It’s inevitable that any review of the Braven 650 portable Bluetooth speaker compares it to JawBone’s JamBox, and so will this one. Short answer? The Braven sounds better. Long answer? That’s a bit more complicated.
The JamBox is the deserved king of this market, mostly because it invented it, it sounds great, and nobody has yet come close to the combination of design, sound and features. Like the JamBox, the Braven is a small rectangular box with stereo drivers inside, a Bluetooth or wire connection, and a cute line in startup and shutdown sounds.
Unlike the JamBox, the Braven can’t be programed with different apps, doesn’t talk to you when low on power in the middle of the night (thank God) and doesn’t have a fancy 3-D Live Audio setting.
It is, however, made from drilled aluminum, can share its battery power with another device via a second, full-sized USB port and can be daisy-chained with other speakers via an audio-out port.
The Braven is both lighter and louder than the JamBox, and the sound stays clear all the way up to the maximum. It is also a little bigger, but you can easily carry it any place you’d carry its rubber-topped rival.
It also packs a few functions that the JamBox doesn’t have. Aside from acting as a backup battery and daisy-chaining the audio, it can also control a Bluetooth source. When listening to music from your iPhone or iPad, you tap the "phone" button to play/pause tracks, and long-press the volume buttons to skip. You can also use the phone button to answer incoming calls.
But the main test of a speaker is how it sounds, and the Braven sounds great. In a head to head with the JamBox, it’s hard to tell which is better. Flipping between them from my iPad (thanks, AirPlay!) I found the bass on the JamBox to be a little more pronounced, but its overall sound is harsher and more processed.
The Braven initially sounds more boring, but this is disproved during longer listening. If you think of these speakers as HDTVs in a big box store, the JamBox is the one in demo mode, with the colors all cranked up to 11, and the Braven is the one set up how you’d actually want it at home.
Its sound is open, warm and seems to neither rush along nor be stilted. It also gets louder than the JamBox. On pure sound quality, then, the Braven wins.
But if you’re watching movies on your iPad, you might well prefer the JamBox. When you’re watching a show that has a decent stereo soundtrack, the JamBox’s Live Audio feature is just stunning. The Lady and I had to pause an episode of The Sopranos the other night to check that the fire alarm we could hear was real or not. It wasn’t. For awesome surround sound in a tiny package, the JamBox totally the way to go.
Another small difference between the speakers comes when using multiple devices. The JamBox can be set to pair with up to two devices at once, but in practice it doesn’t really work, and you’re left switching Bluetooth on and off to make it talk to the right source. The Braven just plays audio from whichever device happens to be sending it now. It’s much cleaner.
And finally, the daisy-chaining. You can hook up any speaker (the JamBox works great), or you can buy a pair of Bravens. Either way, you get the same sound from both — there’s no fancy stereo business going on here. The result is a louder and fuller sound, but probably not as loud and full as you’d get if you spent the $380 on a single speaker.
Then again, if you hook this up to a big sound system, then it effectively doubles up as a Bluetooth AirPlay receiver, which is a nice extra.
The only real problems come with the physical design. The control buttons are all tiny and all the same size. They are also on one end of the speaker, so you can’t really see what you’re pressing. This means that you either have to pick it up and look, or feel from top to bottom to get the right button. Compare this to the JamBox which has all its control switches up top, and they’re all big and have different shapes.
The other niggle is the standby mode. If you don’t use it for a while, the speaker goes to sleep. Great, but the only way I could find to wake it up was to cycle the power button. Not a big deal, but again the JamBox wins as you can wake it with the big round button on the top.
You’re going to have to choose based on features, and sound preferences. The Lady put it very well when I asked her which she thought sounded best. "Neither" she said. "They’re just different."
Do you prefer a mellow, more accurate sound, APTX Bluetooth Audio (not yet supported in iOS, but the Mac has it), a 20-hour battery life, a built-in phone charger and daisy-chaining? Then the Braven is for you, and as a bonus it is $10 cheaper than the JamBox (The Braven 650 costs $190).
Do you want a slew of neat add on software features, amazing surround sound and a more aggressive sound? Then you might like the JamBox.
Pick either one and you’ll be happy, and that’s ultimately good news. Braven didn’t come along and try to make a JamBox copy. Instead, the company made a very good portable speaker, which bests its famous rival in many ways.
Source: BRAVEN 650.