There are times when you must appreciate nature’s natural cadence, and then there are times when you just need to hear David Lee Roth scream “This must be just like livin’ in paradise”. Most summer nights are the latter. A few years ago, partygoers were forced to drag tangled P.O.S. speakers to barbecues and backyard bashes; fortunately for everyone, today’s audio technology has gone wireless. Modern speakers stream audio via Bluetooth, AirPlay or wi-fi. Those that can’t don’t stand a chance.
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The award-winning Sound Blaster Roar SR20 ($149) is the latest portable speaker to the party. Creative, the company synonymous with PC sound cards and accessories in the 1990s, is reinventing itself in the audio hardware market with the Roar, which produces crisp audio in a presentable minimalist design that can hold its own outside of millennial rooftop parties.
The 2.5-pound Roar is compacted with three drivers — dual front-firing 1.5-inch drivers and a 2.5-inch upward-facing driver — and two passive radiators. (Creative claims this is five drivers.) With a built-in 6000mAH lithium-ion battery, the Roar can provide up to eight hours of play time; it also sports a DC-in and includes a rear USB and micro USB ports. Its control panel more buttons and switches to play with than similar models from competitors (JBL and Bose), but there’s nothing particularly confusing about it. Who doesn’t like a little more control? The real difference is price: the Roar’s $149 “factory-direct” model halves the price of Bose’s SoundLink III.
Taking some constructive criticism from past speakers, the Roar has solved a common complaint: finicky Bluetooth pairing. The Sound Blaster appears in your smartphone or tablet’s Bluetooth settings with a mere push of its Bluetooth button. Just a quick tap and they’re connected. Two devices can be connected via Bluetooth simultaneously, meaning they can alternate songs throughout the night; most other mobile speakers, including Bose’s SoundLink, only allow one device at a time. If something goes wrong, the SR20 provides easy prompts to your device’s screen to help fix the problem.
Lying down, the Roar produces sound from four of six directions (both sides, top and front). Its built-in “TeraBass” automatically adjusts the bass according to the set volume, preventing louder gatherings from becoming thump-fests. Then again, if that’s what you’re after, the TeraBass can be adjusted easily. Like most speaker boxes, the SR20 sounds best indoors, where its sound is best amplified. But its namesake, the “Roar” button, is some help outdoors: when the button is pressed, the audio’s loudness, depth and reach are all amplified. In practice, the button simply makes loud music even louder; this can be overkill for this speaker, which already screams (and is dangerous bait for overzealous party bros looking to “pump things up”). And whereas song selection can be changed from afar, the speaker will remain “roaring” until the button itself is un-pressed.
The speaker’s extra features are neat, if a little impractical. Two of the speakers can be connected via MegaStereo cable to work in tandem, but then, this kind of defeats the purpose of buying a small mobile speaker in the first place, and one SR20 alone with its “Roar” feature should get the job done at most events. The speaker can play files stored on a microSD card, so your phone is free to stay dormant in your pocket. There’s also a voice recorder, a bedtime listening mode and an attention-grabbing siren. You may use them once or twice, but these features aren’t why you’ll buy the Roar. You’ll buy it because it produces high-quality audio, has hassle-free Bluetooth pairing and is more affordable than its competitors. Those — used to deliver a healthy dose of David Lee Roth — are reason enough.