Buying a Bluetooth® Speaker

Anker Soundcore Motion+

Here’s another vaguely-tech review for the more trusting among you! I love my gadgets but I think it just an excuse to go shopping. I like to get new things. Then I play with them a few times. And then they gather dust on the shelf.
That’s why I like to buy good stuff … but it must be cheap!
This review has a value bias.

I love the evaluation process almost as much as the shopping. Very often it’s the more expensive, well-known brand names that float to the top. The top choices in my mind were all the leading brand names that we all know & love. But I had one dark horse in the race too … the Soundcore Flare+™, from Anker, a company that’s trying to provide a quality product at a lower price point. A good strategy in my book & for my pocketbook.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a Flare+ at the store to listen to, so I went home to read more about it. To see if I could justify buying it without giving it a listen first. Then I stumbled across a brand new Anker speaker, the Soundcore Motion+™. It had just been released. Despite it not being available anywhere in Canada (& that just made me want it more!), the specs looked so good that I felt this must be the one. I bought it off Amazon.com, & who cares about the extra shipping & cross-border charges, it was still a lot cheaper than the brand name contenders I’d been considering.

Basics
The Motion+™ is a fairly plain, black brick, measuring a little over 3 x 3 x 10 inches, and weighing in at a few ounces over 2 pounds. A little chunkier & heavier than a couple of 1 pound butter bricks, placed end to end. It’s simple, but I like the look. It’s a little too heavy & chunky for on-board luggage travel, but getting decent sound is difficult with anything much smaller than this. The sound quality was more important than portability for me. It has a couple of tweeters, two neodymium woofers, & passive radiators that push out 30W. Comparing products by spec, we’re somewhat stuck with the Wattage as the comparison. It might be better if we knew the relationship between decibles & watts for each speaker, but nobody does that for these little things so we tend to rely on, & compare, wattage. I had a 12W & a 15W speaker already & they weren’t doing it for me anymore. The 30W sounded like a big improvement. And it is.

Key Specs
The grill protecting the speakers is metal, the rest of the body is a grippy rubber that can attract oil from our fingers, along with the dust & dirt that sticks to that. But the thing is IPX7 waterproofed so it’s easy to wash clean. It will survive being left out in the rain & even being dropped into the low end of the pool. The brick is more wedge shaped, giving a 15° angle of tilt towards the listener. Not a bad thing, I guess, & it does look a little cooler because of it.

The frequency range is billed as 50Hz to 40kHz. That sounds great but even a young person with great hearing probably maxes out, at the top end, in the 18 to 20kHz range. My hearing drops off somwhere between 9 & 10kHz. Though you can still drive your dogs & cats crazy going higher!
But … there’s nothing wrong with having a “better” spec than the competition.

From a tech standpoint, & this is great for a lower cost brand, this thing comes with all the latest stuff. Charging is via USB-C, so it matches all the latest phone chargers. You get a charging cord in the box, but not the power brick. It comes with a Hi-Res Audio sticker, & sports Bluetooth 5, with Qualcomm’s aptX™, for better quality & higher bandwidth streaming. But what does that mean?

If you’re playing your own MP3 files, not much. Similarly, most streaming service music won’t be anywhere near the kind of quality that will challenge these specs & capabilities. In addition to supporting a fuller bandwidth, the other advantage of aptX™ is latency. That happens when we watch a movie on our phone, & listen to the soundtrack through the speaker. Latency is the lag between the voice & the lips, or when the sound is out of sync with the action on screen. Watching video, I couldn’t detect any lip-syncing lag.

No NFC on this speaker, but that’s not a requirement for me. The Bluetooth connection was fast & easy. I haven’t checked to see if the battery life matches the 12 hour spec but it’s hanging in there & doing its thing, day after day, without me having to run to the charger.

Should You Worry About All These Specs?
That depends!
If you play highly compressed music files, or if you stream music at the “normal” or even at the “high” quality levels of most streaming services, probably not. I tested a high quality WAV file & I couldn’t tell the difference between the Bluetooth & the AUX cable (a lossless analog transfer). In fact, I wasn’t sure that I could tell the difference between the WAV file & a more compressed version of the same track, so I used a 3rd party for a “blind” sound test. She could reliably tell the difference between the WAV track & the compressed version, with 100% success over 10 iterations. And though she confidently claimed that she could tell the difference between Bluetooth & the AUX connection … she was wrong more often than right!
Though, since there’s no light going on to tell me, I can only hope the aptX™ stuff on my phone was working for all those tests too! 🙂

Now … what does all this mean in the real world?

For those with better hearing, playing a higher quality audio file may matter. But probably not if you don’t listen to them both being flipped back & forth in quick succession.
It looks like aptX™ is doing the job too, since it’s more difficult to tell the difference between using Bluetooth and the analog AUX cable.
And since my test subject could tell the difference between the quality of audio files, it looks like this little sub-one hundred dollar speaker is doing the job too.
The bottom line with specs, however, is that it rarely hurts to have gadgets with the latest & best specs.

Despite differences in what each individual can hear, the sound is really nice, all the way from low volume, right up to the max. The max being pretty uncomfortable on the ear if you’re sitting too close, so I guess that 30W is plenty for a deck or poolside speaker. Anything above 50% has the neighbours casting wry glances my way! For my own entertainment, I’m comfortable with it around the 20% mark. And the fullness, the richness, the roundness of the sound the Motion+ produces is good throughout the volume range. Things don’t fall apart when it goes loud, & it’s a very pleasant listen at lower volumes too. All in all, I was happy I pulled the trigger, sight unseen, on this little thing. It is a lot of speaker for the money.

You can add a 2nd Motion+ to the mix if you want a broader stereo platform. And that doubles the volume so make sure you invite the neighbours to the party ahead of time.

The AUX input is located right next to the USB-C charging port. This area is the only weakness from a waterproofing standpoint, hence the heavy rubber plug which must be pried open when you want to charge the speaker. Or for when you want to connect your phone or music player by wire.

Soundcore App
The app isn’t bad & it handles all the basics pretty well. First thing it did when I fired it up was a 7 minute firmware upgrade. All went well. Next, you must flip through the entire product range ’til you get to the Motion+ so you can select it. I’d prefer a list for this, rather than all that swiping. After that, you can choose a sound profile or create a custom profile. There is a BassUp™ button on the speaker that has a corresponding sound profile in the app, either one gives you the same result. I wasn’t impressed with any of the standard presets, so I created the one you see in the top left of the pic. There’s not much logic here, it’s just what I liked. The speaker has two passive radiators, one front & back, but it doesn’t have a secret, hidden sub-woofer & that’s probably why I tend to boost the bass. My higher frequency hearing is shot, so I’m likely doing a placebo compensation thing at the higher end of the scale. I still can’t hear anything beyond 10 kHz but it makes me feel better! 🙂
You will need to play with this to find what suits your ear. The end result of playing with the EQ sliders was far more pleasing to me than any of the included standard presets.

The 2nd image in the above pic is the profile that matches Soundcore’s BassUp™ technology. This, apparently, adjusts the bass in real time but I felt the loss of the mid-range & upper reaches so I kept going back to my custom profile. The profile at the bottom of the pic is Voice. I use this one for listening to podcasts. Here again, I can get a result that is more pleasing to me by adjusting the custom profile. Unfortunately, you can only save one custom profile, so I left that adjusted to my preferred settings for music. Once you save it, & if it’s the last profile used, it comes back by default next time you power up the speaker.

I listen to a pretty full range of music … Latin, Irish, folk, pop, rock, country & so on … but I’ll occasionally dip into my classical & opera “hits” playlists. My custom profile needed some tweaks for opera & classical music, I was lowering the bass & raising the higher frequencies. Ideally, I would like to be able to adjust the existing standard profiles, or I would like to have maybe 3 custom profiles that I could name & save. That would give me one each for Music, Classical & Podcasts. Otherwise though, the app is simple, straightforward & does what is should do.

Summary
I bought the Motion+™ without hearing it & I got lucky! It’s a good solid speaker, with great specs, & it comes with a basic, but decent, app. Where it really delivers is in giving some great sound, along with great value.

Interestingly, it’s currently unavailable on Amazon. What does this mean!?!? Is it wildly popular already & sold out? Or is there something strange afoot here? Will it become an instant collector’s item?

I don’t know what’s going on, nor do I care … I like it & mine is not going back!

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