Talking tech since 2003

The days of wired speaker systems are fading fast, since we now have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to high quality, standalone speakers for all our audio needs. While some speakers pride themselves on portability, others still emphasize form as well as function, leading to a market for high-end speakers that don’t take up much room, but still need to be plugged into the wall. The B2 Premium Bluetooth Speaker from Audioengine is one such device, and while it doesn’t excel in every area, it’s got enough muscle, style, and value to make it an excellent choice for any burgeoning audiophile.

The Good

B2_wal_deskThe B2 is gorgeous, made of beautifully sculpted wood, coming in either black ash, walnut, or zebrawood finishes. The design itself won’t blow you away in terms of taking any daring chances – it’s a rectangular wooden box with two black Kevlar woofers and tweeters apiece. The speakers themselves sit behind a detachable speaker grill, which stays on the speaker via magnets, meaning that it’s really easy to change the look of your speaker depending on what kind of look you want. The sound doesn’t change much whether the grill is on or off – or at least, the sound didn’t change enough for me to notice, though someone with more finely tuned ears might know better.

As to the sound itself, it’s rich and deep, and certainly gets loud enough considering what a small package the speaker comes in. It’s just a shade over a foot long, and 5.5 inches deep, meaning it’s not difficult to find adequate shelf space wherever you want to put it. The B2 also comes with a Bluetooth antenna, which allows devices to connect with it at a long range, and for little to get in the way of that connection while you’re walking through the house, apartment, or office. Connecting to the speaker via Bluetooth is usually pretty painless, though switching between multiple devices can be tricky. As to whether or not that’s an issue with Android and iOS having trouble sharing devices, or just a problem with Bluetooth in general, I don’t know. But if ever I couldn’t connect with the B2, all I usually had to do was hold the pairing button and I’d be connected again in moments.

As for its price, the B2 runs for about $299 right now in all three finishes, which is a very fair price considering the power of the sound and the solid, classy style of the speaker. Compared with the Wren Bluetooth speaker, which is $100 more and considerably bigger (while being both more stylish and more ostentatious), I think the B2 is ultimately a better value.

The Neutral

B2_wal_backThe controls for the B2 live on the back of the unit. That includes the power on/off switch, the pairing button, and the volume knob. The advantage of the knob over buttons is that it provides more precise volume control. That’s good, since the fact that the knob is on the back of the unit is kind of a pain. Having to reach behind the speaker to control it directly is annoying. Yes, you can adjust the volume of your audio from the Bluetooth source, like your smartphone, tablet, or computer. But those controls on the rear of the unit are meant to be used. It’s a shame they’re so hard to reach.

At the same time, putting them on the back of the speaker means they don’t mess up the overall look of the B2, which is definitely one of the speaker’s strong suits. In the end, the good and the bad here cancel out.

The Bad

There aren’t too many drawbacks to the B2 that I could determine, but one that definitely stood out to me was that human voices sound kind of muffled. It never hampers your ability to understand what a person is saying or singing, but it is noticeable. To once again compare the B2 to the Wren Bluetooth Speaker, the Wren definitely has superior sound when it comes to voices, providing clearer results.

On the other hand, while the B2 and the Wren both suffered from some wonky Bluetooth connectivity hiccups, the B2 always seems to work better than the Wren when it comes to troubleshooting. Often, the only way to get the Wren to recognize a device it hasn’t communicated with in a while is to do a straight up hard reset, pulling the plug out and putting it back in. The B2 never needed any such shenanigans.

The Verdict

Overall, the Wren Bluetooth speaker does have superior audio – but it comes at a cost of a hundred dollars more, technical glitches, and a much bigger footprint. By contrast, the B2 looks and sounds great – better than just about any other Bluetooth speaker you might see for less – with only a few overall audio sacrifices. If you need perfect audio, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. But for the rest of us, the B2 is a wonderful choice that successfully combines performance, looks, and price to find that perfect sweet spot of a great Bluetooth speaker. If you’re looking for a Bluetooth speaker as a gift or for yourself that’s just right, look no further than the B2.



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