“Yes, it’s waterproof.” These are the first words that catch your attention on gracedigital’s new Ecoxgear Ecoxbt Bluetooth speaker packaging (available at $102). The matter-of-fact reassurance is underscored by a picture of a kayaker braving crystalline white water rapids. With that as our introduction, we have to admit we were excited to let the Ecoxbt loose. The dual-handled device is well-armored, sink-proof, and even has a speakerphone feature – perfect for all those floating pool chats you’ve been dreaming of. But before you pick up that Internet machine and order this summer’s unsinkable sound solution, you’ll want to know if can deliver on its promise. We graciously volunteered to take the speaker seaside, pushing it to the limit so you don’t have to. Here’s what happened.
Out of the box
The Ecoxbt is a hefty little unit, with rubberized handles that are easy to grip, tempting you to snatch up the speaker and go. The shape and bright orange coloring of our review unit were vaguely reminiscent of the life-saving flotation devices that got so much action in everyone’s favorite beach-bound train-wreck drama, Baywatch. Other occupants of the box included a small carabineer, a USB to mini-USB charging cable, and a DC adapter.
Features and design
For its size, the Ecoxbt feels heavy, though it barely tips the scale at 1.5 lbs. As mentioned, our unit came in Baywatch-orange, but the speaker is also available in red with grey accents, or all black. Rubberized handles and a “loop” design make the speaker particularly portable, and its entire frame is layered in an ample sheath of hard plastic and rubber, allowing for a reasonably safe drop distance for the more clumsy among us. Put another way: The Ecoxbt could be used as a weapon in a pinch and never miss a beat.
Beneath the heavy metal screen at the speaker’s front rests a pair of waterproof 2-inch drivers. Above the drivers at the top left is a small control panel sunken into the plastic which includes a power button, a Bluetooth pairing button and a display screen with green and blue LEDs to indicate power and Bluetooth connection status respectively, along with a small battery icon. At the speaker’s right are volume controls and a phone button for fielding calls while away from your handheld device. As for the effective little microphone at the bottom left panel: We’ve used the term pinpoint to describe such openings in the past, but with the Ecoxbt we use the term literally. Designed to keep the unit watertight, the miniscule opening is easy to miss.
A gasketed cover on the back side protects the unit’s small input selection, which includes jacks for charging and a 3.5mm input cable. Also on the back is a small fabric loop to secure the speaker to its carabineer for hands-free portability. The Ecoxbt’s lithium-ion battery is estimated to run for about 10 hours at medium volume, and it takes about 2.5 hours to fully charge.
Our first job was to make sure gracedigital’s vehement waterproof claim was accurate. Though we were pretty sure the company would be steeped in customer outrage by now if it wasn’t true, we had to go hands-on for ourselves. Our highly unceremonious method involved filling up a bathtub, pairing our iPhone 5 to the speaker, and chucking the Ecoxbt into the deep end, tunes blazing.
Our highly unceremonious method involved filling up a bathtub…and chucking the Ecoxbt into the deep end, tunes blazing.
The speaker dropped a few inches into the water, popped back up, and spat forth a gargling version of Cat Stephens’ “Oh Very Young.” As we looked on patiently, the water was eventually expelled from the two speakers, and there before us sat an autonomous watercraft of sound. Aside from our bath time listening session, we also took a few occasions to drop the speaker on our linoleum floor with no harm done.
As for the speaker’s sound, it clings tightly to the midrange, kicking out 1-4 kHz tones of guitar, vocals, and upper percussion with clarity and pep. At full volume, the twin drivers pump out enough sound to entertain a small crowd, serving up guests at our BBQ with more than enough rock ‘n roll ambience for the crowd.
We enjoyed the Ecoxbt most with straightforward rock and pop tunes. Vocals were clean and full, guitar was gritty when it needed to be, and piano was clear and bright. The speaker had a definite tendency to get a bit chintzy in the upper treble, adding too much cellophane-sizzle to cymbals at times. We also heard a constant edge to the upper midrange that we wished could be tamed to sound warmer. Depending on the source material, the speaker worked its way from clear and smooth, to overly harsh and bright. Still, for the most part we think it won the fight, performing admirably for a speaker without a passive radiator to balance out the midrange with a little more bass.
Unfortunately, the Ecoxbt’s wireless connection to our iPhone 5 was tenuous at best. We witnessed several incidents which seemed to indicate the connection relied on line-of-sight, with one particularly obvious moment in which a friend playing horseshoes caused the sound to drop out every time he leaned forward for his shot. We also experienced signal dropout when we tried to put the phone in our pocket a few times. The way we see it, if you have to hold your phone next to a wireless speaker for consistent performance, it kind of blows the convenience factor.
Much to our disappointment, gracedigital’s Ecoxbt got close, but gets no waterproof cigar. We cut the device some slack for sharp treble because of its awesome durability and the wow factor that comes with a speaker that can actually swim. But we have to draw the line somewhere, and a poor wireless connection killed our buzz. Gracedigital is on the right track – some sort of an external antenna and passive radiator might be all it takes to make this speaker the best in its class. If the company decides to tweak the speaker a bit, we’ll be ready and waiting to check it out; but as it stands, we have to reluctantly pass.
Instead, we recommend looking at the water resistant Braven BR-1. Though it’s not fully waterproof, it’s a durable speaker with excellent sonic and wireless performance. For more suggestions, check out our Bluetooth round-up.
- Clear midrange
- Impressive full volume for its size
- Durable and convenient design
- Unreliable wireless connection
- Treble gets a bit sharp at times
- Lacks body in lower midrange