I’ve always been impressed with the quality and volume of sound that portable speakers such as the well-known Bose Soundlink are capable of. With your eyes shut you could be forgiven for thinking you’re listening to a full Hi-Fi setup. Fitted with high-capacity rechargeable batteries you can take them anywhere and the built-in Bluetooth and 3.5mm jack lets anyone connect their smartphone or mp3 player so you can take it in turns being the DJ. This makes them perfect for beach parties, BBQs and all manners of indoor/outdoor gatherings. The only downside? Price. The latest model Bose Soundlink Mini II will set you back around £160!
I love music but I’m no audiophile so I set out to see what the Chinese manufacturers could produce and whether they are worth your hard-earned. I set an arbitrary spend limit of 30% of the value of the Bose Soundlink Mini II and decided to test two Chinese models on the following criteria: sound quality, volume, build quality, battery life, ease of use and features. The low price ceiling was to protect me if they turned out to be awful and, if they were any good, demonstrate the huge savings that can be made by not following the crowd. Both the Earson ER-160 and Eachine BAR are available from Banggood for under £22 delivered and so easily fall under the price limit!
To keep things simple I’m going to split this comparison review into three parts. To begin with we’ll look at the Earson ER-160 with a Eachine BAR review to follow. Finally a brief post comparing the features of these two Chinese models against each other and the Bose Soundlink Mini II will be uploaded so stay tuned and follow incompletegeek on twitter.
The Earson ER-160 “Mammoth” is an interesting choice and above all else it is designed to be durable. It boasts water resistance and is said to be dust proof, shock proof and scratch proof. Despite the heavy-industrial look it surprised me by being both light and well constructed. Rubber bumpers either side and a big rubber seal over the connectors and TF card slot mean that, although I’m not prepared to test it, I think it’s claims with respect to durability are probably not misplaced.
As always with new electronics I let the device charge until full before turning it on. Here I was greeted with a full volume announcement in Chinese. It was loud and as I don’t speak Chinese I spent a few minutes online checking to see if it can be changed to an English voice and made quieter. Good news on the language front but bad news on the volume, unfortunately there is no way to adjust the starting volume.
Let’s break here to let those who’ve bought a Earson ER-160 update the language and also show perspective buyers that it is pretty straightforward to change.
Download and extract this zip: Earson ER-160 to a folder on your PC.
Extract the MPTool_ER160_0425.rar from within this zip. This can be done to anywhere on your hard drive, I left mine in the downloads folder.
Right click on the MPTool.exe and choose run as administrator (choose Yes if a pop up appears). When MPTool starts up you will need to change a few settings:
1) At the bottom left of the window there is a drop down box. Change this from Chinese to English
2) The program needs to know the path to the ER160_SPC868C730_0520.bin file you also downloaded in the zip. Select the ‘…’ button on the middle-right and browse to this .bin file.
3) Make sure that the boxes for “Autostart” and “Autoreset” are checked, and leave the others blank.
To start uploading the new firmware to your speaker ensure it is switched off and plug the USB cable into your computer. Whilst holding the next song button (furthest to the right when looking at the “Earson” logo), plug the micro usb connector into the port on the speaker under the protective rubber flap. You should see a “driver installed” or similar pop up on your windows toolbar and the update starts will start immediately. It only, takes a few seconds and will keep on uploading the firmware again and again until you let go of the next song button. Once it has completed (you will see the status get to 100% and then the bar will go green) release the button and then disconnect the speaker.
As you can see, the above isn’t particularly difficult but it is a bit of a faff and Earson should have produced an app, or button combination, to allow you to change settings in the unit more easily. How does it rate in regards to the criteria I set previously?
You know what? It’s not bad. I had to adjust the equaliser settings on my phone to give the sound a bit more depth but the treble and mid level were pretty spot on. A side effect of the small stature of the Mammoth is that the base is slightly lacking but not devastatingly so. Overall I was pleased with both vocals and instrumentals sounding crisp and clear. I missed the base during some songs but only in genres such as dubstep and some dance tracks where the base heavy nature of the music requires a good low frequency response.
Wow, the ER-160 really shines in this category! The tiny speaker easily reached neighbour annoying levels and, with the unit’s volume set to 100%, sixty percent on my phone was more than enough to have me feeling a little guilty. The multiple speaker grills means that the ER-160 projects sound in every directions with a slight forward bias that makes it sound great whether in the middle of a group of people or sat on a table at the edge of the room. A big volume wheel on the right side (when looking at the Earson logo) provides easy adjustment and the quantity of sound this unit can produce belies it’s miniature dimensions.
I paid just £21.87 for my Earson ER-160 Mammoth and it honestly feels better made than the Bose. As I said before the unit felt sturdy yet light and exudes an indestructible aura. I wouldn’t feel comfortable dropping it in water but I definitely feel like it could survive a few minutes outside in a British Summer shower. Whereas I’d be very concerned if my Bose Soundlink fell off a table, I wouldn’t blink if the Earson fell out of a second story window. Whether this confidence is misplaced is another matter however!
The ER-160 claims two and a half hours at maximum volume but I’ve been getting a LOT more mainly as max volume is just so loud it is never needed. After 8 hours I’ve usually lost just a single battery status light! If you want longer life, or will be away from a charger, the ER-160 will charge from any 5V 500mA output such as a portable battery pack. Incompletegeek recommends the excellent Xiaomi 10000mAh power pack for this.
Ease of Use
I’ve covered the issue regarding the unit being sent set up for a Chinese market and also the solution so I won’t repeat it. The dual language instruction manual is pretty clear and the Bluetooth connected first time without problem. The unit includes four well labelled buttons on top that allow one push bluetooth setup, input source change (bluetooth, 3.5mm audio jack, USB and TF card), previous track and next track. There is a single bluetooth status LED and three battery level LEDs. The volume button doubles up as a Play/Pause button and also allows incoming phone calls to be answered through the Mammoth. Bottomline? I think I could give the Earson ER-160 to my grandmother to use without issue.
Whilst not as full featured as the Eachine BAR, the Earson Mammoth packs plenty of punch in terms of abilities. A microphone port on top of the unit allows it to be used as a hands free device for answering calls, a volume wheel makes adjustment easy without having to dig your phone out and TF card port is a great addition although bizarrely the “next” and “previous” track buttons reverse when in this mode. The box includes an 80cm 3.5mm jack cable and a 80cm charging USB cable (no wall adapter though). As you can tell from the main image it also comes with a carabiner making it ideal for hanging inside a tent or from a backpack whilst walking. The speaker comes in a rather nice box making it an ideal stocking filler this Christmas.
A full round-up will follow in Part 3 of this review summary but early indications are positive and I have to say I am hugely impressed with the Earson ER-160 Mammoth. Great sound, long battery life, competitively priced and all wrapped up in a durable case make this the one to beat this Christmas.