(Pocket-lint) - Bowers & Wilkins must have grown tired of questions about when it would enter the Bluetooth speaker market. After all, it was one of the pioneers of premium iPod and iPhone docks with its Zeppelin range. It even embraced Airplay as a wireless music transmission technology.
So its refusal to embrace Bluetooth baffled many, leading to the company being one of the last speaker manufacturers to be able to offer a truly portable device, one that would suit a hotel room as capably as a kitchen or grace a living room sideboard.
But Bluetooth wasn't good enough a technology, B&W claims. It wasn't designed to carry a music stream without adding levels of audibly apparent compression of its own. It was and still is okay for low-bitrate MP3 tracks, which many have on their devices, but not for audiophile levels of detail and clarity - both of which being of vital importance to one of Britain's most highly respected brands.
Then aptX came along and it changed everything. CSR's audio-centric tech extension to Bluetooth gave Bowers & Wilkins the impetus needed to look back at the portable wireless speaker market and the T7 is the end result of that new-found enthusiasm. So is it worth the wait?
The T7 is a portable Bluetooth speaker with every ounce of Bowers & Wilkins' trademark class stamped all over it, both in design and audio performance terms. At £300 it's not cheap, but then it's not made of cardboard neither.
To be honest, in look it's quite "blokey". And its 940g weight on our own scales will possibly make it a little too heavy to be carried in a case when travelling. Its most common use will therefore be for transferring music from room to room around a house, although we do know some who would happily take it on their travels in their luggage.
However, the weight is a necessary evil as every part of the look and build reflects the quality of the audio components utilised.
The T7's most striking aesthetic feature, for example, also serves to enhance audio performance: around the edge of the front-facing speaker grille is a honeycomb structure that is made of Bowers & Wilkins' Micro Matrix technology - the only application of which that has made it into a commercially available product.
Its structure allows the cabinet to maintain integrity and provide a solid, but lighter, platform to house the drive units. It also looks pretty darn cool, especially with light pouring through from the rear.
The rubber surround was also purposely chosen for audio reasons, not just visual ones. It provides a buffer between the compact speaker and the surface it sits on, reducing vibration and ensuring sounds come from the drive units, not the table or cabinet underneath.
We were told that this is also the reason why it only comes in black at the moment as the particular rubber chosen is only available in that colour.
Small box, big audio
Inside the Bowers & Wilkins T7 speaker are two 50mm drivers with diaphragms made from glass fibre and boy can they sustain clarity and truth when cranking up the volume. It also uses twin force-cancelling bass radiators that, instead of relying on a massive port, work synchronously to maintain ridiculously low frequencies, even from such a small box (it measures approximately 210 x 115 x 55mm).
The concept is similar to Bowers & Wilkins' much-loved PV1 subwoofer and that's emblematic of much of the technology used throughout the T7. Years of refinement in crafting high-end audio speakers have resulted in top-drawer technologies bleeding down into the portable box. It may be small, but in talent it is mighty.
Another great example of this is in the audio digital-to-analogue-converters used. These DACs are the same as those found in the much larger, much lauded Zeppelin speakers. They ensure that the soundscape output remains free from any interference or caveats caused in translation. In short, you get a rich, detailed sound that matches the audio source almost perfectly.
Rock around the clock
The last grandstand feature that is no mere afternote is the B&W T7's battery life. On one full charge, Bowers & Wilkins' first portable Bluetooth speaker is capable of lasting 18-hours of continuous playback.
We are yet to actually run out of charge even once in time for this review, and we've been using one through around three days of regular use, but are informed that the battery life takes into account rock music played at 75 per cent maximum volume without stopping. That is truly spectacular for a portable speaker, let alone one of this quality.
Other features include the fact you can pair up to eight devices at once, a set of audio cues that play for different functions that were crafted by musician Mira Calix, and a tuning that focuses on vocals perhaps more than most comparative products on the market.
But the T7's biggest achievement is that if you were listening to CD-quality audio streamed from a compatible device but couldn't see the speaker itself, you'd swear blind it was coming from a larger, dedicated stereo hi-fi set-up. We couldn't even pump it up to its loudest in test. Our ears, we suspect, would give out before the unit.
Bowers & Wilkins was right to wait for CSR's aptX technology to improve wireless audio transmission over Bluetooth before debuting its first portable speaker. It's an excellent example of style and substance that the brand can be proud of.
Apart from the fact the price will be out of reach for some, the only other downside is not so much of Bowers & Wilkins making, but of aptX's device integration. Unless you have a compatible smartphone handset, for example - we primarily paired with the HTC One (M8) - you otherwise won't get the benefit of the best-possible CD-quality audio, assuming your source files are up to scratch.
But even if not, the T7 still sounds excellent. We also paired with an iPhone 6 Plus (no aptX there) and were more than impressed with the T7's control over MP3s and other file types, especially those ripped at near-CD-quality bitrates. And with Qualcomm buying aptX creator and owner CSR, you can bet the technology will come as standard in most phones in the future. Just not Apple's.