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Unboxing the Big Jambox
Jawbone makes some of the best packaging in the business. The Big Jambox is no exception.
Ever since Jawbone introduced the first Jambox wireless speaker, people have wondered when they would introduce a larger model — one that could pick up with audio where the diminutive Jambox leaves off. Jawbone heard that steady drumbeat and has answered with the pricey, but extremely effective Big Jambox Bluetooth wireless speaker.
Why would you need a larger Jambox? To be honest, I wasn't sure either. I own the original Jambox and love it. It fills my office with music or the most recent NPR audio cast. It's small enough to fit neatly into my backpack and travel to and from work. It handles calls as well as it does audio, announcing when I have an incoming call and letting me conduct it through the device's build-in speaker phone. I always thought the sound was pretty big for such a small device.
That was before I heard the Big Jambox ($299). The Velveeta Cheese-sized wireless audio system is at least four times larger than the original Jambox and can fill not just a whole house with audio, but might be capable of pumping sound to a whole block.
It can get LOUD.
No, it's not distorted, crackling sound, This is just sharp, sometimes bassy, clear audio that handles everything from Lady Gaga and The Beatles to Frank Sinatra without making anything sound muddled or tinny.
The Big Jambox is not an exact over-sized replica of the original Jambox. The metal skin has a new, puckered pattern. Instead of rubber on the top and bottom, the sides are rubberized and the Big Jambox has eight stabilizing rubber feet on the bottom. No matter how loud I played the speaker, it never jumped around.
Jawbone also did some subtle, but smart button redesigns. Power is now, thankfully, just a push button (the sliding power button on the original Jambox is one of my least favorite parts of that device). The top has six large buttons (tiny Jambox has three): volume up and down, previous and next song, a play/pause button and a speakerphone talk button. The side has, in addition to the power button, a dedicated Bluetooth pairing button that can also be used to switch between paired devices (yes, you can pair two devices at once). That side also includes a power jack, USB-in, audio-in and the DC charging port.
At 2.7 lbs. the Big Jambox is relatively lightweight, certainly lighter than traditional boom boxes and some docking stations. It doesn't have a handle, but the body is easy to grip and pick up. More than once I carried it indoors and out with one hand and never felt like I was going to drop it. Jawbone is also selling a nice carrying case (which will hold the speaker and AC power system ) for $49
Inside the red speaker (it also comes in black and white) is an air-tight enclosure, proprietary active drivers, multi-band compressor, a DSP and dual-pass audio processing. The Big Jambox also has an omnidirectional mic on top for full-duplex speakerphone functionality.
Setting up the Big Jambox was easy enough. When you turn it on, it automatically goes into pairing mode. My iPhone 4 found it and soon I was playing music though it. Pairing took a slight bit longer with older iOS devices like the iPad 1 and my son's iPod touch.
I tested the Big Jambox in variety of scenarios: pairing with an iPhone, iPod and iPad, switching between two devices connected at once using the pairing button and I played video and games on my iPad, while the audio boomed out of the Big Jambox. In the case of Real Racing HD the Big Jambox filled my home with screeching tires and a racing-inspired soundtrack, until my wife begged me to turn it down.
One of my favorite experiments was using the Big Jambox in place of my HDTVs built-in speakers (since my TV's don't have Bluetooth, I used the audio-in jack). In those instances, the Big Jambox produced audio that was louder and clearer than either one of my Sony TVs (one is a thin LED, the other LCD). The two sets are both pretty new, but have never offered sound worth writing home about. Movies and TV shows both sounded excellent.
Really, I wonder why everyone isn't using an external audio device like the Jambox for all of their devices. What do our tablets, computers, smartphones and TVs have in common? They're all getting thinner and thinner. This makes them lighter and sexier than ever. But that svelte form leaves no room for decent speakers. There's also the issue, at least on portable devices, of where the speakers are. How many times have you noticed that your hands are covering the speakers on your iPhone or iPad?
While it took just a couple of hours to charge the Big Jambox, It played reliably all weekend long at my house and, according to Jawbone, can go 15 hours on a charge. Bluetooth connectivity was great, by the way, as long as I stayed within 25 feet-or-so of the device and did not, say, put a floor between my iPhone 4 and the Big Jambox. Jawbone says it should work at distances up to about 33 feet.
Like the Jambox before it, Big Jambox supports Jawbone's LiveAudio 3D audio technology (early Jamboxes can get it with a software update). Jawbone executives played some fairly impressive live audio demos for me that made audio sound like it was coming from all around the room. However, any time I tried LiveAudio at home with virtually any audio source, I was less than impressed. It invariably deadened the vocals in favor of the background sounds and backup singers. Thankfully, it's easy to enable and disable this feature: You just hold down the volume up and down buttons until the Big Jambox announces that the feature is on or off.
Big Jambox is, in general, always like that: ready to tell you when it's pairing, when it's paired, when a call's coming in and when you need to plug it in. It just makes Big Jambox that much easier to use.
When you can buy an iPad 2 for $399 or an Android smartphone for $99, $299 may seem like a lot to spend for a Bluetooth speaker system. On the other hand, there aren't a lot of speakers that look or work like the Big Jambox. It charges and plays for days, and needs no annoying batteries. It's got a great form factor, brilliant design and truly excellent sound quality that will fill the biggest room. I know my family was sorry to see it go and I bet Jawbone, which has already sold millions of original Jamboxes (Jawbone said it was the number one-selling speaker in US last year), has another audio hit on its hands.
Big Jambox goes on preorder today and should arrive in stores on May 15.
Check out the gallery and then let me know in the comments if you're ready to pony up for a powerful and portable new Bluetooth boom box.