Just over a thousand days ago, Jawbone, which makes those earpieces that some people wear to look important and others apparently actually really need for some reason, announced (.pdf) the most transformative product portable audio in years: the Jambox.
This little brick of a Bluetooth speaker has its own battery, so you can connect to it from any phone or tablet wirelessly. When you turn it on, it thumps in your hand and makes a little spaceship noise, and pairs super easily. It also looks cool. And if you believe Bluetooth degrades sound quality, as some do, it has a little line-in cable that lets you take advantage of this little powerhouse anyway.
Update: There’s a pretty good argument that the SoundMatters foxL was first, although it had Bluetooth audio issues.
Oh, and it sounds good — like, ridiculously good for something of its size. Although it houses the pretty much the same speaker cones as your higher-end desktop speakers, you never see those, because of the excellent design, which obscures the inner workings. All you see is the outside of the box, and all you feel is the solid metal grill and nice, rubberized buttons. Oh, and that rechargeable battery (via standard micro-USB, of course) gives it some nice heft, which helps, because humans associate a bit of heft with value.
Don’t like the Jambox? Fine.
As with any other new product category that people seem to want, the imitators quickly jump on the bandwagon. In that sense, the JamBox reminds me of the Apple iPod, in that it took something that already existed and brought it way closer to perfection, even though that means a higher price tag — $180 for the original “small” JamBox).
Just like Apple waited until the one-inch hard drive was available for the first iPod and then pounced, Jawbone nailed the timing with Jambox, releasing it just as people really started listening to music on things with Bluetooth (smartphones and tablets), and as rechargeable battery technology had evolved to the point when a portable speaker like this would make sense.
In fact, Danika Cleary, who was the Apple iPod product manager when I used to meet with Apple at CNET to talk about the latest iPods, joined the Jambox team in between the small and large version, so there’s a literal connection there too.
“We’ve combined cutting-edge innovations in acoustics and microcomputing into a meticulously crafted package,” said Jawbone founder and CEO Hosain Rahman when it was first announced, “Jambox is not just a new kind of stereo speaker; it’s a whole new category of high quality mobile audio.”
He was absolutely right.
Here are the Jambox and its copycats, some of which might strike your fancy instead. I can vouch for both Jamboxes as being kickass. As for the others, I’m linking out to reviews from other people, almost all of whom I know personally, who have tested them.
I left out the ones that received subpar reviews for their sound quality, because life’s too short for horrible speakers (or headphones for that matter). The cream of the crop is listed here in alphabetical order, following the Jamboxes, because, well, credit where credit is due. All of the images have hands in them, where possible, and the two at the bottom aren’t quite as awesome, except for in certain situations (going broke and rockclimbing):
(photo courtesy of Mashable)
(photo courtesy of The Verge)
(photo courtesy of Wired.com/Tim Moynihan)
Bargain: Cambridge Soundworks Oontz ($50, CNET)
Rugged: Philips Shoqbox SB7200 ($150, CNET)