From the same people who brought us the ETBT201Y soundbase comes the Sond Audio EMBW-13Y31, a 2.1-channel Bluetooth speaker available from eBuyer.com. This stylish unit isn’t only designed with music streaming in mind – its auxiliary input, Movie mode and 30W subwoofer make it equally suitable as a speaker upgrade for your TV.
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Sond didn’t exactly endear itself to us with its cheap, plasticky soundbase, so we approached the EMBW-13Y31 with trepidation. We needn’t have worried – the EMBW-13Y31 is a well-made and attractive speaker, fashioned from higher-quality materials than expected.
Its curvy, modern looks will go down a treat in any living room, although at 500mm wide it commands more space than your typical Bluetooth speaker.
It’s heavy and robust, with a grey metal plate as its base and a curvy matte black rear end. From the front you can see a large slab of black speaker cloth and a cool ‘pilot lamp’ emanating from below, which denotes the selected input – blue for Bluetooth, blue/green for USB input and green for the aux input.
A gloss-black strip running along the top plays host to a row of soft-touch buttons, letting you select sound modes, adjust volume, switch inputs and control Bluetooth playback. Around the back is a 3.5mm minijack input for external devices and an airflow port for the subwoofer. It looks like there are two ports, but one is filled in – symmetry is clearly important to Sond.
The EMBW-13Y31 is a 2.1-channel speaker, which means there are two speaker drivers and a subwoofer to deliver deep bass notes. There’s 2 x 10W of amplification for the speakers and 30W for the subwoofer, which isn’t to be sniffed at – most Bluetooth speakers stick with straight stereo.
Of course Bluetooth is this speaker’s bread and butter and on that score it’s well-equipped – the supported profile is 4.0 with apt-X playback and NFC for easy pairing with compatible devices. The NFC touch point is on the front grille.
Another nice surprise is the provision of a USB port that lets you play music from storage devices. We shoved ours in the slot and disappointingly could only play MP3 and WAV files, but it’s better than nothing – most Bluetooth speakers don’t bother. The port can also be used to charge your phone and other devices, but not if they’re made by Apple.
The on-board digital signal processor offers two sound modes – Music and Movie, the latter supposedly offering a gentle widening effect.
The EMBW-13Y31 comes with a small remote that fits in the palm of your hand. It’s cheap and plasticky and the tiny buttons are fiddly, but in reality it poses few problems during day-to-day use. It’s also styled in a fetching gloss-black and silver scheme, which will look great on the coffee table.
The central silver ring offers volume and track skip keys, while dedicated Movie/Music mode buttons are found at the bottom. There’s also a ‘call reject’ button should those pesky PPI people bother you while streaming your tunes via Bluetooth.
In terms of sound quality the EMBW-13Y31 isn’t a world-beater – nor did we expect it to be – but even so we were incredibly impressed by its performance, particularly at this price.
What jumps out is the depth and richness of the sound, all made possible by that subwoofer. Music sounds warm and weighty, particularly uptempo material with funky basslines and thumping kick drums. Bass notes are tight, agile and well integrated.
We’ve tested plenty of Bluetooth speakers at this price that sound thin and unbalanced, so the Sond’s full, satisfying tones come as a pleasant surprise.
Where it falls down is its lack of finesse and sparkle in the high frequencies. Yes there’s a decent amount of detail and openness in the hi-hats and percussion, but it’s not crisp or clear enough to make your spine tingle like the best systems can. This is perhaps inevitable for the money, but it does illustrate the sort of sacrifices that have to be made when bagging a bargain.
However, vocals come through cleanly and the piercing trumpets and saxophones on Miles Davis’ jazz classic Kind of Blue don’t make you wince, even at loud volumes.
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Next we hooked our TV’s headphone output to the speaker’s minijack and played Edge of Tomorrow on Blu-ray. It does an excellent job, playing the frenetic beach drop scenes at a pleasingly loud volume (provided you go easy with your TV’s volume level, which can make it distort).
The explosions and thudding quadcopters sound big and beefy, machine gun fire from the mecha-suits is suitably feisty and shouty dialogue punches through. Ironically there’s more power on offer here than some dedicated soundbars and bases (Sond’s ETBT201Y and the Goodmans Aspect spring to mind).
On the downside, bass gets a bit boomy when there’s too much going on and the midrange is on the sharp side, but the bottom line is that is sounds louder and more dynamic than any TV, which at the end of the day is all the most buyers will care about. As for the movie mode, there’s a very slight widening of the treble but essentially it makes very little difference.
Well we didn’t see this coming. This little-known brand has come up trumps with an attractive, well-made and versatile Bluetooth speaker that doubles up as an impressive alternative to a soundbar. The built-in subwoofer ensures a rich, weighty sound when playing music and movies, while features like NFC and USB playback are a bonus.
On the downside it isn’t the most refined listen, lacking detail and composure where it counts, but there are enough positives elsewhere in its performance to make it money well spent, even at this relatively expensive price.
It’s flawed, but Sond Audio’s eye-catching speaker does a decent job as a Bluetooth player and soundbar alternative with its rich, beefy sound – and USB playback is a bonus.