I was looking for a little tabletop radio with the ability to play music from my phone or laptop, and with stereo sound. A lot of people don't seem to know what stereo is anymore (many Bluetooth speakers aren't, even when they have multiple drivers, and many reviewers seem to think two drivers operating off a single-channel amplifier are stereo - or if they know what stereo is they tend to diminish it saying a little bluetooth speaker couldn't have enough separation to matter, which is definitely not true). Anyway, this mostly fits the bill, and the price is fantastic.
First of all, the sound is great. It's advertised as having 10W total amplifier power, and I believe it: it can fill a living room with sound, with clear bass and undistorted highs. Sitting at my desk, if I listened to it at full volume for more than a song or two I'd have hearing damage. It's that powerful. Highs are clean, and the bass is strong, if not very deep and sometimes a bit boomy. Bass response is more sensitive to surroundings than most speakers - stronger in a corner, and incredible in a narrow hallway - so you can fine-tune the bass a lot by exactly where you place it. Only (minor) criticisms of the sound would be that the high-bass can sometimes be a bit too strong (making it sound a little boomy in certain locations with certain songs), and that certain parts of the midrange seem a bit muffled, again something I only notice on certain songs. Neither of these drawbacks is enough to be annoying (especially since the bass can be fine-tuned with placement), and I say this as a reformed audiophile with pretty good ears.
And the speakers are true stereo: when I listen through Bluetooth or Aux mode, the left and right side speakers definitely put out different sounds, and the stereo effect is quite strong while I'm sitting a couple feet from it at my desk. However, the FM tuner is definitely monaural, not stereo: in FM mode the same sound comes out of both side speakers, and there is no stereo effect. Ironically I can have the stereo effect if I go to the trouble of visiting that same station's app or website and playing that through the speaker in Aux or Bluetooth mode - but not when I listen to it directly through the built-in FM tuner. To me that's this speaker's biggest flaw. I almost knocked a star off its rating, but it's otherwise so good I'm going to accept it.
Reception of the FM tuner seems good - and it ought to be good, because in North America stereo information is piggybacked on top of the main mono signal, and harder to pick up from weaker signals (or in urban areas with signals bouncing off buildings). A cheap mono FM tuner can often pick up signals better than an expensive stereo tuner, so I can see why they did this, even if I'm disappointed. I live in a moderately large metro area with a total of 40-50 stations, but I'm 20 miles from the antenna where most of them broadcast, so reception of some stations can sometimes be challenging, especially if I'm in my basement. This radio has a built-in telescoping antenna (which means it doesn't rely on attached cords as antennas, as some do), and I get great reception on all the stations I care about without having to extend it. I would presume that it would still work better than many tuners in rural areas with weaker signals, if you extend the antenna.
Not too sure about battery life. I leave it plugged in.
By the way, it comes with two cords: one with 3.5mm headphone-style jacks on both ends, for connecting it to an Aux source like a laptop, music player or phone, and a micro-USB charging cord with standard USB (A) on the other end. It does not come with the cube/brick for plugging it into a wall outlet, but it will work with any charging device that has a USB port. I have mine plugged into my laptop to keep it charged, and that works fine.
Controls are better than many inexpensive devices. I skipped the Pyle stereo speakers in this price range because although they have FM tuners, they're the ultra-cheap kind where the only control is a button that causes it to skip to the next station: no going backwards, no display indicating what frequency you're on, and of course no presets. Miss your station and you have to cycle all the way around again. No thanks. I don't need the presets, but I am glad this unit displays the station frequency and allows me to scan in either direction. Besides an on/off switch on the side, there are four buttons on the front, plus a rotary volume control. Here's how they work:
- The MODE button cycles between FM, Bluetooth (with a second press to pair) and Aux mode. Simple.
- The Pause/Play button pauses and unpauses a Bluetooth music source; in Aux and FM mode, it mutes and unmutes the sound. In FM mode, if you hold it down longer it scans across the entire frequency range and reprograms all the presets (you can't set them individually, at least from the control panel) with every station it deems strong enough. I don't know the maximum number of preset stations it can ultimately remember, but at my house it set 22 of them.
- The Rewind and Forward buttons skip backward and forward a track in Bluetooth mode. In FM mode they skip to the next or previous preset station; or to the next or previous frequency (ignoring the presets) if you hold one of them down for a second. They do nothing in Aux mode.
- The volume control doesn't have have notches or detents; it's very smooth-feeling, and has a hard stop at the beginning and end of its range, so I think it's a traditional potentiometer, which is great. Contrary to another reviewer who said they couldn't get the volume low enough for desk listening, I find I can turn it down so low it's vastly quieter than a whisper, but the sound is still clean. In other words, far better control over the volume than you have with most devices these days.
It also came with a remote, which I have not tried because the speaker sits on my desk within arm's reach. My understanding from other reviewers is there are more functions available through the remote than on the device itself (maybe you can use it to directly change individual preset stations?) If I ever use this thing for a garden party or while I'm working in the yard, maybe I'll try out the remote.
To sum up, it's a fantastic value for the price, much better than a lot of other products for the same money. Sound is cleaner and much "bigger" than you'd expect for its size. Stereo effect is very good in Bluetooth and Aux mode (though sadly nonexistent in FM mode) but FM tuner otherwise has very good reception. Physically it feels very solid and well-made. Controls are simple, logical and easy to use. Comes with the cords you need, though without an actual power source, but those are easy to come by. Don't know about battery life, since I keep it plugged in almost all the time. Has a nice carry handle on the top if you do want to move it around a lot. Like I said, I almost took off a star for the FM tuner being monaural, but it's so good in every other respect I'm going to let that slide, and consider this a keeper as long as it keeps working.