Can we be honest here for a moment? There’s only two real reasons why you’d even consider picking up a micro-budget “cheap” Bluetooth speaker, presumably the type cluttering discount aisles at your local megamart. The first being that you simply don’t know any better; you see that mysterious word “Bluetooth” as a kind of gateway to strange, magical wireless ways you’ve never had access to before.
The other, more likely, reason is that just one look at those ludicrously expensive speakers (I’m looking at you, Beats Pill) has sent you running scared. In a moment of rushed frivolity and thrift, you grab for the cheapest of the cheap, because surely a speaker is just a speaker. That’s how it works, right?
Not necessarily; sometimes, it pays to shop around, and price alone doesn’t always determine quality. Heck, I’ve watched some speakers literally (and I mean literally) dance themselves right off counter tops when bass levels were only slightly cranked. And don’t get me started on those fancy new ‘speaker-free’ vibration options. Ai yi yi…
Speaking of cheap, let’s talk about the Vivitar Bluetooth Speaker, a Chinese import (presumably) from a company called Sakar International that you’ll only find if you happen across one at stores like Walmart. So rarely do we come across a piece of tech so rare, yet seemingly so available, that it’s interest alone driving us to give it a chance and see the results for ourselves. Well, in a case like this, just about everything is surprising.
One thing letting you know the Vivitar Speaker is cheap comes at first glance: faux leather, the very sign of what you’re getting into. Yes, it’s wrapped in a sheet of faux brown leather plastic that doesn’t look, feel, or smell anything like real leather. There’s even faux stitching! In fact, the only thing not plastic about it are the tiny strips of rubber feet on the bottom and small cloth loop on the side.
But whatever, it’s not ugly, and at 4.5” x 2.5” x 2” it’s exactly the right size for this type of portable listening device. A black grating protects the meager 3W speaker inside, with all of the function inputs located on the rear that includes the power and play/pause buttons, 3mm auxiliary input, and micro-usb charging slot (it’s worth mentioning the speaker comes with the shortest charging cable I’ve ever seen; make sure to bring your own). Apparently, there IS a microphone included, though it’s housed within the speaker itself, resulting in (predictably) heavily muted sound quality that should be avoided at all costs.
Also, it’s worth noting the battery inside this speaker is a real champ; I’ve yet to find its extreme limits, but I’ve done three consecutive 6-hour playback sessions without a hint of disconnection or powering-off without having to run a recharge. Of course, I usually keep my speakers plugged in (just in case), but a 6-hour stretch for anything in this day and age is fairly spectacular.
I suppose it was too much to ask for a volume rocker on the speaker, or maybe some other way to skip through tracks, but that’s happening. Best keep your device-of-choice handy as the only controls on the speaker itself is the singular play/pause button, which does exactly that when listening to music or other programs (podcasts – but more on those later). A long-press of it will put the speaker in standby, and another quick-press afterward will resume your playback; a nice little addition if a quick-mute is what you’re after.
As I mentioned above, the speaker DOES have an embedded microphone in case you’d like to use it to make or receive calls through your device via Skype, FaceTime, or other service… but you probably shouldn’t, and definitely won’t want to. The microphone quality, perhaps owing to the fact it’s completely hidden, is primitively basic and shockingly bad. Even putting the speaker right up to your lips won’t result in anything better than the dreaded “across the room” sound we all loathe when others subject us to it. It’s yet another reminder this speaker isn’t Mount Everest; just because it has a microphone doesn’t mean you have to use it.
It goes without saying that it’s not the best for listening to music – of any variety – and channeling bass-friendly tunes through it will leave you wondering just what the funk happened. Instead, the hybrid of unremarkable bass coupled with unremarkable treble meet at the center for something truly decent, and highly listenable. Music that relies on bassy riffs like rock, hip-hop, or metal won’t impress as they’re squeezed through that miniscule 3W speaker. However… those who love classic, folk, ambient, or jazz (even fusion jazz!) probably won’t hate the experience, though I’ll stress again that it won’t be anyone’s idea of optimal.
One type of media that I found the Vivitar Speaker to be especially good at playing was, to no surprise, podcasts, especially those voice-heavy ones. As a frequent listener of this medium I actually found the reduced bass/treble quality preferable to those expensive speakers that have been scientifically engineered for extreme bass; anyone who’s ever dabbled with equalizers and presettings will know what I’m talking about here. With this speaker, the inherent cheapness and limited range works to your podcast-listening advantage as voices come through fairly clear and without much distortion.
One oddity I found with the Vivitar Speaker is that, as of this writing, there’s entirely ZERO info on it available online. The brand is fairly present at local Walmart stores (where I picked this one up), but even Wallyworld’s website lists nothing on an actual product they sell. That’s also true for the actual Vivitar website (charitably, a huge mess), with the only real info available an FCC filing. No webpages, no images, no item descriptions, no reviews…minus this one, of course. How could I possibly trust such untried cheapness?
I understand this sort of product confusion is rampant, especially with cheap imported products from China, and expect only more like it as similar devices continue to flood shelves, both online and off. It’d be nice if these outlets put a little more thought in actually presenting products they sell, especially those from unfamiliar new brands like Vivitar or Sakar International; Best Buy is one example of this fusion of house-brand and inexpensive done right with imprints like Insignia and Rocketfish. If I wanted to save money and take a risk on cheap Chinese knock-off electronics, Walmart certainly wouldn’t be my first option (but they could be…).
One caveat before you mosey over to the store, however; even the product name itself can be slightly misleading. There are several “Vivitar Bluetooth Speaker” options on that trusting kiosk; the one reviewed here is the Faux Leather version (model # VL60011BT), though I’m confident all models will probably function and sound the same. Again, we’re talking ten bucks here.
Still, if you happen to be cruising your local megastore and find yourself in need of a cheaper, frills-free speaker to fill that specific niche hovering between “cheap” and “usable”, you could certainly do worse than dropping ten bucks on the Vivitar Bluetooth Speaker. It won’t blow your mind in any regard, but as a functional, working wireless speaker it does the job promised and offers entirely adequate sound output commensurate to the asking price. Match one to your favorite podcast-player and you’ve got a competent accessory, which pretty much sums up the experience of using it.