The Braven BRV-1 ($179) is aimed at outdoorsy types who want wireless sound while they're out in the wet 'n wild wilderness. It offers some handy features, including the ability to survive rain and splashes, wireless playback control and a beefy battery that lasts up to 12 hours and charges your mobile phone. If you want a splash-proof speaker, the BRV-1 will certainly please, but it's better for personal listening than entertaining.
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Click to EnlargeThe Braven BRV-1 weighs just 12.2 ounces and reminds us of a canteen, especially when you hold it with the watertight cap on the back facing up. It has a pair of 1.25-inch, 3W speakers and a passive bass radiator housed in an IPX5-certified, rubberized shell that lets it survive rain and splashes but not submersion. The speaker grille, which is held in place by eight screws, has a metallic-blue finish that adds some welcome personality.
The controls on top include power, play/pause and volume buttons that double as track skip/rewind when you hold them down.
Click to EnlargeTwisting off the cap on the back reveals a battery indicator, a microUSB port (for charging the speaker), a USB port (for mobile device charging), a 3.5mm line-in jack and a reset button. The USB port supports charging 1-amp devices, such as mobile phones, but not 2.1-amp monsters like tablets.
The package includes a microUSB cable, an audio line-in cable and a lanyard. There's no wall plug, as the speaker is designed to be charged using a phone charger or a computer's USB port.
Pairing the BRV-1 with your smartphone is a snap -- just press the power button until you hear a sound suspiciously similar to the Android "Droid" startup sound, and then press the Play button until you hear a few soft beeps to enter pairing mode. Our iPhone 4S picked up the device right away, and we had no problems pairing quickly.
Click to EnlargeFor a speaker this size, the sound offered by the BRV-1 is full, with reasonably strong bass and good overall balance. Vocals come through loud and clear, though any deep bass gets lost simply due to the speaker's size. Tracks such as Bob Dylan's "Man In the Long Black Coat" sounded clear and detailed enough, and the bass mostly retained the recording's intention. Funky tracks with horns, like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings' "Tell Me," have enough detail that none of the parts got pushed too far into the background, and modern-sounding R&B songs, like Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are," have plenty of sparkle in the highs and thump in the lows.
But there's a catch. With many tracks, the BRV-1's volume (wired or via Bluetooth) generally isn't loud enough to fill a room, let alone the great outdoors. The BRV-1 is best at providing a good listening experience from just a few feet away. Beyond that, the sound drops off pretty sharply. Throw on a track that's mastered to be very loud (any club hit, or modern R&B song), and you'll get some good volume, but at the price of noticeable distortion.
The BRV-1 also works as a Bluetooth speakerphone, but the audio isn't particularly clear. Braven estimates that the BRV-1's 1400 mAh battery will last up to 12 hours playing music.
Click to EnlargeIf you and one other person are going to be listening in close quarters in a potentially wet environment, the BRV-1 is a good choice. It's also not bad for travelers in hotel rooms. But if you're expecting to host a party, you'll want to spend extra money on something a bit larger and with more power, like the Jawbone Big Jambox ($299). If you've got to stick to the microspeaker form factor, the Monster ClarityHD ($199) offers a bit more sound for just a few bucks more. But if you're hanging out by the pool or going down the shore, the BRV-1 will keep playing even if it gets hit by an errant wave.