Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Tech Review: Bowers & Wilkins T7 Portable Bluetooth Speaker

Bowers & Wilkins, generally known as purveyors of hi-fi (seriously hi-fi) products with equally high aesthetics to match, entered the portable Bluetooth speaker foray last November, with the introduction of the T7 Bluetooth speaker. Featuring and proudly displaying the company's first commercial application of its honeycomb-structured Micro Matrix technology for greater cabinet support, the aptX-capable speaker uses two 50mm drivers with patent-pending force-cancelling high-output bass radiators (all them hyphened phrases... someone hold me please), supported by DSP and DAC modules, and high quality Class D amplifiers (you know... whatever they mean).

Designed with B&W's signature minimalism, the slim yet solid rectangular block features no more than a power button and battery level indicator on the right, volume, play/pause and Bluetooth connection buttons on top, and discreet charging, auxiliary input and Micro USB ports, along with a reboot button.

Battery life is impressive. I only charged it once, mistakenly as it turns out, since the battery was already almost full. And being the cluttered anti-minimalist that I am I fiddled about for a good 5 minutes before discovering the power button, along with the battery level indicator. Since then, I have used the speaker in approximately 5 half hour sessions at rather high volume, and have not had to charge the speaker. Its specifications boast up to 18 hours of battery life "at normal listening levels".

So let's get down to what this review really is about - does the T7 live up to the grand legacy of its older siblings? Yes, but not without its caveats.

The bottom line - sound is great. Said audio drivers were not developed and chosen lightly, and they throw sound far and forward quite commendably. Sound is clean and crisp, great across the board, but especially fantastic for jazz, be it quartet, big band or electric-style. Stereo separation is almost non-existent, but I've come to not expect that in a portable speaker anymore, except perhaps the X-mini Max (feel free to surprise me though).

My biggest problem with it? The lack of bass. The sleek and compact design ultimately took its toll on low-frequency resonance, and as far as I'm concerned anyway, the otherwise fantastic sound quality just makes the absence of bass even more apparent.

Fortunately, I stumbled upon a solution before completely writing the device off. While there is insufficient bass resonance, the speaker does still have good acoustic throw, and that applies to bass too. By setting it on my window ledge, I inadvertently turned the recessed space framing the ledge into a massive bass cabinet. If you have purchased the speaker and are fretting about this, find yourself a window ledge, cubby hole, or shelf measuring ideally 1 meter across diagonally - the squarer the space the better. Place your T7 approximately 40cm away from the wall of the space, step 2-3 meters back, and hear the difference for yourself. And if you are considering the T7, keep this in mind before cashing in. Alternatively if you aren't fussy about bass, and who am I to judge, even though I already am, then why not. Go right ahead.

The T7 is available now for S$590 at authorised dealers.