and assuming it's not cranked "up to 11" where distortion is often apparent, the Pill delivers its remedial dose of sound with enough fizz and pop. It's a quirky design that we like but the £170 price point feels over the odds for such a product.