Jonathan Takiff: Great sound, good deals - no strings attached

Wireless speakers (clockwise from left): Bose SoundLink, Supertooth Disco, iHome iW1, Logitech Wireless Boombox, Soundmatters foxL v2 and, front center, the Jawbone Jambox.
Wireless speakers (clockwise from left): Bose SoundLink, Supertooth Disco, iHome iW1, Logitech Wireless Boombox, Soundmatters foxL v2 and, front center, the Jawbone Jambox. (DAVID WILLIAMS / DAILY NEWS STAFF)
Posted: October 05, 2011

THE GIZMO: Wireless speakers for your mobile machines.

HERE COMES THE MAGIC: Remember the first time you held a portable radio and marveled at how it could put music, sports and news in your hands without wires? Seemed like magic, right?

That same sensation strikes with the new breed of wireless speakers for mobile phones, tablets and portable computers.

If the smart device has a built-in Bluetooth transmitter/receiver, it can shoot high-quality audio signals to these wireless, battery- or AC-powered speakers at a range of up to about 33 feet. (There's also an input for a hardwired connection.) And the sound is a far cry from the tinny noise a mobile phone or tablet's internal speakers produce.

That quality is possible in large measure because of the powerful neodymium magnets in these new-age wireless speakers that produce prodigious amounts of sound from the smallest drivers.

Today, we're sampling a half-dozen wireless speakers from brands familiar (Bose, Logitech, iHome) and less so (Soundmatters, Jawbone and Supertooth).

MINI-MITES: Smallest of the lot - think a family-size box of toothpaste - are the Jambox by Jawbone and foxL v2 Bluetooth by Soundmatters. The guts of both were designed by former NASA engineer and Soundmatters chief Godehard Guenther, and both carry a $199 price tag.

Available in a choice of colors, the 12-ounce, square-edged, metal- and rubber-wrapped Jambox feels super sturdy. Top-mounted buttons are convenient for adjusting volume and answering calls - yes, both the Jambox and its sibling double as speakerphones.

Jambox's 2-watts-per-channel amplifier produced 84 dB of sound, the least in our survey yet enough to keep you entertained in a quiet bedroom. Occasional bass distortion was audible when volume was pushed to the limit. Unlike its sibling, Jambox is user-upgradeable (via PC connection and custom "app") with a quasi-surround mode that's pretty dazzling when the little thing is a foot in front of your face.

Sound matters most in the foxL v2. Its 4-watts-per-channel amplifier delivers 96 db of sound on battery power and a walloping 102 db plugged into an AC outlet.

Most controls are delegated to the (inconvenient) back on this metal- and plastic-encased, 9-ounce device. Still, the louder, brighter and more dynamic sound makes the foxL v2 the mini-mite I'd pack in my overnight bag.

BUDGET CONSCIOUS: Selling early this summer for $199, the Supertooth Disco has been spotted on Amazon.com for just $117.18, making it the bargain pick of the litter. This 2.1-channel system (the woofer is separately powered) cranks 106 db of loud and proud though somewhat compressed sound, especially with the "bass boost" feature. It has rare onboard buttons for remote control of music loaded onto your mobile device, even Pandora.

The Supertooth proved more susceptible than most to interference from nearby Bluetooth devices. The device measures 4 inches high, 13 inches wide and weighs a little under 3 pounds in its protective neoprene case. Its Ni-MH rechargeable battery pack plays up to four hours at high volume, 10 hours at medium volume.

SHA BOOM: The just-out Logitech Wireless Boombox lives up to its name in traditional look and sound. The six-speaker (plus two passive radiators) box pumped 102 db of sound with decent bass articulation, a very forward midrange and bright, slightly metallic high-end edge treble freaks will enjoy.

With a metal front and hard plastic on back, plus a button-released kick stand, this sturdy, 2-pound 7-ounce box screams "perfect for a kid's room." Its Ni-MH battery is rated for six hours' use. At the Logitech online store for $149.99 and likely to sell for less when other retailers get it.

YOUR HOME COMPANION: With its delicate, wraparound cloth speaker covering and larger girth (3 pounds 6 ounces, 12 1/2 inches wide, 7 1/2 high and 3 1/2 deep), the iHome iW1 is the most housebound of the bunch in our survey. It runs on the AirPlay wireless format, a customized variation of Bluetooth that ostensibly has wider frequency range, though I couldn't detect that.

The downside? AirPlay works with Apple-branded products only, though Apple devices speak to others' Bluetooth speakers.

The upside? An Airplay-signal transmitting iPhone (3GS or newer), recent iPod Touch, Mac or iPad can simultaneously play through a bunch of Airplay speakers sprinkled around the house.

The first under $300 (by a dollar) Airplay wireless speaker box, the iHome iWi sounds good and offers some cool design features. I like how pointing its remote control at the box can pause, play or fast-forward tracks beaming from my iPad a floor away.

The remote also has tone controls (not found on other wireless speakers), including a special Bongiovi Acoustics digital processing mode that decompresses digital signal sources and pumps up the volume to 106 dB. Pairing a device with the iHw is more complicated than with other wireless speakers, though, and sometimes had to be repeated.

SAVING BEST FOR LAST: Bose products are sometimes accused of being overpriced, and they're rarely discounted. But I'd argue that the new Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker is an instant classic worth every penny - $299.95 in nylon cloth wrap, or $349.95 with leather case and chrome-edged trim.

Minimalist in looks yet packed with patented engineering inside, SoundLink delivers serious home-system performance (and a walloping 106 dB volume) in a trim, totable, hardback-book-sized, under-3-pound package.

Unquestionably, the Bose is the best-sounding wireless mobile speaker I've tested - never showy, always accurate, especially revealing on acoustic jazz, folk and classical, while also hitting the right notes with hip-hop, pop, rock and electronica.

Powered with a high-end, no-memory lithium-ion battery, this sweet thing plays loudly for four hours, moderately for 10 and recharges in just one!

I'm buying. So should you.

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