In the realm of wall-tethered wireless speakers, there isn’t any great shortage of high-end brands. B&O Play, Sonos, and Bose are most likely obtaining the lion’s share of earnings in this space, taking into consideration the absolutely bonkers prices of a few of their products. Each of them offer something, too – with B&O, you get in to the striking European design of Bang & Olufsen. Sonos offers a unified, proprietary communication protocol with good platform support and a range of speakers and price points. And Bose supplies the Bose name, which as I recall did mean something circa 2003 daytime TV infomercials (I kid, I kid – type of, their linked speakers look terrible).
Once you start diving listed below the $400-500 range roughly, though, compromises quickly start appearing. Wall-tethered units actually dry out pretty quickly below this price, unless you’re talking glorified clock-radios that probably haven’t seen much changes apart from Bluetooth and an iPhone dock delete within the last couple of years. Admittedly, it’s probably because demand for them is plummeting – portable, battery-powered Bluetooth speakers are the rage, and there is no fussing with cables.
Some people, though, want something – just one single speaker – for the living room or the bed room that wont be getting moved often, but isn’t simply a tarted-up bedside speaker dock. And we’d prefer it A.) not be exceedingly ugly (maybe even, dare I say, attractive!), B.) have many different [open and closed-protocol] connectivity options, and C.) sound genuinely good.
Now, at $600, the Marshall Woburn is most likely already too pricey for most folks, myself included, but hear me out: that is as low-compromise reduced Bluetooth audio system as I’ve ever seen. It is also the best-looking, by far.
The essential styling is aped from Marshall’s iconic stacks, but it’s a decidedly retro undertake the aesthetic – gentle, rounded corners on a smooth, vinyl-wrapped body, and a grille pattern that’s intentionally distressed and uneven. Although some may detest the Marshall logo’s bold prominence over the front, I think it is lends authenticity and character to the Woburn – this speaker is a conversation piece that may also generate the backdrop music for the conversation. There is nothing poseur-y about the style to my eyes, either. Marshall is a highly-respected name in the music business, they’re an enormous part of why guitar amps appear to be guitar amps. Whether you approve of the style itself is an individual question, but I believe it is the prettiest Bluetooth speaker out there, hands-down.
The hardware is not only looks, though – you come on live knobs (!!!) that control volume, bass, and treble. As far as I could tell, though, these knobs aren’t actually analog in not the sense that one could twist them – the quantity evidently moves up in steps instead of along a gradient, and the same will additionally apply to bass and treble. This won’t matter much except in a single scenario – optical audio-in – and I’ll enter that later. Still, it creates it appear somewhat fake. Maybe just make sure they are clicky knobs instead the next time, Marshall. Or use real analog components.
The on/off switch can be an actual switch, which is fun. Who doesn’t like flipping an old-school toggle switch? It clicks into place with antique authority, you half expect it to hum alive as an old tube amp, packed with noise and character and hiss. The truth is, it’s silent – the Woburn powers on with nary a click, pop, or whirr.
And once it really is on, it can rather amazing stuff. First things first: optical audio. The Woburn comes with an optical music input, meaning it’s a good speaker it is possible to directly hook up to virtually any modern tv set without needing a stereo receiver or digital-to-analog converter. Our Samsung plasma, for instance, only has optical and HDMI music out, something increasingly common on new TVs – the 3.5mm and RCA jacks ‘re going just how of the dodo. Plugging in the Woburn via Toslink was fast and simple. The downside, of course, is that since it’s digital signal, you will need to control the volume on the speaker. There is no remote iphone app (an oversight, for me) or physical remote, either, so any moment you’re installed to the digital input you need to change the quantity and tone on the speaker. Like, waking up, walking to it, and touching it. Scary.
The Woburn also offers both RCA and 3.5mm stereo inputs, so it is analog-ready right from the box. Wireless communication is achieved via Bluetooth 4.0, with support for aptX built-in. Marshall doesn’t advertise the Bluetooth class of the speaker, unfortunately, but I came across its range to be very good. There is absolutely no AirPlay or other Wi-Fi streaming option (this thing arrived before Cast for Audio was announced) on the Woburn, which seems… weird. At the $600 tier, AirPlay is near-ubiquitous. But hey, in the event that you want extra range, you can plug it directly into your TV, cast to your TV from your own phone, and play music from the speaker that way – a thing that convenient optical connection allows with reduced signal degradation.
I believe Marshall (really, I will say Zound Industries, a Swedish firm – Marshall Headphones is a brand produced under license) knows that Bluetooth may be the mass-adopted standard for audio tracks streaming, though, and is most likely avoiding deciding on a side on Wi-Fi until things relax a little more. If you ask me, it makes sense, however the future is still evidently in networked audio tracks streaming, that allows for much greater effective range and more control options than Bluetooth currently does. Bluetooth is excellent outside the house, do not get me wrong, but a robust Wi-Fi solution is crucial if I’m setting up six-hundred big kinds on a radio speaker, regardless if it’s something similar to Sonos’ proprietary framework.
One insufficient smartness I lament on the Woburn is in mode-switching. If, for instance, you’re installed to optical audio tracks and in the optical input mode, you can still hook up your phone via Bluetooth, however the speaker won’t know to change inputs in the event that you start playing music on your own phone, whether or not there’s any signal on the optical input. I understand other Bluetooth speakers can handle this sort of smart switching, so Let me see that. Or at least a remote software to improve the input without waking up off the couch.
Still, despite those faults, I cannot not love this speaker. And that brings me to the sound: the Woburn is outstanding. I’ll say it’s more outstanding for music than TV or movies, though – the speaker includes a warm, mid-heavy tuning that provides it a decidedly heavy, retro sound signature. Dialing the bass back and treble up a lttle bit reduces this effect, however the Woburn is actually tuned with rocking out at heart. There is no shortage of bass, either, as the Woburn packs two 5 1/4″ woofers with two passive reflex ports on the trunk. Even at 3/10 on the dial, the bass still comes through prominently. The dials are such a help, too, because with a speaker you would like to tune the treble and bass to the area you’re using (as well as your personal taste), therefore the capability to keep those settings locked in on the speaker itself is something I almost want to call necessary on something at this price.
The Woburn also gets incredible loud, with a peak RMS output of 200W – it’ll fill a moderately-sized room without breaking a sweat. Even at full crank, the Woburn still sounds great, too, not precisely neighbor-friendly for all those folks in apartments. The clarity, depth, bass, and fullness of the sound blows any other Bluetooth speaker I’ve used away. While I wouldn’t say the Woburn is necessarily the most detailed with regards to fidelity, it has a lot more character and raw power than other things in this segment. It really is seventeen-point-six pounds of noise.