Review: CoolStream Portable Bluetooth Speaker

by on January 29, 2014

A few weeks ago, we took a look at the CoolStream Duo, a device that adds Bluetooth compatibility to just about any kind of speaker or amplifier. What if you don’t have existing audio hardware and want to make your iOS device or Mac a bit louder? This time, we had a chance to try out CoolStream’s Portable Bluetooth Speaker, a $50 gadget that seeks to provide a very inexpensive alternative to products like Jawbone’s Jambox, Beats Audio Pill, or Logitech’s Ultimate Ears family.

CoolStream Portable Bluetooth Speaker CoolStream Portable Bluetooth Speaker CoolStream Portable Bluetooth Speaker CoolStream Portable Bluetooth Speaker CoolStream Portable Bluetooth Speaker

Roughly the size of some of the larger external hard drives, the Portable Bluetooth Speaker is not very big, but packs a lot of technology in a small amount of space. The device is made from a matte black plastic, which feels really good in your hands and a bit nicer than glossy plastic found on products that adorn the aisles of most retailers. The only thing visible on the front are two 52mm speakers, running at 3 watts of power each. The top features a few buttons, including power, a phone button (similar to the single button found on many Bluetooth headsets), source select, track skip, play/pause, and volume. In addition to Bluetooth, the speaker can also receive audio through a traditional 3.5mm audio cable, or use its own decoder with SD cards (up to 32GB) or USB flash drives. A 3.5mm audio cable is included in the box for connecting your own devices.

The 1000mAh nonremovable battery is rated at 4 hours, and we hit this mark in our very unscientific testing. To charge the device, you must use the included charging cable which includes a coaxial power connector on one end and a USB “A” connector on the other. We would have liked to see the speaker use a mini or micro USB connector instead, as to have one less proprietary cable to forget or lose. However, the battery should fully charge in about two hours from any free USB port or USB-based AC adapter. One is not included in the box, but this has also become par for the course with these types of devices.

Pairing was uneventful with Bluetooth 2.1, and seemed to work well. The controls on the top sent a signal back to the device rather quickly and reliably.

Unfortunately, SD cards or USB flash drives must have audio files in MP3 format, which contradicts items found in the iTunes Store. Still, if you have a few MP3 files that you need for a particular purpose, it’s the quickest and most convenient way to play them without loading audio on a phone or iPod.

That being said, the Portable Bluetooth Speaker’s price should change expectations a bit—it’s only a fraction of the price of some of the popular Bluetooth speakers that are on the market. The sound quality seems to match this—it’s certainly not terrible, but you won’t be fooled into thinking that you’re listening to a high-end audio system. It’s better than using built-in speakers on a phone or tablet, but a little muffled and a little bass heavy. Still, the name of the game for devices like this is convenience—they are designed to provide louder audio than internal speakers, but also be portable enough that you will actually take them with you on a regular basis.

In summary, CoolStream’s Portable Bluetooth Speaker has room for improvement sonically, but is one of the most inexpensive battery-powered Bluetooth speakers on the market. Much like early laptops feeling like a compromise for the sake of portability, small Bluetooth speakers trade performance for portability. For many, this will be a nice balance of convenience and price, although audiophiles should look elsewhere.

The One-Sentence Verdict™

CoolStream has found a rather capable mix of performance, features, and value in its small speaker.

Pros: Inexpensive, good battery life, lots of options for inputs, nice build quality

Cons: Proprietary charging port, MP3-only for flash media

The Facts

4/5Product: Portable Bluetooth Speaker
Company: CoolStream
Platform: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Mac, other Bluetooth devices
Price: $49.99

This post has been filed in iDevices, Reviews and Speakers/Audio