The super cool Marshall brand is best known for its black and gold guitar amps. But over the past few years, it’s made a big move into the headphone and speaker arena, and most importantly, has managed to compete with some of the biggest and more well-established audio brands that have been dominating the market for decades.
Marshall has a line of wireless and wired headphones, we like the Marshall Mid ANC and Marshall Major III Bluetooth headphones. As well as a number of Bluetooth speakers, including the Marshall Stockwell, the multi-room Marshall Acton and the Marshall Kilburn, the speaker we’re taking for a test drive today.
Although competition is fierce in the Bluetooth speaker market, Marshall has dreamed up a range of speakers firmly aimed at the design and style conscious, just as much as those who are focused solely on audio specs.
Some fashion-focused products are guilty of sacrificing high quality performance for looks, but the Marshall Kilburn sounds just as good as it looks.
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.
You can choose between a black or cream finish (we've got the black one pictured here). There's also a Kilburn Steel option, which comes just in black, has a more metallic finish and switches out the gold logo on the front for a silver one.
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.
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 anaemic 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 and the JBL Charge 3 has a frequency response of 63-20,000Hz.
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.
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.
If you really are in the market for a waterproof speaker that's super portable and will withstand knocks as it pumps out the bass around a pool, this isn't the one for you. Try the JBL Charge 3 instead, just don't complain to us that it's not as stylish.
At $299 (about AU$400), the Marshall Kilburn is a lot to pay for a Bluetooth speaker. Even though it's worth mentioning that it's significantly cheaper at £159 in the UK version of the Marshall website, which feels like a much better price point for the state of the market.
But none of this matters because the Kilburn sounds really good.
Throughout our week of testing, we fell in love with the Kilburn’s design, feel and pristine sound quality. There are few other portable Bluetooth speakers on the market that tick all of those boxes - even though it's a few years old now.
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.