We’ve seen our fair share of speaker tech here at Stuff HQ, from the crummy to the incredible. Braven’s rugged-looking, rubber-clad BRV-HD falls far nearer the incredible end than the crummy one, with one or two caveats, but more on that later.
We’ve got the power
The BRV-HD pretty closely resembles a brick, both in dimensions and weight. At 1.8kg, it’s one of the heftiest portable speakers we’ve tested, but that’s no doubt largely due to its massive 8,800mAh battery, and makes it feel like a premium piece of kit. In addition to allowing for up to 28 hours of playback time, the battery can also be used to charge devices like smartphones, tablets and compact cameras via the built-in USB port. This could prove handy when out and about, but we’d be disinclined to lug the BRV-HD around more than necessary — it’s great for a day in the park it’s probably not going to make it into your backpack for a hike.
Rubberised and splash proof
Wrapped in black, shock-proofing rubber with aircraft-grade aluminium grills back and front and an IPX3 rating (making it splash proof, but not submergible), the BRV-HD is tougher than many of its rivals, but again, the weight makes us wonder how likely it is to actually end up in the sort of inclement conditions it’s dressed for. Still, it’s somehow comforting knowing it’ll survive a trip to the beach if ever we’re inclined to lug it to one.
Plays well with others
Pairing a new Bluetooth device is as simple as holding the play button down for a few seconds, after which a sonar-like pulse is emitted to let you know it’s ready to connect. Being Bluetooth, the BRV-HD’s range is around 10m and there’s a slight delay from hitting play to hearing the audio, meaning it’s not going to be any good for video, but then, that’s not really what it’s designed for. It’s also possible to play music using the included auxiliary cable and accompanying port housed beneath the rubber flap on the right-hand side of the unit that’s also home to the charging port, USB port and charge indicator lights and button.
Though there’s no support for Wi-Fi, Airplay or other wireless protocols, it’s possible to connect two Braven BRV-HDs for a proper stereo experience. We only had one unit to test and so couldn’t test this feature, but we didn’t miss it — separation is superb despite the proximity of the pair of drivers.
There’s also a built-in microphone should you wish to use the Braven as a giant speakerphone. We found call quality acceptable at best — incoming audio was muddy, and we sounded faint to the person on the other end of the call — but as it’s not the sort of feature we’d use often we don’t really think it’s worth docking too many points over.Listen up
What really impressed us about the Braven BRV-HD also happens to be the most important thing about a portable speaker: the way it sounds. For a pretty compact unit the speaker cranks out fierce sound, resisting distortion amazingly well even at higher volumes than any sensible person who values their ability to hear in their old age would likely use it at. As mentioned earlier, the stereo effect is impressive, and bass, mids and highs are all crisp and perfectly balanced.
Holding down the + and – buttons at same time for a couple of seconds turns SRS WOW digital signal processing on or off. For most music we found this improved the sound quality, but only moderately, meaning you could quite happily own the Braven for years without knowing about this feature (we didn’t know about it until we read the manual to see if there was anything we’d missed).
So, what did we use to test the audio quality? Only one of Stuff’s best-tracks-for-testing-sound-gear playlists, which includes Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Skrillex’s Bangarang, Jay-Z’s 99 Problems, A$AP Rocky’s Holy Ghost, Joshua Bell playing Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, and a few pipe band tracks (mostly to scare our office neighbours). The Braven performed equally well regardless of what we threw at it.
After a few weeks with Braven’s latest offering we finally found a few interface things we didn’t like. First, unlike most portable speakers that charge via microUSB, the BRV-HD uses a proprietary cable, meaning another transformer block and cable to add to your luggage if you’re taking it away on holiday with you.
Second, the five buttons on the top of the device (Power, call answer, play, volume up and volume down) are so shallowly embossed they’re impossible to distinguish by feel alone and tough to see in anything other than great light.
There’s also no accompanying mobile app which, while hardly a deal breaker, would be helpful for getting a more accurate sense of how much battery is left than the five indicator lights, would allow for a greater range of audio profiles or settings and could be used to add features down the line via software or firmware updates.
Aside from its weight, the only complaint we can level at the Braven BRV-HD is its price. At R4,000 it’s not excessive, but it’s definitely in the upper range of speakers in its class. Especially when you consider Jawbone’s ageing-but-still-outstanding Big Jambox can be had on Amazon (assuming you can get someone to ferry it to South Africa for you, that is) for around $160 these days, and there are any number of lighter-weight devices with comparable audio quality out there.
Nonetheless, there’s far more to like about and recommend the BRV-HD than to dislike or count against it. It’s a well-made, good-looking, excellent-sounding beast of a speaker that should survive a fair amount of roughhousing. Don’t let the cheesy promo video below put you off.