The Jabra Solemate bluetooth portable speaker has been around for a while, but recently Jabra have given it a refresh.
The second generation of the speaker displays a confident and substantially weighty design. Its chunky outer rubber casing and metal speaker grill are rugged attributes, but Jabra have also supplied a novel sand and water resistant carry bag for outdoor usage, which the speaker can actually be heard through when securely wrapped within. The black, grey, white, red, blue and yellow colour options all vividly unleash the fun and loud design choices. The textured sole on the base is the flipped cherry-on-the-cake in this scenario and is the core element of the funky design. Jabra actually intended the base of the speaker to replicate a shoe's sole, hence the bluetooth speakers name (it would have been doubly cool if the speaker came in a custom shoe box). The base, or rather sole, has an embedded 3.5mm auxiliary cable covered in a fabric to replicate a shoelace, making it equipped for use at all times with non Bluetooth devices.
Functionality & Connectivity Options
Jabra have made operating the Solemate speaker a simple affair. With three silicone buttons on top of the speaker, the two outer ones controlling volume and the middle one reading out the battery status when pressed once. When pressed three times it will redial the latest call on your iPhone and can also answer incoming calls. The speaker features an inbuilt mic, so you can be away from your iPhone when accepting a call. Bluetooth connectivity is a seamless experience with the Solemate speaker, and when previously paired devices come into the ten metre range they connect in a snap. The speaker itself actually tells you this vocally, and vocal prompts are often given to assist the user.
A power switch on the right side of the unit also triggers the Bluetooth discoverability when flipped upwards. Underneath the switch is a micro-USB input for charging the speaker. We generally managed to squeeze seven-eight hours on loud volume out of the Solemate's lithium-ion battery. NFC connectivity is also built-in, but we didn't have an opportunity to test it.
The Solemate importantly does deliver substantially louder volume than that of a tablet or smartphone speaker. We've used it in both indoor and outdoor environments, where it fills large open spaces with sound that can at times prove challenging to actually speak over given the 120 DB SPL max output. However, full volume does muddy tracks; although interestingly the weighty design and textured base sole of the Solemate sticks to the surface it's resting on, so it doesn't jump around at all. We’ve tested a lot of speakers, including a lot of bluetooth portable speakers like this, and the Jabra does have a unique sound signature which is achieved from its impressive deep bass. Bass enthusiasts will definitely admire the intense bass produced from such a compact design of speaker which can just about be rested in the palm of the hand. This thumping bass does make highly cinematic movies sound phenomenal, but with general music libraries it sucks up the mid and high ranges. Used alone, this can make songs sound flat and dull, but we immediately felt that the problem wasn't actually the bass fault, it was that the mid and high ranges weren't equally tuned so they couldn't be heard in the same harmony. So we downloaded the Jabra Sound App for iOS and this allowed us to have full control of the sound frequency ranges with a host of inbuilt EQ presets. Through this app we turned the highs up and this balanced the frequencies properly.
Listening to the Jabra Solemate with the fairer distribution of frequency ranges through the Jabra Sound App was like lifting a muffler off the speaker. It allowed us to really hear how great this speaker can be. The 2 acoustic tweeters, 1 high performance subwoofer and proprietary passive bass radiator broadcast a deep and Hi-Fi-like depth that all music genres benefit from. Vocal reproduction capabilities stood out to us along with acoustic renditions. A 3D sound stage was present too because the speaker has an open back: a little sound is tunnelled through, which aids to maximise the broadcast sound. Also, because the speaker is quite long, the left and right drivers have decent stereo separation and the overall package of speaker components separate the elements within music tracks well.
How It Stacks Up
There is one thing which does not add up for this speaker though, and it is that after great consideration we think Jabra are asking too much for it at £130/$199. The similarly styled Arctic S113BT speaker we reviewed a little while back retails for £45/$89 and is substantially louder with a purer sound signature without an app to help.
We really admire the Jabra Solemate speaker's design and it delivers a significant volume and quality notch up from the inbuilt smartphone and tablet speakers, but the price is a definite drawback.