I've long been a fan of Bluetooth speakers, which pair wirelessly
with your smartphone or tablet to provide a kind of self-contained
Sonos system: Your music library, plus services like Pandora and
Spotify, streamed to any room in the house.
However, with rare exception, these speakers tend to be small
and underpowered, which is problem if you want to use one in, say,
a large room or at the beach. Or to serve up tunes at a noisy
The Braven 850 is a portable Bluetooth speaker
surprisingly powerful given its compact size. I've been playing
with one for the past couple weeks, and it's a terrific product. In
fact, it's my favorite Bluetooth speaker to date.
The 850 measures 9.5 x 4 x 2.8 inches, roughly the same
size as the more celebrated Jawbone Big Jambox. But this speaker
features an aluminum, rather than plastic, casing and the
attractive industrial look of something substantial, not cheap. It
also feels quite pleasantly hefty at around 3 pounds, 5.5
Much of that heft comes from the speaker's 8,800mAh battery,
which is good for up to 20 hours of playtime between charges. And,
sure enough, I left the 850 sitting on a shelf for days at a time,
always expecting to need to pull out the AC adapter--but it just
seemed to last forever.
Interestingly, the unit also has a USB port designed for
charging your mobile devices, tablets included. In other words, the
850 will probably last longer than your smartphone, and then it'll
juice it up again for more music streaming.
Of course, if you have, say, an MP3 player or other device
that doesn't support Bluetooth, there's a line-in jack for making a
physical connection. Cooler still, you can pair two Braven 850s for
true stereo output, something I've not seen from other Bluetooth
All this would be pointless if the 850 didn't sound good. My
take: It sounds great. With 20 watts of audio power behind it, the
speaker can easily fill a room with loud, but still warm, music
goodness. I'm constantly shaking my head at how "big" this little
And there's a practical side as well: Like a lot of its
brethren, the 850 doubles as a speakerphone.
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At $299 per speaker, the Braven 850 isn't cheap. But if
there's room in your audio budget for one (or, even better, two),
this is without question one of the best portable Bluetooth
speakers you can buy. Quite possibly the
best.Veteran technology writer Rick Broida
is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his
money-saving expertise to CNET and Savings.com, and also writes for PC
World and Wired.