By Andrew Liszewski
Believe it or not, there was a time when the iPhone wasn’t A2DP compatible. While wireless speaker solutions still existed, they either relied on wifi or some proprietary dongle technology that attached to the iPhone’s dock connector. So not surprisingly, dock-based speaker systems ruled the market. And I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with them, it’s just a lot more convenient to be able to keep your iPhone on your person when listening to music through a speaker, allowing you to quickly switch tracks or customize a playlist on the fly.
But as of iOS 3.0 those dark days of tethered speaker use are long gone as Apple granted A2DP support to us grovelling gadget-loving masses. And now that using a wireless speaker is as easy as setting up a Bluetooth connection, we’ve slowly been seeing the portable BT speaker market grow. And as far as we’re concerned, they’re a must-have accessory these days. Last month we reviewed Jawbone’s JAMBOX which is one of the more flashier options now available, and today we’re taking a look at the SuperTooth DISCO. It sports a more traditional black-grille speaker design which will disappear in your home or office if you’re looking for something a bit subtler, and while it’s a bit larger than the JAMBOX, what you lose in portability you gain in sound quality. Read our full review after the jump.
If you’ve had a chance to play with the JAMBOX, or have one on hand for comparison, it’s immediately obvious that the DISCO is quite a bit larger than Jawbone’s offering. In fact the DISCO is easily twice as big as the JAMBOX, but it’s still far more compact than a full home stereo setup, or even a half-capable boombox. At the least it won’t gobble up a big chunk of your desk or an entire shelf, that’s for sure.
For a size comparison here’s the DISCO sitting next to the iPhone 4. There’s a similar photo in my review of the JAMBOX for comparison between the two speakers, but long story short, the SuperTooth DISCO is bigger. But not inconveniently so.
And while the JAMBOX kept the on-device controls and buttons to a minimum (namely volume) the DISCO includes full playback controls encircling a large, analog volume dial. They can be used to skip tracks, fast forward & rewind and play or pause the music coming from your iPhone. It also includes buttons for activating or deactivating the bass boost, and of course power which is also used to put the speaker into its Bluetooth pairing mode.
To the right of the volume dial and buttons is a small LED that flashes either blue or red to indicate connectivity and battery status. It’s easy enough to understand, but I wouldn’t have minded something a bit more informative, particularly when it comes to the speaker’s battery life. Part of the appeal of these rechargeable wireless speakers is that they’re easy to travel with, for use at a picnic or at the beach. And while the battery life obviously isn’t limitless, it can still be maximized depending on how loud you play your music. At high volume you can squeeze about 3 or 4 hours of battery life out of it (dependent upon whether you activate the bass boost and the type of music you’re playing) at high volume. But if you’re willing to turn it down a bit you can actually squeeze up to 10 hours at a medium volume level. So having a better idea of the remaining battery life, rather than just a blinking red light letting you know when it’s almost depleted, will give you a better chance at prolonging the charge I think.
Like the front, the back of the SuperTooth DISCO is pretty minimal too. There’s a power jack for connecting the included AC adapter, and a line-in jack for connecting devices lacking in Bluetooth connectivity. And to the right of the power jack there’s a single LED which indicates the charging status. Solid red for charging, and solid green when it’s done. Pretty easy to understand, though again, I would have preferred some vague indication as to how full the battery was. Like blinking red at faster intervals the closer it got to a full charge.
And if you’re curious, the DISCO includes an AC adapter for charging or powering the speaker and a simple stereo 1/8 mini to 1/8 mini adapter cable for connecting any device with a headphone or line out jack.
You might have also noticed the subtle hole on the back of the SuperTooth DISCO, and this is where you’ll find the subwoofer. While the JAMBOX cleverly used a system where it vibrated the battery inside the housing to produce a bit of extra bass, the DISCO features a dedicated 12 watt subwoofer, in addition to a couple of 8 watt speakers, providing a total of 28 watts of listening pleasure. And I have to say this is where the DISCO makes up for being larger than the JAMBOX. Jawbone’s speaker definitely sounds really good, particularly given how small and compact it is, but I feel the DISCO definitely bests it when it comes to overall sound quality.
When fully cranked the DISCO still tends to distort music with overly heavy bass (an issue that plagued the JAMBOX too) but it’s not difficult to find a good balance between volume and sound quality that really fills a room. And while the subwoofer is always active, there’s also a bass boost mode which ‘turns it up a notch’ for lack of a better term. I found that when sitting close to the DISCO the bass boost tends to slightly distort certain songs, but it also helps the music carry if you’re using it to fill a larger space. So given the lack of any EQ options, it’s nice to have the option to boost the bass every once in a while.
Finally, since the biggest advantage of a rechargeable, wireless speaker is portability, the SuperTooth DISCO even includes a custom carrying case that lets you use it while it’s still inside. It’s made from soft neoprene that completely encloses the speaker, but when you want to use it you just have to flip down the front access panel which reveals the controls and the front speaker grille.
And on the back is a mesh-covered hole which lets the subwoofer ‘breathe’ and another panel which provides access to the line-in jack and charging port.
So would I recommend the SuperTooth DISCO? Having used both the JAMBOX and the DISCO for the past little while, I have to say I feel the DISCO does provide the better bang for your buck. As long as portability and compact form factor don’t dominate your wish list that is. (Or the ability to use it as a speakerphone.) It’s at least twice as big as the JAMBOX so it loses a few points there because of its overall size. But it’s not like it’s wasted space. The DISCO includes a set of stereo speakers plus an actual subwoofer, so sound does tend to be more natural, even if it’s prone to distorting at higher volume levels like the JAMBOX. Overall it does provide a better bass experience though, and I feel it’s just better suited for use at home or in larger/less intimate spaces. And on top of it all, at $150 it’s about $50 cheaper than Jawbone’s offering as well.
+ Not the most compact Bluetooth speaker on the market, but it makes up for it with impressive sound quality and a dedicated subwoofer.
+ Sports a clean, minimal design with a traditional black-grille finish on the front.
+ Includes basic playback controls, and a much appreciated analog volume dial.
+ Bass boost helps the sound carry, making it better suited for noisier situations like a party.
+ Includes a carrying case that allows the speaker to be used while packed inside.
– $149.99 price tag still isn’t cheap, but you get a lot of sound in a very compact package.
– At full volume the sound can get very distorted, particularly bass-heavy tracks.
– Carrying case doesn’t accomodate charging or adapter cables.
– Battery life and charging status indicators are a little vague.
– No speakerphone functionality, even though most users will have it paired with a smartphone.
SuperTooth DISCO – $149
If you have any questions about the SuperTooth DISCO you’d like answered, please feel free to leave them in the comments, and I’ll try to respond to them as best I can.