I think it's fair to say that if you want a Bluetooth loudspeaker to stream music from your phone or player, the marketplace is somewhat generous with its choices. To stand out and be noticed, manufacturers need to add something extra to the pot – such as being able to change shape like the novel Transformative Bluetooth Hi-Fi System or really feeling the beat with the ONBEAT-X1 portable speaker. Taiwan's Yantouch has taken a decidedly more visually-stimulating route with its third-generation Black Diamond speaker, and Gizmag spent the last few weeks being mesmerized by its stunning light show.
On the face of it, all generations of the Black Diamond look very similar, but each new edition has brought more functionality. The first 1,500 color-cycle LED mood lamp packed a USB charger and touch control. The next offered a passive amplifier for a docked iPhone, to bump up the smartphone's audio output by about 2.5 times while also charging the device. The Black Diamond III (BD3) brings Bluetooth audio streaming to the table. The available color palette has been increased to 16 million, and the various effects from the onboard RGB LEDs are nothing short of stunning.
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In the box
- Black Diamond III Bluetooth loudspeaker/light
- Combination USB charging and 3.5 mm audio cable
- AC-to-USB power adapter
- User guide
The 128 x 130 x 119 mm (5 x 5.1 x 4.7 inch), 700 g (1.5 lb) BD3 is fronted by a diamond-like plastic shell attached to a glossy black base. Beneath the smoked transparent face is a glittering light diffuser dome covering seven sets of front-mounted LED lights and one more set at the back. To the rear is a slot for the remote, a bass port and a mini-USB charging port ... and that's about it. There are no external controls whatsoever.
The BD3 comes with an IR remote powered by a CR2025 lithium cell. In addition to output volume, its top section can be used to control playback on the paired music player. The lower section takes care of the lighting and effects. Since you won't be able to actually do very much without the remote, it's advisable to safely store it in the slot provided when not in use.
The unit features Bluetooth 3.0 + EDR with an effective range of around 10 meters (33 ft) and benefits from auto-pairing. If your music player doesn't have Bluetooth, fear not. The USB power cable also sports an audio cable ended by a 3.5-mm jack (though the instructions advise against powering the speaker from the device that's providing the music).
The BD3 throws out the tunes from two 1-inch speakers rated at 3 W each, which are located at either side (and slightly to the back) of the base. Unfortunately, though the manufacturer advises against touching the exposed speakers, it is rather difficult not to at least brush them as you pick up the unit and your fingers naturally head for the bowling-ball-like holes in the housing. A built-in equalizer is claimed to improve the audio response by 10 dB.
Let there be light
Pairing with a Bluetooth device is easy enough. On the source device, the BD3 is shown in the list of available devices. Less than a second later a blue LED will flash and a short tone will sound to confirm the connection, then the music will start pumping out and the lights will begin to dance.
Using the remote, you can cycle through eight primary colors, choose the dazzling rainbow, aurora or pupil effects, or select one of three tempo modes that pulse the lights to the beat of the music. Personally, I think that the light show is at its finest at the lower end of the adjustable brightness range. Turn it up too high and the whole shebang goes white, which is not bright enough to read by but is sufficient to brighten up the corner of the room.
To say that the BD3 is not the most powerful Bluetooth loudspeaker available is perhaps being a little generous. It's of a similar overall size to the Q2 Internet Radio I reviewed back in December 2010, but the audio quality is not nearly as good, nor as loud. Despite the diagonal bass resonance tube at the back (from which you can actually feel the low end thump if you hover your fingers over its mouth), every track was sadly lacking in bass presence.
By way of example:
- Burning Beard by Clutch actually sounded decent enough, though it lacked depth. The throaty vocals and gritty guitar were brought forward in the mix, and were crisp and clear, but the obvious lack of low end thunder made for a rather pedestrian listening experience
- Joe Satriani's Flavor Crystal 7 sounded a little better. Rather unusually for the guitar great, this track verges on dance music and as such, fast-paced percussion features heavily. Again a little light on the lower frequencies but not too shabby
- The wonderful vocal on Black Milk by Massive Attack came through loud and clear but the driving bass line didn't, resulting in one of the least pleasant listening experiences with this speaker
- A test favorite, Pat Metheny's perfectly balanced Cathedral in a Suitcase rather took me by surprise. There was fairly good separation and, as this track is fairly light on the lower frequencies anyway, enjoyment through the BD3 was not compromised by a lack of thump
- The bass-heavy Gasoline from South Africa's Seether was again let down by the BD3's poor bass response. Additionally, I felt that the high frequencies were just a bit too evident, giving the cymbals much more prominence than they deserved
The bottom line
Overall the BD3 does not offer the best audio reproduction I've experienced from a Bluetooth speaker, but it's not bad either. The output is clear, the mid-range to treble end come through well, but it just doesn't make the most of the available air for the lower frequencies to break free. Tweaking the music player's EQ does help a little, but I feel that this is something that you shouldn't really need to be doing.
The Yantouch speaker more than makes up for its mediocre audio performance with its lighting wizardry. Yes, it's a bit gimmicky, but everyone who has encountered the speaker during the review period has warmed to this aspect ... including me.
If adding a splash of color to your streaming audio experience is on your "To Do" list, then the BD3 has you covered. If audio quality and volume are your main buying criteria, however, you'll probably need to look elsewhere.
The Black Diamond III is manufactured by Yantouch and distributed in the U.S. by Acase. It's been given a recommended retail of US$199.99, which translates to a street price of $120.
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