If you’re familiar with Balmuda products — like the viral Balmuda The Toaster — you know they have a certain elegance that screams expendable income. The Tokyo-based creativity and technology company that’s on a mission to turn home appliances into wonderful experiences, and the thing is…they’re pretty freaking good at it. I’ve had my eye on the Balmuda kettle for a few months now, so when I got the chance to try out their new portable speaker(Opens in a new tab), I was excited — and a little nervous — to put it to the test.
Yes, Balmuda products are lovely and luxurious, but could the company behind an internet-famous toaster really create a stellar portable speaker? That’s what I decided to find out, and the answer surprised me.
How is the Balmuda speaker different from other speakers?
If you’re skeptical about a home appliance company creating a stellar audio experience, you’re not alone…but it actually makes sense. Balmuda’s CEO and Founder Gen Terao was in a Japanese rock band, and he created the speaker in an effort to emulate the experience of live music. Unlike many portable speakers, the Balmuda speaker points upward to create three-dimensional sound — so you get the same experience no matter where the speaker is facing — that’s “vocally-driven” and lacks the distortion that many portable speakers struggle with. Designed to emulate the experience of live music, you can connect to the speaker via Bluetooth or AUX input.
For an added immersive experience, the speaker also features three light tubes in the central chamber that synchronize with the music in three different modes: beat mode (with full synchronization), ambient mode (a more subtle version), and candle mode (for a constant, gentle glow). Designed to represent three members of a band on stage, the result is a speaker that looks — and sounds — unlike any other portable speaker you’ve seen before.
Trying out the Balmuda speaker
Right out of the box, the Balmuda speaker(Opens in a new tab) is visually breathtaking. It’s got a simple, beautiful design with a matte black finish that feels intentional and luxurious, without being overly done. It’s heavier than I expected — especially compared to my trusty JBL Charge — but it navigates the balance between sturdy and delicate in a really unique way.
After charging the device, it only took a few seconds to pair it with my iPhone, and the audio quality was simply spectacular. The Balmuda speaker follows through on its promise of delivering crisp, vocal-centric sound, and I loved being able to hear the vocals of my favorite artists without any of the muddiness that comes with my JBL speaker. It was easy to switch between the three modes of light synchronization with a touch of a button, and I found myself gravitating toward the “beat mode” for a more robust lighting experience.
The speaker features buttons for power, volume, and the three light modes.
Credit: RJ Andersen / Mashable
Now, it’s important to add the caveat that when Balmuda says this speaker is vocally-driven, it’s going to change how you experience some of your favorite music, especially if you’re used to other portable speakers. The depth of sound isn’t nearly as strong — in some songs, the bass nearly disappeared entirely — but the resulting experience isn’t bad…it’s just different.
However, it did mean there was a bit of a learning curve in choosing which music I was going to listen to on the Balmuda speaker. When I wanted to listen to songs with a stronger bass line or jam out with dance party music, this speaker wasn’t the right choice. However, it’s obvious from the design that it’s not trying to be.
I found myself using the Balmuda speaker during quiet mornings while starting my day, but my primary usage was definitely while unwinding after a stressful day. It was great to sing along with my favorite songs, but I often felt like something was “missing” from the tracks. Sometimes you want to be swept away by the music as much as the vocals, and certain songs that I thought would be great for listening to on the Balmuda fell flat. Yes, the sound is crystal clear, but it didn’t quite deliver on the promise of a live music experience for me.
There are a few other downsides
While I have loved using the Balmuda speaker, there are a few things that I wish were different. It’s a bit heavier than I would’ve liked — especially considering how thick it is around the middle — which means I’m a little nervous about dropping it. It’s not a terrible thing, but it’s a portable speaker so I’d like it to be…you know…portable.
The battery life is also a little bit shorter than I’d like, clocking in at around seven hours, so I have had to charge it quite a few times. Considering most portable speakers on the music offer at least 10 to 20 hours per charge, seven hours for a single charge felt incredibly low.
My only other complaint is that it’s built for indoor use only, so this isn’t quite as portable as I wish it could be. Is that a deal-breaker? Absolutely not, but it is a little disappointing — especially when the speaker looks like it’s meant for quiet evenings around a campfire with friends.
Best outdoor speakers
Is the Balmuda speaker worth it?
At $399, the Balmuda speaker(Opens in a new tab) is definitely a luxury purchase. If you’re a music lover who is interested in experiencing vocally-driven, three-dimensional sound, the answer might be yes. I could also see this being a great purchase option for someone with an eye for design, especially if you’re looking for a portable speaker that looks just as a good as it sounds. But your opinion of the audio quality is likely going to be a matter of personal preference.
For the average shopper? You might want to skip this one. The speaker wasn’t quite as immersive as I’d hoped it would be, and — while it delivered a much cleaner sound than my JBL Charge by miles — it’s a little too expensive for my taste. I definitely liked using it, but when it comes to rich, immersive sound I think I’ll be sticking to my headphones.