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Bluetooth Speakers Come of Age

October 8, 2012 By John R. Quain
Portable speakers were once an accessory afterthought. Audio fidelity was hardly a priority and one was lucky if the volume levels could fill a bathroom. But a new generation of Bluetooth speakers now offers vastly improved sound quality and features that will appeal to 20-something smartphone addicts and grizzled road warriors.
Originally designed for laptop and iPod owners looking to shed their headphones, compact wireless speakers also appeal to the socially-minded smartphone owner who wants to share. And more smartphone owners are using their handsets to play and share music; roughly 30 percent of smartphone users play music on their mobile devices, according to a recent Business Insider Intelligence report. The growing popularity of streaming music services such as Pandora, Spotify and Rdio also means that consumers are looking for better portable sound.
While there are dozens of cheap speakers available, this latest generation ($180 and up) offers improved audio clarity and features like wireless connections, speakerphone functions and related apps. Initially hampered by digital compression, the Bluetooth wireless component has also improved thanks to a new specification. It now rivals Apple’s AirPlay. Bluetooth also has the advantage of being pervasive on smartphones and, unlike Apple’s wireless solution, it doesn’t require a Wi-Fi network. Any Bluetooth device within about 30 feet—including iPhones and iPads—can play music over these speakers.
Most of these models are designed for a bedroom, office or hotel room, but they compete against wired docking stations and larger models from the likes of Bose and iHome. The main attraction of these models is convenience, appealing to tablet and smartphone users who want simple solutions to bring music on the road with them. In fact, some owners even use the smaller portable Bluetooth models in their cars.
To showcase the benefits and features of these Bluetooth speakers, it’s worth giving them display space next to headphone racks, so that shoppers can audition these models. Consumers will be impressed by what they hear.
 
Jawbone Jambox, $199.99
Responsible for almost single-handedly legitimizing the category of portable wireless speakers, the Jambox has proved to be both versatile and popular.
With a stylish diamond-patterned grill, the Jambox comes in several colors, including red and blue. In addition to Bluetooth, it can play music via a 3.5 mm aux input (cables included), or act as a speakerphone. There’s also a mini-USB jack for charging, which is handy, because with so many other devices using the same type of port, you won’t have to pack yet another charger. The battery is rated to play music for up to 8.5 hours, although it often seems to go for longer stretches between charges.
 

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