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We Gave These 3 Bluetooth Speakers “The Kayak Test”, and The Winner Was…

JBL, Altec Lansing and Braven all offer formidable Bluetooth speakers, but which is the best for a long day in the surf and sun?

Trent Kahnby Trent Kahn

Purchasing a portable Bluetooth speaker that claims to be waterproof comes with two main expectations: that it sound great and that it travel exceptionally well. The market is so awash with speakers of all variety that we took three models from three of the most popular brands and put them to “The Kayak Test”.

What is The Kayak Test? Well, as an avid weekend kayaker I’ve found that the average waterproof bluetooth speaker doesn’t take very kindly to all that the ocean brings: splashy saltwater, bumpy waves, unexpected fog and precipitation, as well as slippery wireless connections.

To see which waterproof speaker was best suited for some maritime rough housing, I took each of the models below on a couple trips to the sea, taking notes in regard to the speakers’ design, sound, and durability. Here’s how they stood up:

 

JBL Charge 3

JBL-INTERIOR1Normally, the ocean doesn’t cater to critical listening, however, with the JBL Charge 3, $129.95, I almost forgot I wasn’t at home in my own personal sound studio. The user interface is extremely easy and so was pairing.

JBL-vertical-INTERIORThe Charge 3 has great sound in all directions, but the speakers on the side feel too exposed to the elements. I gave them a hard tap while the unit was on, and they endured just fine, but exposed moving parts are typically the ones to become damaged first. Nevertheless, as far as sound goes, this was the loudest speaker I’ve encountered, and I’ve tried six total. It had the most bass of any model.

The speaker’s color coincidentally matched my kayak’s, which made some passersby noticeably jealous. The speaker is slightly heavier than the others, but the difference is so slight that it hardly factors in.

Mounting wise, the speakers was free to fly anywhere, but it didn’t because the ocean was calm. If the kayak were to flip, I’d lose the speaker, though. There was no way to mount it unless I used bungees or straps, which is easy to do.

The charge time was short, and the power exceeded two weekend kayak sessions; about 8 hours. This only brought the battery down to 80%, but this was also the first time it was used.

 

BRAVEN BRV-Pro

Braven-INTERIORThe BRAVEN BRV-Pro, $149.99, is the best designed speaker I’ve tried, purely in terms of looking cool. There’s an underlying Transformers theme to its manufacture which resonated with me even before opening the box, which is also cool and Transformers-like. The actual speaker itself points in one direction, unlike the multidirectional JBL and ALTEC models. It doesn’t lose many points for this though, since in a kayak, I was able to hear it just fine regardless of the direction it pointed.

Design wise, the Braven BRV has good inertia with super sticky feet  and many mounting options  Also, the buttons are far apart, which makes operating the thing much easier than the Altec model. I couldn’t get the battery to get below 80% after two days of kayaking, just like the JBL. The BRV also comes with what is by far the coolest feature I’ve seen on any waterproof speaker: a solar panel that can charge the unit and charge your phone with the power of the sun. Everybody likes that.

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Unfortunately, the speaker stopped working after three kayak trips, possibly due to my using the solar panel while on the water, which made the unit more vulnerable to water damage. There is an extremely small gap between the solar panel and speaker that may have led to its demise. But otherwise, this thing’s protected like a vault compared to any other unit I’ve used, which rely on flimsy pieces of plastic or rubber to protect its sensitive innards.

 

ALTEC LANSING Boom Jacket II

Altec-LansingThe ALTEC LANSING Boom Jacket II, $199.99, has multidirectional sound, so it’s a good speaker to place in the center of the tandem kayak used for this test.  Performance wise, I’d say it’s pretty standard: not too, too loud, but with strong treble.

In terms of design, the buttons are close together, leading me to accidentally unpair the speaker twice on the kayak. I do not have sausage fingers, so I’m fairly certain this would happen if someone else used the unit.

Battery wise, it didn’t run out after two days of kayaking, and I even left it on overnight. I was sure the battery would be out by the next day, but … nope. As far as durability goes, this feels tough. It’s skin is thick, I’d bet it could take the most abuse compared to the two other units. Again, I would never actually beat up these wireless speakers intentionally, because that would be ridiculous.

I did submerge this one all the way , and it’s very waterproof. I even shook it around underwater to let the water make contact with the speakers themselves, and there was no problem. This thing can take a beating, and is also mountable.