+ Thursday January 23rd, 2020

Bluetooth speakers are a dime a dozen these days, hundreds of options at various price points. Even now there are huge discrepancies in the dollars you can spend and what you get for your dollars. The dollar range is just as broad as the feature set of these speakers, you can grab a cheapie for $30 or spend up to $600 on the Sonos Move and nearly any price point you care to mention between those price points.

The Blueant X2 falls pretty close to the lower budget range, has a few downfalls that potentially are deal breakers – but with that, represents great value for money.

What is it?

The Blueant X2 Bluetooth portable speaker runs true to the current presentation model of speakers. It’s a small cylinder standing approximately 185 mm high with a diameter of 75 mm, has simple controls on it for volume, playback and call handling with a charging port. And that brings in one of the points that I have some concern about – the Micro USB Charging. Personally all my equipment is USB C, so adding in a Micro USB charger feels like it would be a step backwards and adds need for carrying another cable.

Pairing is very simple as you would expect in the current technical generation. I turned on the speaker and searched for available devices and it was there, paired and listening in under 2 minutes. Like many of the Bluetooth speakers available, it has a built in microphone to handle calls which can be a problem depending on where you are and who is calling.

The Google Assistant integration is a great option but unfortunately only works about 70% of the time. The trigger is a double tap of the Play/pause button. This might just be a case of getting some muscle memory, but I found there’s a very limited response to it. The right speed double tap and Assistant works as you’d expect. Slightly too slow and you’re just starting and stopping media playback, too fast and nothing registers. I might be talking it if school here, but it’s Assistant: what’s wrong with “Hey Google” as av trigger?

The speaker weighs just shy of 500 grams, so it’s easy enough to carry daily in your bag or leave it accessible in your car. There’s always opportunity to crank some tunes to add energy to an event, I’ve been stunned since reviewing the JBL Flip 5 how much use I’ve managed out of that speaker.

The speaker produces pretty good sound. Plenty of volume to fill a living space or meeting room, but you need to be cautious with placement as the sound is very directional. What I mean by this is that the speaker is designed to lay down with the controls pointing into the room. If you’re “behind” the speaker in this layout, the mid range sound becomes a bit muddy and the lower register becomes a bit more dominant in terms of balance.

I’ll admit that I had fairly low expectations of a sub $100 speaker when it landed, but it gave a first impression I wasn’t expecting. Perhaps my expectations were too low, but I was blown away (when considering the cost particularly) by the sound that a $99 speaker could produce. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not Sonos level sound but it’s very good for the dollars indoors or out.

The X2 went really well with a pretty wide range of music but clearly struggled with high volumes. The sound became a bit distorted in the vocal ranges and notably shrill on high ranges when there was no bass present. The way to avoid this, simply don’t go to full volume. If you need higher volume, you probably need either a second speaker or a higher quality speaker to fill the space.

The unexpected bonuses of the X2 are the Aux line which is self explanatory and IP56 “splash proof” rating. Don’t dunk it in a bucket of water, unless you want a really expensive paperweight, but a drink spill or splash from someone bombing into your pool won’t kill it. This makes it a pretty well specced speaker to take with you to family picnics, parks for playtime and general “out and about” days with your family or kids.

On paper, the battery lasts around 12 hour and and medium volumes – I’ve found this to be pretty accurate via Bluetooth. When using the line in, the battery seems to last about 10% longer which stands to reason as you’re not receiving data over a transmitter drawing further power.

What is it good at?

At the end of the day it’s a sub $100 portable Bluetooth speaker, that does what it advertises and does it pretty well. The setup is very simple, the speaker is “splash proof”, the battery will last a really solid day of listening and the controls are very simple.

The sound was without a doubt good enough to add atmosphere to a picnic, pool party or impromptu get together. It has enough volume to fill a fairly substantial space, while delivering reasonable quality sound within the earlier outlined parameters.

It looks pretty slick, feels solid and sounds good. There’s a lot to like, but I do have a couple of notes on improvements too.

Where is it lacking?

I’ve already mentioned earlier that the Micro USB is a deal breaker for me personally, I know a lot of other users who have the same approach. I know it’s a small thing but it makes devices feel cheap these days, I’d happily pay $10 more for something like this if it had USB C.

I was a little disappointed by the sound quality drop (distortion mainly) at high volume. It wouldn’t take much to test this and limit the volume capacity to a level where distortion just doesn’t happen.

Finally, the Google Assistant implementation feels a bit clumsy. It’s triggered by a double-tap of the play button and it is pretty hit-and-miss. I don’t understand why when the speaker is already paired to your phone, with a microphone why “Hey Google” isn’t a viable trigger?

Conclusion

We’re often spoiled for choice with electronics and it can be difficult to not be overly critical of cheap products. As a $99 option, the X2 has a lot to like about it. Some of the issues I’ve had with it are due to personal preference.

The X2 comes in at the lower end of budget for a Bluetooth Portable speaker, but gives some of the slightly more expensive options on the market a run for their money. It looks really slick and has some capacity to stand up to splashes etc.

While you’re not going to get Sonos sounds out of it, you can by six for the price of a single Sonos Move. Is the sound of the more expensive option worth that much more, honestly no. The sound quality from the X2 is pretty good stand alone and very good when you consider its cost.

Taking a step back and looking at the cold hard facts, it produces very acceptable sound for substantial periods of time and a very reasonable cost. I can’t criticise it too harshly, it’s very affordable and just as functional but not for users who want really good sound, despite this I’m still a touch disappointed there’s no USB C charging.

You can pick one up for under $100 at Officeworks during the run to Christmas and they’ll undoubtedly be on special for the boxing day frenzy also.

Phil Tann   Associate

Phil Tann

Phil is an Android enthusiast who spends most of his time reading up on U.S. Android news so he can get the low down on what could possibly hit Australian shores. Coming from a background in IT & T sales, he’s in the perfect position to give an educated view on hardware and software.

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