By Andrew Liszewski
Wireless Bluetooth speakers are particularly popular these days, and we’ve had the chance to try out a few different options including offerings from Jawbone and SuperTooth. But one thing that’s common among them, at least when used with mobile devices, is that streaming your tunes over a Bluetooth A2DP connection takes a real toll on your device’s battery life. And since devices like smartphones aren’t exactly known for their amazing battery life to begin with, it’s an unfortunate trade-off you have to make.
That’s not the case with Sony’s MS430 Media Speaker Stand though. It doesn’t connect to your mobile device via Bluetooth or any kind of wireless connection, it’s just a simple and literal plug-and-play affair. So while your device remains tethered, it’s still an effective way of boosting its wimpy built-in speaker without killing its battery. And even though it foregoes a heavy built-in rechargeable battery for a compact and light triumvirate of AAAs, meaning it doesn’t pack quite the same level of oomph and sound quality as the alternatives mentioned above, it’s probably still going to impress people with a slick design, decent functionality and affordable price tag. Check out my full review after the jump.
If you’ve got a soft spot for brushed stainless steel finishes (guilty!) then right off the bat you’re going to at least appreciate the aesthetics of the MS430. It’s shaped like a simple metal tube, about the size of a couple of D-sized batteries, with ‘Sony Ericsson’ etched onto the side and the green dot SE logo on one end. As minimal design goes it ranks up there with the frisbee and the hula hoop.
On the other end of the MS430 is a plastic grill that really gives the only hint as to what the MS430 is supposed to be used for. Obviously if you’ve purchased one it’s not much of a surprise, but befuddling and confusing your co-workers for 10 minutes while they try and figure it out could be fun.
Back on the other end more adventurous explorers will discover a rotatable segment that pivots to reveal another plastic grill, pretty much removing any doubt as to the MS430s raison d’être. But the end cap actually pulls out and rotates, since besides revealing the other speaker grill here, it also reveals…
…a standard 3.5mm headphone jack! That’s right, instead of Bluetooth, other wireless connection options or even a long cable, the MS430 is designed to connect directly to a music device, preferably something small and compact though.
The placement of the headphone jack makes it nearly impossible to connect the MS430 to larger items like a laptop with any degree of usability, but that’s not what it’s designed for. When connected to a mobile device like an iPhone for example, it’s a match made in heaven. You see there’s a reason the MS430 is referred to as a ‘Media Speaker Stand’ because it serves as a perfect way to prop up a smartphone or other mobile device for hands-free use, while adding a bit more kick than their built-in speakers typically offer.
The pivoting end cap is also ratcheted, so you can rotate it to a specific position to facilitate different sized phones or media players with different headphone jack placements, and have it stay in place. With a little bit of adjustment I found the MS430 worked pretty well at supporting a handful of different phones and devices. It’s a pretty clever design with a minimal footprint that does more than just prop up a device, because no one likes a unitasker.
With a slight twist that unlocks it, you can also pull out the ‘guts’ of the MS430 which reveals a set of 3xAAA batteries inside. They obviously don’t provide the same amount of power like you’d get from a dedicated boombox that plugs into a wall or runs on a small army of D-sized batteries. But it’s considerably better than if the speakers were unpowered.
But all this simplicity, compact size and $39.95 price tag does come with a trade-off. The phrase ‘you get what you pay for’ is particularly apropos when it comes to gadgets, and to be perfectly honest the MS430 is not the most amazing sounding speaker you’re ever going to hear. I doubt that comes as a surprise though. The uncovered speaker located on the far end of the MS430 covers the ‘high-end’ while the speaker on this end serves as a sort of very tiny woofer. Together they do create a balanced sound that is most definitely a lot richer and louder than what the iPhone 4′s built-in speaker is capable of, but the results are still a touch disappointing.
Obviously I’m not comparing the MS430 to $200 options like Jawbone’s Jambox which really impressed us when it came to size vs. sound, but I don’t think I would’ve minded if the MS430 was just slightly larger if it meant better overall sound quality. That’s not to say it’s terrible or anything, nor does it distort heavy bass lines when cranked to its loudest setting which is where smaller speakers often fail. I just feel that outside of a situation where I wanted to listen to music but headphones weren’t allowed, I’d probably prefer to just slap in a pair of earbuds instead.
So I’m pretty sure there aren’t any dropped jaws at the revelation of the MS430′s less than mind-blowing audio performance, because at one time or another we’ve all had to suffer through using a smaller set of speakers. But sometimes that’s all you have room for (like when traveling) and admittedly the MS430 does have a lot to like. The design is top-notch, particularly if you’re after a minimalist aesthetic or something that’s highly portable. And its literal plug-and-play connectivity means using it is not going to be a drain on your smartphone or mobile device’s battery life. At $39.95 it’s also far cheaper than the Bluetooth alternatives we’ve reviewed in the past.
+ Very small and compact design.
+ Who doesn’t like a brushed stainless steel finish?
+ Powered by 3xAAA batteries which are easily replaceable.
+ Doubles as a stand for your connected mobile device.
+ Easy to use if you’ve already mastered the art of connecting a pair of headphones.
- Sound quality isn’t going to impress anyone, though it’s vastly superior to the built-in speaker on most smartphones and mobile devices.
- Lacking a built-in rechargeable battery.
Sony Ericsson MS430 Media Speaker Stand – $39.95
If you have any questions about the SE MS430 Speaker Stand 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.
*Disclosure: This review unit has been provided by Sony Ericsson free of charge, but the opinions expressed in this review are my own.