The thing with some of the best Bluetooth speakers is that looks do matter – and just look at the Marshall Emberton II. Now imagine pulling it out of your bag to the delight of your crew.
As a self-confessed audio snob ('audiophile' is a word I toy with but ultimately shy away from) it's difficult to reconcile oneself to the sonic limitations of a one-box speaker solution smaller than a nice bottle of wine. Then again, better shared music than no music at all, right? And if this is what you desire, we want you to have the best-in-show.
Bluetooth speakers are sociable beasts, meant to be enjoyed with friends (that's exactly what our best party speakers buying guide is all about) and, like the music we play on them, they can feel like an extension of our identities and personalities.
And my trusted companion for such on-the-fly events (picnics, long bus journeys, gatherings in a kitchen devoid of smart speaker) has long been the JBL Flip 6, or, for an even smaller solution, the Tribit Stormbox Micro 2.
These products sound far better than their dimensions suggest – both gained glowing reviews from this publication – but the best that can be said of them and their fabric jackets looks-wise is that they don't offend.
Since May 2022 however, there's been a new kid on the block – the one you see beside my JBL Flip 6, above. I took one look at its real metal control knob, gold-tone name plate, hard black grille and red battery indicator and knew my trusty JBL warrior was in trouble.
Opinion: this Marshall is far from style over substance
And the thing is, the Emberton II isn't just another looker that's all talk and no trousers. It boasts a whopping 30-hour battery life, which is more than double the stamina of the JBL Flip 6, which maxes out at 12 hours.
But the Flip 6 is probably more powerful, no? No, you're actually getting the same 20W output.
Under that hard black grille and snakeskin-style rubberised casework (which actually comprises 50% post-consumer recycled plastic from used electronics, water bottles and automotive light covers, and is 100% PVC-free) you've also got app support with three EQ presets, Blueooth 5.1 and dual device pairing, dual 10W two-inch full range drivers plus two passive radiators, and an IP67 rating – so it's waterproof and dustproof too.
A quick 20-minute charge before you head out will give you four hours of playtime for the evening, and there's a new 'stack' mode to pair more of them to beef up the audio – it's all very rock n roll.
And the price? $169 / £149.99 (which is around AU$265), so although it's a little more expensive than my JBL Flip 6, (at $129.95 / £129.99 or about AU$175 at launch, in December 2021) it's still pretty competitive. And it looks far more expensive than it is.
Two things strike me about the Marshall Emberton II. Firstly, the control knob is really very good. Usually, I forego on-device Bluetooth speaker controls in favor of my phone, but here I revel in track skips and volume alterations using just this knob.
Secondly, the volume indicator is really cool, and very useful – something I'd love to see on my JBL Flip 6 that isn't there currently.
And the sound? During a morning in the office with it, I felt that my JBL Flip 6 edged the Marshall Emberton II for midrange clarity and cutting through noise. It's also a little more energetic through the bass. But the Marshall Emberton II is far from poor for audio, offering a detailed, omnidirectional, musically integrated hi-fi sound.
The traditional Japanese koto played by David Bowie in Moss Garden feels marginally more textured and three-dimensional through the Marshall, for example, and Brian Eno's synthesizer feels just a touch more present and impactful under close scrutiny.
Obviously this is not a full-fat review – for that, I'd need to test it in various settings for several days. But the point is, the Marshall Emberton II isn't a slacker sonically (and I confess, given its looks, I had worried it might be).
Did I take it out over my JBL Flip 6 recently? I did. And I'm not sorry either.
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Becky is a senior staff writer at TechRadar (which she has been assured refers to expertise rather than age) focusing on all things audio. Before joining the team, she spent three years at What Hi-Fi? testing and reviewing everything from wallet-friendly wireless earbuds to huge high-end sound systems. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, Becky freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 22-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance starts with a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo and The Stage. When not writing, she can still be found throwing shapes in a dance studio, these days with varying degrees of success.