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Several years ago, I purchased a small Bluetooth speaker from Bose for $200—the Bose Mini Soundlink II—and I’ve loved that speaker since day one. I bought that speaker at a time when I was starting to get into better-quality audio, having graduated from the $5 Sony earbuds with the manually retractable case, and the cheap portable speakers that required constant power connections, with Bluetooth connections that were less than quality. And years ago, when I made that purchase, I spent the right amount of money for the right product; it was expensive for sure, but to this day that speaker sits on my desk and gets used every week…and you can still buy them from Bose.
Generally speaking, my requirements for speakers in this category are as follows; they:
- sound great;
- have the ability to operate relatively quietly (they are mostly single-room speakers, after all);
- are visually appealing (something I’ve become to expect in nearly every tech product I buy); and
- are relatively affordable (for a small speaker, ideally between $100 and $150, but as expensive as $200 for a really, really great speaker).
Over the last several years, I’ve attempted to replace that Bose speaker many times, but could not quite find the perfect fit…either something would look great but not match the sound; or it would sound great but be too expensive or too large; or some other combination that wasn’t quite the ‘Goldilocks Just-Right’ speaker.
Years went by, and while my medium- and large-speaker collection grew, I eventually resolved to avoid this small speaker category so as not to put another device back in its box to never be used again. And there have been contenders, for sure—but as soon as speakers started becoming circular, a design aesthetic I’m just not a big fan of, I stuck with my Bose speaker.
But for years, I’ve seen Marshall speakers…they are obviously players in the game, and there’s something special about their design that has always caught my eye: consistency.
I. Love. Consistency.
Marshall’s speakers have always had a sort of iconic, timeless design, and the Emberton is no exception. There have been decades of development in sound science, and despite significant advancements, the Emberton is reminiscent of some of the first speakers I remember seeing alongside my parents’ stereo cabinet. This speaker is as much a decoration as it is a speaker (but not in a bad way).
It is slightly more modern than the standard wood-box Marshall speaker designs you may have seen; this model, though, maintains a very specific design language that is consistent to itself and to its brand, providing an almost ‘guitar-amp’ look with a rubberized textured surface around the sides and along the top. Even down to the power on and power off sounds (which sound like an electric guitar), this is a product that knows its audience. And, while I’m not some metal-head, nor am I in a band, I’ve wanted a Marshall speaker for a long time almost purely for its looks.
In terms of physical size, it’s what you expect from a small portable speaker—and as long as you don’t mind its boxy design (as opposed to the cylindrical design alternative that has become annoyingly popular), you should have no issues fitting this into your backpack, suitcase, gym bag or picnic gear.
Every aspect of the speaker seems to be designed around simplicity, which the Emberton maintains throughout its features as well as its design.
Simple interactions with the Bluetooth speaker—all the standard things like play, pause, volume, skip and search, and even power on/off are handled with a single control ‘knob,’ which isn’t a knob at all (although looks like one, except for the fact that it is flush with the top of the unit). Marshall, by the way, refers to this as a knob, however it would be more accurate to call this a control ‘stick,’ in that it mimics the functionality of a joystick which can also be pushed down for power control. This stick, or knob (or whatever you want to call it), feels great to interact with, not feeling ‘new’ or ‘stiff’ out of the box, but like it’s intended to be used comfortably. The only other button on the body of the unit is the Bluetooth pairing button; this speaker will connect to multiple sources at once, depending on your devices, and does a decent job at switching audio streams back and forth if you have more than one device paired at a time.
And speaking of simple, this speaker has only one port—and thank goodness, it’s USB Type C. The port serves as the charging port, and Marshall includes a USB Type A to Type C cable in the box, although does not include a power brick. It’s also worth noting that there is no line-in port, which is fine as far as I’m concerned, but nonetheless something to consider.
There is no companion app for the Emberton, and I’m kind of OK with that. Generally speaking, I have negative feelings toward companion apps for headphones and speakers; in many cases, I find them to be either over engineered, or lacking in features, or both. I love having access to an equalizer for sure, but there are plenty of third-party options for that if it’s all you need. Marshall, while having applications for their other speakers, does not seem to bring this compatibility to the Emberton, which quite frankly is nice, but also somewhat confusing. Either way, this maintains the move toward simplicity that everything about this speaker already boasts.
Emberton claims a 20-hour battery life, presumably at 50% volume, although I haven’t had it long enough to confirm that. In my use, it doesn’t seem an unreasonable claim. It also supports quick charge, providing a claimed 5 hours of play time with only 20 minutes of charging.
One particularly nice feature when it comes to the battery life is the on-device battery indicator which consists of 10 red LEDs. This is a minor thing for sure, but having that level of specificity around the charge remaining is not something you often see on devices like this.
Marshall doesn’t claim this to be a multi-directional speaker, but one thing it does particularly well is utilize surrounding surfaces—most notably in my testing, walls behind it—to reflect sound and truly fill a room. I wouldn’t be afraid to have this in a larger room as my speaker of choice, provided you don’t need a multi-room setup or you just want one speaker you can move with you from room to room regardless of size.
And, it is durable—with IPX7 water resistance, and the aforementioned ‘guitar amp’ rugged looking design, you wouldn’t have to worry about dinging this up or getting it wet, although you probably still won’t want to.
The sound is, put simply, fantastic. Speakers this small (and I realize, I have been out of the small speaker game for some time now) typically do a great job as mid-range audio performers: vocals and light instrumentals sound great, while the bass leaves something lacking and the highs come off crass and cracky. That is not the case for the Emberton, which provides a great balanced sound in the mids and highs while also putting out a decent amount of bass for a speaker of its size. Straight up, the sound on this obliterates the quality of my years old Bose speaker, which started showing its age as soon as I pulled the Emberton from its box.
Audio is crystal clear at all levels, even at its loudest…although I admit, I don’t think anyone would need to put the volume to the max as it gets very loud. Even in a large room, I wouldn’t think any more than 75% volume would ever be needed, even if there was quite a bit of background noise to contend with.
If I have one complaint—and believe me, this is nit-picky—for as loud as it can go, it can’t go just as quiet, or at least not with the several devices I’ve tested it with. This is anything but a deal breaker, but I did find that its lowest volume was still a bit too loud for use in my office at night which is next to my daughter’s bedroom. I guess that’s why headphones exist.
Another quick note, this time about the packaging. I’ve opened a few products recently that have had relatively basic, minimal packaging…nothing fancy by any means, but easy to get into while still presenting the product well (arguably the most important part). The Emberton falls into this category also, and while I like a good unboxing experience with a crisp, clean box, I will admit that this trend of putting a little less production into packaging, maybe for the sake of being somewhat more environmentally friendly, is growing on me. And, it serves a functional purpose for the buyer—I could get the box open and the product powered on in under a minute, which is great.
There really is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ speaker—you’ll always be able to find one thing or another to nit-pick about, and the Emberton is no different.
While I have no formal experience with the Marshall apps, and I generally don’t like companion apps, if executed as well as the Emberton itself I imagine Marshall’s apps have a good chance at being decent. In that sense, compatibility with the existing apps might make for a more robust device. And, this is a single speaker that is designed to be used as a single speaker only—not chained together with other speakers and used as a multi-room sound system. And finally, considering it has one port whose only ‘input’ functionality is to charge the battery, you won’t be able to connect this speaker via a 3.5 mm cable to an existing device.
Even given a few very minor complaints, the Emberton has a lot going for it with no real setbacks, and for that reason, is my new favorite small speaker. The $150 price tag is about as high as it needs to be as far as I’m concerned, and given the fantastic sound quality along with its classic design, it checks the right boxes to fully—and easily—justify the price.
This product was provided by Best Buy and Marshall in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. The opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author and have not been reviewed or approved by any sponsors prior to posting.