There's no shortage of portable Bluetooth speakers on the market, but only a handful of them are really good. We've highlighted some of our favourites, but I recently got to test out the new Koss BTS1 wireless speaker. While it's not perfect, it's one of the best I've ever used. Here's why.
As a category, Bluetooth speakers start life with two strikes: First, they aim to be portable, which means they have to pack a battery and speakers into a small case — which means compromising either on longevity or sound quality. Second, they suffer from all of the limitations of Bluetooth audio. The worst of the bunch sound tinny, hollow, and overly "digital", with all the warm notes translated into harsh tones due to audio compression.
Luckily, the best Bluetooth speakers adapt to both of those issues. Some pack in multiple speakers and give themselves a little more bulk in order to accommodate a nice big battery. It's not too often you find a speaker that sounds great, and is still really portable. When the folks at Koss sent over the BTS1 Wireless Bluetooth Speaker for us to test, I was pretty sceptical. After a few weeks with it, I can say that while it has some drawbacks, it sounds great, is powerful enough to fill almost any room, and is good value for the money.
The BTS1 weighs around 160 grams and is about 10 centimetres wide, 8 centimetres tall and 2.5cm deep. It's light and small enough to fit in a pants pocket. It's well built, with thick white polycarbonate around the outer rim and on the back, a swing-out kickstand on the back to prop it up on a desk or fold down to lay flat, and a rubberised bezel around the back to keep the speaker from sliding around in both standing and flat positions.
The entire front of the speaker is all aluminium mesh speaker grille, through which you can see a single LED that changes colour to indicate whether it's currently paired, charging, or low on battery. The top of the speaker has three buttons — the power/pair button, volume up, and volume down. That's it — the BTS1 is super simple to use.
The internal battery keeps the music going for hours, which was surprising considering its size and how powerful it is. The BTS1 was more than enough to sound out my entire apartment, with rich, full sound in every room (granted, I live in an apartment in the city, but still). The audio from the BTS1 is rich and full, again surprising considering it's Bluetooth, but part of that has to do with the device doing the streaming, not the speaker itself. Even so, the speaker itself is powerful and loud without getting harsh and distorted, and it's clear at low volumes as well without getting muddled.
The included microUSB cable lets you plug the speaker in to charge without interrupting the music. If you have to go wired and listen to a non-Bluetooth device, there's an included stereo cable to plug into the audio input on the side and use it as a conventional speaker. If you want to daisy chain the BTS1 to another speaker, use the same cable and plug in to the audio output on the same side.
My only significant gripe with the BTS1 is that while its battery is rated for a good 5+ hours of wireless music, in real world tests I only eked out about three or so before I had to plug it in to charge. It won't really turn itself off either, even when the music stops — a fact I learned when I stumbled awake one night for a glass of water and heard its "low battery" triple-tone coming from the living room. Even so, when you hear that tell-tale tone in the middle of your favourite jam, picking up the speaker and plugging it in immediately takes care of the problem, and won't stop your music or force you to re-pair the device.
Speaking of pairing, the BTS1 paired with every device I tried it with seamlessly, including laptops, smartphones, and tablets, although I had the best luck with my Android phone, which seamlessly reconnected every time I toggled Bluetooth or powered the BTS1 on or off without me having to take some action to connect them.
Bottom line: I'm usually unimpressed by Bluetooth speakers. They tend to be a throwaway category, with a lot of no-name manufacturers making super cheap, plastic, terrible-sounding peripherals destined for the "discontinued" bin. There are, however, a few stand-outs that make you wonder how someone could fit such great sound in such a small package, and the BTS1 is certainly one of them.