Portable speakers come in all shapes and sizes these days, and no brand proves that better than heritage rock audio company Marshall.
Since releasing the Marshall Kilburn II last year, the company has expanded its portable speaker lineup with the handbag-sized Stockwell II and the largest of the three speakers, the Marshall Tufton.
Like its smaller sibling, the Kilburn II, the guitar amp-style Tufton promises to combine rugged roadworthiness with multidirectional sound – but can it deliver?
Price and availability
The Marshall Tufton is costs $399 / £350 / AU$700, which is fairly expensive for a portable Bluetooth speaker and it’s the most expensive of Marshall’s portable speaker range – it’s not quite up there with the Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless, which costs $699 / £499 / AU$999, but it’s still a lot, especially when you consider our current favorite, the UE Boom 3 costs just $129.99 / £129.99 / AU$199.95 in comparison.
Like Marshall’s other speakers, the Tufton is designed to resemble a guitar amp, albeit one that’s been turned on its side.
With a microphone-inspired grille featuring the iconic Marshall logo in white script, rugged corner caps, and a leather-effect cabinet, the Tufton certainly plays up to the rock aesthetic,, as do the Kilburn II and Stockwell II.
For portability, the Tufton comes with a faux-leather guitar strap-inspired handle, with a plush red velvet underside and luxurious gold screws holding it in place. It’s not the lightest portable speaker we’ve tested, weighing in at just over 4.5kg / 10lbs, but it’s not so heavy that you’d struggle to get it from your car to a picnic spot – just don’t expect to comfortably carry the Tufton around all day at a festival.
Continuing the guitar amp theme are the dials on top of the speaker, which control the volume, bass, and treble levels of your music; as well as being aesthetically pleasing, the inclusion of physical dials gives music playback a tactile quality that’s really enjoyable.
The top of the speaker also features a small Bluetooth pairing button and an LED battery indicator, which we found really useful for checking how much charge we had left at a glance.
On the back of the speaker you’ll find a small circular grille that contributes to the Tufton’s multidirectional sound, and a mains power port covered by a rubber seal for protection when you’re on the move.
The speaker has an IPX2 rating, which means it can withstand dripping water; so it’s not exactly waterproof, but a spot of drizzle shouldn’t ruin your fun if you take it outside.
Features and performance
Marshall calls the Tufton “the king of the road”, and with the speaker offering over 20 hours portable playtime on a single charge, we think it’s a fair title.
It also boasts a ‘quick charge’ feature, which means a 20-minute burst will provide you with four hours of playback, which is handy if you need to head out with the Tufton at short notice.
Sound-wise, the Marshall Tufton is big, brash, and in your face, and can easily fill a room with sound with the volume turned up to halfway – all in all, it’s totally rock ‘n’ roll.
Thanks to the inclusion of three separate drivers in the front of the speaker, and one on the rear, the Tufton gives the impression of multi-directional sound, which is great if you want to stick it in the middle of a room for a party.
Another useful feature for party listening is multi-host functionality, which means you can switch between two Bluetooth devices and take turns playing songs with a friend.
We found the Bluetooth pairing process was generally straightforward – you simply need to turn the volume dial to switch the Tufton on, and then press the Bluetooth button to put it into pairing mode.
Once paired, we tested the speaker with Gorillaz’ Dirty Harry; the pounding bass sounded full but not muddy, while the rap vocals sounded punchy and clear, with just enough grain to give them an edge.
The highest-frequency percussion occasionally sounded a bit harsh, but that’s almost to be expected from a rock-inspired speaker; it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted, and if you often suffer from listening fatigue after prolonged music sessions, you may want to look elsewhere as harsh high frequencies can exacerbate this.
While we were impressed by the liveliness of the Tufton’s presentation, the mid frequencies were sometimes lost amongst the treble and bass; we’d ideally like to hear more of the sweeping strings that underpin the attacking rap vocals in the above track.
As a rock-inspired speaker, we were expecting the Tufton to excel in its presentation of guitar music – and it delivered in spades. Overdriven guitar riffs sounded full, assertive, and ostentatious in Fat White Family’s Touch the Leather, while the drawled vocals commanded the room.
Again, the highest frequencies occasionally sounded harsh to our ears, but we enjoyed the fierce sound of the drums. The mid frequencies also sounded recessed, and we felt some of the vocal harmonies in the chorus of this track were overly subdued.
The Marshall Tufton handles acoustic sound just as well as it handles raucous rock and thunderous hip hop. The soft harp tones of Joanna Newsom’s Sprout and the Bean sounded impressively delicate, while her voice was strong, clear, and resonant.
As mentioned, using the treble and bass dials to manipulate the sound adds an authentic rock n roll feel to the listening experience, and they’re useful if you find the bass a little heavy for your liking – even so, we found the audio quality was at its best when both dials were set to the middle.
Despite its relatively high price, the Tufton doesn’t come with voice assistants like Google Assistant or Alexa built in, so you won’t be able to use it as the control hub for your smart home.
As the largest device in Marshall’s portable speaker range, the Tufton certainly packs a sonic punch, with rich bass and crystal clear trebles – although we found mid frequency sound sometimes became lost in that lively mix.
Its bass isn’t as muddy as the output of its smaller sibling, the Kilburn II, but the Tufton isn’t as easily portable due to its larger size – if you’re looking for something you can lug around all day, you’re better off sticking to the more compact model.
The retro guitar amp-inspired design may not appeal to everyone, but rock fans will probably love the use of tactile control dials instead of buttons, and the guitar strap-style carrying handle.
It’s undeniably expensive at nearly $400, and it doesn’t come with modern conveniences like voice control – but if you have some money to burn and you love that rocking aesthetic and soundstage, the Tufton could be a fantastic investment for listening at home and on the road.
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