There’s a vast number of portable speakers on the market right now, ranging from ultra cheap and flimsy Chinese products at $15, to expensive branded models from companies like Bose at $266 and more. Until now, though, these portable speakers have been fairly ho-hum. Sure, the best offer decent sound and good battery life, but in general it’s been a case of a speaker is a speaker is a speaker. Until now.
We attended the launch of the new Sound BlasterAxx range of portable speakers yesterday and came away mightily impressed at how much thought has been put into the design and feature set of the product. So what does that mean?
Well there are three standout aspects of these new speakers that demonstrate that when it comes to sound technology, the folks at Creative still take a lot of beating. First, flexibility. These new products are designed to work with anything, and under multiple conditions. They offer both USB wired and Bluetooth wireless connection, which makes them very handy for use with all sorts of devices, from tablets to phones and computers. Because they’re also designed to be primarily USB powered, you can hook them up to a standard USB charger block like you’d use for a smartphone and literally carry them anywhere.
Second, they feature some very cool and useful tech. Take the integrated microphone array, included to allow for hands-free mobile or Internet phone services like Skype. The speakers have enough on-board processing power to offer sophisticated noise suppression which actually works. In the demo, one of the Creative folk turned on a hairdryer next to the mic while making a Skype call and all you could hear was his voice when noise suppression was switched on. Very cool.
The microphone feature which deserves to get the most applause though is what I would call the Baby Silencer. This is a function which lets you focus the microphone into a very narrow beam, so that anything else outside that area is not picked up by the mics. If anyone has ever tried to make a call in a crowded room, or with a small child crying hysterically in the background, you’ll realise that this is a lifesaver. Set the mic focus tight enough, and the only sound the other party will hear is your voice, which is great for home business and tele-workers.
The final remarkable aspect of these new speakers is the sound quality. Most USB powered speakers can’t offer loudness to match mains powered models because the amplifier needs more juice. Creative has managed to optimize the sound levels from the pitifully small amount of power that USB supplies, and again it’s very impressive. The company calls it ‘room filling’ sound, and the demo certainly seemed to prove that point, as in the crowded room you could still hear movies, games and internet call audio perfectly from right at the back.
So all in all, you can say we’re more than excited about these new speakers, as we can see a large number of uses for them in different modes. Let’s face it, in the right circumstances the Baby Silencer mode on its own is worth its weight in platinum chips. The Sound BlasterAxx comes in three models, from the high end SBX-20 at £179.99 to the junior SBX-8 (minus Bluetooth) at £79.99. All models are platform agnostic (yay, no drivers needed) and so will work with Mac, PC or Linux, and the control software is available for iPhone and Android as well as conventional computers.
POSTSCRIPT. Way way back in the time before lands forgot, Creative Sound Blaster soundcards WERE the sound of the personal computer. Every PC had a Soundblaster card, or wanted one. But time passed and the brand faded from view, as they do. It’s good to see it back and kicking!