I'm not a big fan of wireless speakers, which is what the cool kids call battery-powered boomboxes these days. Nevertheless, there's a market for these Bluetooth-friendly gadgets that can play music streamed from your smartphone and hold an impromptu party anywhere without having to worry about wires or electrical outlets. The Jawbone JAMBOX pretty much showed that it's possible to squeeze out room-filling sound from a tiny Bluetooth-enabled, battery-powered speaker, with sound quality that's good enough to serve as a jukebox on a pinch. Larger brands such as Logitech and Bose have followed suit with their own UE Boombox and SoundLink wireless speakers, respectively.
Like an eldritch cross between a duster and a shoe
I wasn’t too chuffed when I realised that Jabra expects consumers to cough up nearly Rs 11,000 for a wireless speaker that fits on a palm. However, that was until a colleague fiddled around with it and accidentally set off what could be best described as stripper music being played even as a suave male voice beckoned me to connect a Bluetooth device. That’s exactly what I did because my survival instinct doesn’t allow me to disobey stripper pimps. The ensuing sound was uncharacteristically loud and with surprisingly decent fidelity. It was clear then that this wireless speaker deserved closer inspection.
The fact that this new age Bluetooth boombox is shaped like a shoe (replete with a sole of sorts) and is named Solemate, makes one wonder what came first—the product, or the godforsaken excuse of a pun that goes for its name. It’s a good thing then that the Solemate is built like a tank. Everything, from the rubberised body to the thick metal mesh speaker grilles feels strudy—a fact that can be verified by striking the Solemate on the desk, because all you’ll hear is a satisfying dead thud. However, if there’s anything that surpasses the toughness of this product, that would be its inherent ugliness. If HP Lovecraft were to envision the unholy union of an eldritch shoe and duster, the ensuing abomination would essentially be the Jabra Solemate.
It's built as tough as it's designed to be ugly
The shoe-like sole of the Solemate comprises of thick rubber material that grips any surface like a limpet. The duster-esque top half houses a tiny woofer flanked by what appears to be two full-range drivers on one side, while the other side houses a large woofer that spans the entire length of the product. These drivers are shrouded by a pair of thick metal meshes that wrap around each side. One edge bears the strap, whereas the other one hosts the microUSB charging port, AUX (3.5mm TRS jack), Bluetooth and battery status lights, and a power switch that also doubles up for Bluetooth pairing. The top of the device houses the volume adjustment and battery status/call answer buttons.
In addition to its primary function of a boombox, the Solemate also serves as a speakerphone when paired with your smartphone. Enabling this function is simple. Just hold the power switch in the Bluetooth pairing mode for three seconds and you have the stripper pimp ordering you to connect your phone while stripper music plays in the background. Once paired, your phone’s mic and speaker are bypassed in favour of the Solemate’s extra loud multi-driver speakers and omnidirectional mic. The top three buttons let you to adjust the volume, while also allowing essential features such as call answering/rejecting and muting. The call quality was great on both ends, with the only grouse being the propensity of the omnidirectional mic to catch a lot of unwanted ambient noise. At any rate, that’s a problem faced by the dude on the other line, so we’re good.
It interfaces with your phone or PMP through Bluetooth or a 3.5mm TRS jack
The device is touted to play well with absolutely any device in the world. While this claim is clearly exaggerated, the Solemate still can pair with anything that bears a 3.5 mm TRS jack (aux) or Bluetooth connectivity. That’s virtually everything that plays music anyway. The Bluetooth pairing feature works like a charm, but the lack of a pin/password can get annoying. In my case at least, my colleagues had taken the liberty to pair their devices and would interrupt my listening sessions with impunity, as the gadget simply plays music from the last device to issue a command when it’s paired to multiple phones. Fortunately, hooking it up with a 3.5 mm stereo jack disables Bluetooth connectivity and defaults to the wired connection instead.
The audio fidelity is surprisingly good. The two low frequency drivers do a good job of reproducing bass. Don’t expect to hear the really low frequencies, but I was pleasantly surprised when I could hear the punch and slam in bass-heavy tracks such as Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up and ES Posthumus’ Nara, in addition to my usual repertoire of hip hop tracks. While there was a lack of sparkly treble due to the highs being rolled off, the overall tonal balance was quite pleasing nonetheless. I generally don’t expect anything good from such speaker solutions, but the Solemate puts a good enough show to satisfy basic listening needs. That is as long as you don’t raise the volume to the max, which is when the output gets overly bright and sometimes even distorts depending on how busy the transients are within the source.
Yes, this can be used as a handsfree Bluetooth speakerphone as well
The battery life is nowhere near the claimed eight-hour mark. I managed to squeeze out anywhere between 5-6 hours depending on the ratio of wired and wireless music playback. However, I must admit that I had been playing the speakers at full blast for the entire duration of the battery test.
The Solemate may look hideous, but it’s a well-built and cleverly-designed product. The high-quality braided 3.5 mm aux cable, which can be neatly tucked away within the...erm...sole of the Solemate, is the best example. The supplied sand and splash-resistant bag makes it an ideal accompaniment for the beach too. It may not be loud enough to replace the traditional boombox at, say, a party on the patio, but the audio quality is good enough for it to serve as a personal portable speaker inside a hotel room. Unfortunately, all this may be good enough for any average wireless speaker, but it doesn’t make sense at the Solemate’s asking price of Rs 10,990.