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Seven Portable Bluetooth Speaker Systems, Tested And Reviewed

Arctic S113BT

Arctic is still a relative newcomer to the audio industry, and it's stepping out with a clear focus on value.

Bundle And First Impression

This is the least expensive product in the round-up, and although you don't get many bundled accessories, the S113BT comes with everything you need, really. There's a USB-to-micro-USB charging cable (not shown), a 3.5 mm male-to-male input cable, a carrying case, and a manual. We'd like to see the company include an AC charger, but none of the competing ultra-portable alternatives include one either, so it's likely deemed too great of a cost-adder.

The speaker is wrapped in a soft silicone shell, and it's available in orange, blue, pink, black, and white. The padding seems like it would protect Arctic's speaker from a fair amount of abuse, though we also suspect that the finish gets dirty and scuffs fairly easily.

The front and rear are covered in a metal grille. Two 1.5" drivers output sound in the front, while two passive bass radiators face the rear. At 2.3" x 6.2" x 1.8" and 0.6 lbs (290 g), this is also the lightest offering in our round-up, and it's small enough to carry around in a purse or small backpack.

Connectivity And Controls

There's a power switch and micro-USB power on the side. Music is either fed into the speaker through Bluetooth or an analog 3.5 mm jack. Despite a low price, the S113BT is one of the few contenders with Bluetooth Smart (4.0) support, though it's not clear if Arctic enables the classic, high-speed, or low-energy protocols. This is also the only speaker in our round-up with near-field communication (NFC), and in that respect is easier to pair than the competition. A pop-up appeared on my smartphone alerting me to the speaker's presence; I didn't have to actively seek it out on a list of available Bluetooth-capable devices.

There are only three buttons for controlling the speaker, and all of them serve multiple functions. The plus and minus buttons affect volume. They also switch to the next or previous track if you press down longer. The center button has more responsibilities. It can play and pause music. Moreover, it's tasked with phone functionality like answering and ending calls, voice recognition, transferring calls between the speaker and handset, redialing, and, oddly enough, reducing volume with the 3.5 mm input connected.

Subjective Sound Analysis

Portability is largely dependent on dimensions, and a small size means the S113BT needs diminutive speakers. Regardless of price, physics cannot be defeated, so it's not surprising that the tiny drivers do not impress with their low-frequency response. The S113BT doesn't make its presence known until you get to the mid-range. Arctic fares well when its low price is considered, and most music sounds fine, even if it's limited to the middle- and upper-end of the frequency spectrum.

Because the S113BT includes a speakerphone, we also compared its mic response during a phone call. This speaker boasts the loudest volume of any other product in our round-up. It might not be the clearest, but plenty of volume makes conversations easier to understand.

Livability And Subjective Conclusion

Arctic's S113BT won't knock your socks off with its sound quality. But none of the ultra-portables in our comparison can overcome their handheld nature. Considering Arctic's significantly lower price, it's hard to dismiss otherwise compelling value. Nice features like Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, NFC support, and a loud built-in mic make this system an affordable option. Less-than-ideal audio reproduction keep us from granting a clear recommendation, though.

Arctic S113BT
Power:2 x 3 W RMS
Maximum Volume at 30 Inches:72 dB Line-in77 dB Bluetooth
Speakers:2 x 1.5” Full-range drivers2 x 1.5” Bass radiators
Impedance:4 ohms
Measured Outdoor Bluetooth Range:8 meters
Inputs:5 V, 0.5 A micro-USB charging port3.5 mm input jack
Outputs:N/A
Controls:Minus button (Volume down, previous track)Plus button (Volume up, next track)Square button (Bluetooth, pause/play, phone)Power switch
Battery:Built-in Li-ion rechargeable battery, 1200 mAh
Running Time at 46 dB(A), 20 inches:Approximately 5 hours
Dimensions:58 mm (2.3") height157 mm (6.2") width46 mm (1.8") depth
Weight:290 g (0.6 lb)
Build Materials:Rubber outer shell, Perforated metal grille
Available Colors:Orange, Blue, Pink, Black, White
Accessories:USB-to-micro-USB cable, 3.5 mm male-to-male cable, carrying case, manual
Bluetooth:Bluetooth 4.0 + EDR - A2DP (Audio sync-only)- AVRCP (Remote control-only) - Hands-free (Built-in mic)-aptX and AAC supported
Hands-Free Phone:Yes
Microphone Sensitivity:-44 ±3 dB
NFC Pairing:Yes
Charging Time:<3 hours
LED Indicators:Charging and status
Warranty:Two years
Amazon.com Price Range:$50 to $70
  • vmem
    whatever happened to really popular products like jambox and solemate? they're well within your price range
    Reply
  • DarkSable
    I run a firespinning troupe. When you're practicing routines, you HAVE to have loud, clear music, because the fire tools are spinning quickly, causing a massive amount of air turbulence with the flames, creating a very, very loud roar.

    In order to practice a routine with perhaps five other people on stage, you have to be able to hear the music to know where you are in the routine - otherwise someone might move too early or not move, and, well... bad things would happen.

    When I founded the club, I was looking at all sorts of options; what I really wanted was a shop boombox, but they were expensive and didn't have the battery life I needed for practice... and couldn't be plugged in because you practice outside.

    After reading a lot of reviews, I got the UE boombox. It has several features that were incredibly useful to me - most notable the fact that it could store three bluetooth profiles AND connect through a normal 3.5mm jack - that way we didn't have to just use my music collection, but could use other members' as well without them having to mail me the files.

    Solutions we tried to use before was an iHome system, which didn't come close to having enough volume, and an old CD boombox... which worked fine, except the CDs got worn out pretty quickly as they were outdoors, and it was limiting on what music we could use - we had to have it beforehand.

    So I got this UE boombox, and it was perfect. It doesn't have THE sharpest sound in the world, but it doesn't have distortion with everything turned to max volume, and it has solid base (so you can hear the beat clearly) and good battery life.

    For anything requiring outdoor music that has to carry well or be particularly well, I highly, highly recommend the UE Boombox. (It would work perfectly for, say, a beach party, or something like that.)
    Reply
  • lp231
    i was hoping you guys would also include the Creative Airwave.
    http://us.store.creative.com/B00COIHWVG/M/B00COIHWVG.htm
    Reply
  • thesuperguy
    The problem with this review is that they are basing their recommendations on the purely technical aspects that in the end, really don't contribute to sound quality. Ranking them based on features, range, and maximum volume is fine and all, but frequency range is not an indicator of quality. It is a very subjective thing.
    Reply
  • cleeve
    12155233 said:
    The problem with this review is that they are basing their recommendations on the purely technical aspects that in the end, really don't contribute to sound quality. Ranking them based on features, range, and maximum volume is fine and all, but frequency range is not an indicator of quality. It is a very subjective thing.

    That's not true, sound quality is foremost when it comes to factors that contribute to our final recommendations.

    Both subjective and objective measures of sound quality were taken into account.
    We can't chart subjective sound quality but that doesn't mean you should assume it's unimportant. It's a huge part of the analysis.

    Reply
  • cleeve
    12154939 said:
    i was hoping you guys would also include the Creative Airwave.
    http://us.store.creative.com/B00COIHWVG/M/B00COIHWVG.htm

    We asked Creative for a sample and they declined to answer.
    Reply
  • boogalooelectric
    I just bought one of these for $20 from Monoprice

    http://www.monoprice.com/Product?ab3=b&utm_expid=58369800-11.KFcpHWqASSutMqNPOqaJVg.1&c_id=108&cp_id=10827&cs_id=1082704&p_id=7364&seq=1&format=2&utm_referrer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.monoprice.com%2FCategory%3Fc_id%3D120%26cp_id%3D10827

    I hooked them up to a pair of old cambridge soundworks 2.1 speakers and voila I have bluetooth speakers.

    Monoprice has another for $45 that can also do NFC.

    Also where is the JBL3
    Reply
  • lp231
    12155607 said:
    12154939 said:
    i was hoping you guys would also include the Creative Airwave.
    http://us.store.creative.com/B00COIHWVG/M/B00COIHWVG.htm

    We asked Creative for a sample and they declined to answer.

    I went to this shopping center one time and one of electronic stores has it on demo. It doesn't sound too bad, quite good actually, was about to get it, but its price was a bit steep during that time.
    Reply
  • DarkSable
    12156054 said:
    I hooked them up to a pair of old cambridge soundworks 2.1 speakers and voila I have bluetooth speakers.

    Monoprice has another for $45 that can also do NFC.

    I've got an NFC/bluetooth receiver for my stereo system as well. The trouble with that is that it requires two wall outlets to run - the idea behind these is you can take and use them anywhere. (I would consider them bluetooth boomboxes, rather than speaker systems.)

    Reply
  • TunaSoda
    My Bose Soundlink Mini blows all of those away for sound quality
    Reply