Marshall Kilburn review

Vintage looks with excellent sound

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Our Verdict

The Marshall Kilburn is a wildly unique Bluetooth speaker that, despite some obvious flaws, we can’t help fall in love with. That said, the retro styling and superb sound will appeal to those looking for a conversation piece.

For

  • Louder than you'd expect
  • Bass and treble controls
  • Earth-pounding bass

Against

  • Not as portable as competition
  • Doesn’t take phone calls
  • No playback controls

Marshall, most known for its black-and-gold liveried guitar amps, has moved into the headphone and speaker space. To that end, the company has a line of wired and wireless headphones like the Marshall Major II and Marshall Mid – and now a set of Bluetooth speakers, the Marshall Stockwell and the Marshall Kilburn, the speaker we’re talking about today.

While the Bluetooth speaker market is saturated with a plethora of options, Marshall has created a line of speakers that will appeal to the design and fashion conscious, just as much as it will to the audiophile crowd.

Although some fashion-focused products may sacrifice performance for looks, we’re happy to report that the Marshall Kilburn sounds as good as it looks. 

Design

You’re either going to immediately fall in love with the Kilburn’s design or scoff and dismiss it as a product of pure nostalgia. If you fall into the later camp, we urge you to turn the knobs, touch the brushed metal finishing and velvet strap to see if you change your mind. 

The speaker is styled after Marshall’s iconic guitar amps and features two tweeters and a single woofer crammed its rather large 242 x 140 x 140mm chassis. Weighing in at 3 kg (6.6 lbs), this isn’t a speaker you’ll want to take with you on a road trip, but what you sacrifice in portability you gain in performance. 

On the front of the Kilburn you’ll find the iconic Marshall logo and an woven grille that you’ll find on the company’s guitar amps – a nice throwback for those of us who spent our youth playing instruments in the garage. 

On top you’ll find all of the controls and inputs which are finished in brushed metal. The controls you’ll find here are both gorgeous and a pleasure to use, featuring just the right resistance that evokes vintage audio gear while still having all the modern conveniences like a Bluetooth pairing button.

Flip the on switch up and you’ll be able to select either the aux input or Bluetooth to use. If you’re using Bluetooth, press the Pair button and find the Kilburn in your device’s Bluetooth menu. 

But here’s where we found a weird quirk: in order to charge the Kilburn, you have to plug the power cord into the wall and turn the speaker on. You’ll also need to use the included IEC C7 power cable to charge as there are no USB ports whatsoever. This means the Kilburn won’t charge your phone either.

If that’s what you’re looking for, however, Marshall’s smaller Stockwell speaker does act as a power bank for your phone and is much more portable.

Performance

Since the Marshall Kilburn has independent bass and treble controls, it’s hard to comment on the neutrality of the speaker as users can tailor the sound to their tastes. For our tests, we set the bass and treble to 50% and the Kilburn blew us away with powerful bass, shimmering highs and a good sense of space. 

If you’re tired of portable Bluetooth speakers with anemic bass response, you’re going to love the Kilburn. The speaker is capable of a frequency response of 62-20,000Hz. For comparison, the UE Boom 2 that we love has a frequency response of 90-20,000Hz. That extra low end extension lets bass heavy songs shine with floor rattling power. You can feel just how much air the Kilburn is moving by placing your hand in front of the rear bass port. 

Battery life is rated for 20 hours of playback and our testing found that number to be spot on. Should you find that your battery seems to be holding less charge than it once did, one neat feature Marshall built into the Kilburn is the ability to replace its battery – most competing speakers are sealed, so once the battery dies you have to chuck the entire speaker. 

Final verdict

The Marshall Kilburn might not appear to be the best choice in Bluetooth speakers. It’s large, heavy, doesn’t have USB charging and isn’t waterproof. Plus, $299 (£239, about AU$390) is a lot to pay for a Bluetooth speaker. 

But none of this matters because the Kilburn sounds so darn good. 

Throughout our week of testing, we fell in love with the Kilburn’s design, feel and pristine sound quality. There’s no other portable Bluetooth speaker on the market quite like it. It’s a head turner and conversation piece. It’s a piece of audio art that you’ll be proud to show off to your friends during a party. 

In a sea of look-alike speakers that all sound fairly good, the Marshall Kilburn separates itself from the pack with its vintage styling and killer sound. If design and audio performance are your two most important criteria for a Bluetooth speaker – and they should be – the Kilburn is near perfect. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lewis Leong is a freelance writer for TechRadar. He has an unhealthy obsession with headphones and can identify cars simply by listening to their exhaust notes.