The portable Bluetooth speaker market has exploded over the last few years, with products in every price point - under $20, under $50, under $100, under $200, under $500 and up.
At each price point comes the usual variations in design, style, finish, materials, battery life, sound input and other features.
The House of Marley's
portable Liberate BT speaker was clearly designed to score highly in all of the above mentioned areas, setting it apart from cheap (or expensive) plastic-clad units that vie for your attention and your dollars.
You can tell this is likely to be the case just by looking at the packaging and the image on the box, but with the proof always in the pudding, getting the Liberate BT out of its package was eagerly anticipated.
When you do open the box up, you're greeted with a piece of corded fabric letting you slide the internal box out, upon which is material that looks like semi-transparent kitchen grease paper and the big black bold words "LIBERATE YOUR SOUND" printed on the front.
Lifting this flap up uncovers the package that is the Liberate BT, wrapped in a protective white plastic bag. Underneath this is a USB charging cable, and two booklets for warranty info and basic setup instructions.
Getting the Liberate BT out of its wrapping unveiled a wedge shaped object that sits nicely in your hand with decent heft, meaning it doesn't feel too light or too heavy.
The front of the speaker has an aluminium grille with circular holes cut out almost in a honeycomb-style pattern, along with a Marley logo that lights up in blue to indicate the speaker is on and is paired, with this logo also able to light up in red which happens when you turn the Liberate BT on.
Click to enlarge
|The Liberate BT Bluetooth speaker with microphone|
The logo stays red if it isn't paired with any Bluetooth device and indicates the "auxiliary input" mode is on, where you can supply your own 3.5mm audio cable to plug into the side of the speaker and connect to the headphone socket of any audio device.
Under that metal grille are what Marley calls "four high-output, long-throw 2-inch woofers" which, as we discovered, certainly can pump out some loud sound.
The speaker itself is wrapped in Marley's "exclusive" recycled canvas-style material named "Rewind", which is actually made from reclaimed hemp, organic cotton and recycled plastic bottles.
The back of the speaker's wedge shape has four buttons - power, a Bluetooth pairing button, volume up and volume down.
The Bluetooth pairing button also serves as a play/pause button when music is playing, and can also be used to answer and end phone calls.
The flat edge of the rear wedge has a strip of bamboo with the "MARLEY" logo laser-engraved onto it, while the bottom part of the wedge has the usual product information with model number, country of manufacture and other logos.
On the left hand side of the speaker's wedge is a flap that covers the aforementioned 3.5mm audio input socket, while the right hand side has a similar flap which covers the USB charging port.
There's also a hidden feature not listed anywhere on the box or in the instruction manual - there's a microphone hidden somewhere on the device, transforming the Liberate BT from "just" a wireless speaker into a wireless handsfree Bluetooth speakerphone.
Marley's website does list the Liberate BT as also being a speakerphone, but unless you look for it you might miss it, then thinking it is a speaker only when this is definitely not the case.
We tested this out by making a call, putting the phone in an adjoining room and having a clear conversation through the Liberate BT, with our voice coming through clearly at the listener's end - as expected.
So, what does it sound like? Well, we played a selection of tracks, from dance music through to old classics, and were suitably impressed at the volume this little speaker can deliver.
We did notice that if you want maximum sound you need to ensure that the volume is up on the device you're playing from AND you need to press the volume up button on the speaker itself, which made the music even louder.
Normally the volume controls on Bluetooth devices control the volume on the device the music is playing from, but that's not the case with the Liberate XT.
I actually prefer things to work this way because I then have two independent volume controls - those on my device, and those on the speaker.
However this may trap those who don't realise the Liberate BT's controls are independent and who have the volume maximised on their devices, thinking that's as loud as the Liberate BT goes, as I've seen online in one of the Amazon customer reviews for this speaker.
The truth is that it really can go loud, louder than some of the other Bluetooth speakers I've used in the past, so I was definitely pleased to hear Marley was able to pump up the volume to really get your house party started.
Naturally, a dedicated hi-fi system with big speakers is going to produce even better sound than this portable speaker, but Bluetooth portable speakers are meant to be just that: portable.
If they have big sound so much the better, as it makes the speaker that much more versatile given smaller speakers just won't be able to match the volume output - unless they're something like the Bose portable Bluetooth speakers which can also pump out loud sound, but at a higher price.
Its dimensions are 4.45cm Height x 7.36cm Width x 21.85cm Depth.
Available at retail for $199.95, The House of Marley's Liberate BT portable Bluetooth speaker adds design flair, loud sound, easy to use controls, long battery life, sturdy yet recycled construction materials and the cachet of the Bob Marley brand.