You may have noticed that, over the past year or so, we’ve written enough Bluetooth audio device reviews to fill a book of War and Peace-type proportions. Right now, Bluetooth audio is so hot, we can barely keep up with the onslaught of new product introductions. That won’t keep us from trying, though. Whenever there’s a glut of a certain product type, we want to be there to help you separate the wheat from the chaff and make an informed buying decision.
Although there’s no shortage of wireless speakers and speaker docks to choose from, seldom do we come across systems that can replace a conventional home stereo. Usually, a compromise has to be made between factors of affordability, design, convenience and high-quality sound – rarely do all come together in a single product.
Nuforce aims to deliver where few others have with its Bluetooth-enabled, powered bookshelf speakers. Priced at a reasonable $300, the S3-BT bring an impressive list of hardware and software specs to the table. We sat down with the speakers for a thorough listen. Here’s what happened.
Out of the box
Pulling the S3’s from their bright red box, we got an immediate impression of quality. The speakers are long and relatively heavy for their size, cloaked in a thin layer of black vinyl. At the back of the speakers, amidst the inputs and a small sound port, we were encouraged to find gold plated, five-way binding posts of the sort used to connect professional-grade monitors. Along with the speakers, we found a power adaptor, a 3.5mm to RCA aux cable, and an ample length of speaker wire.
Features and design
Though the S3-BT system may initially look complex to the novice, it’s actually a simple design. The speakers’ amplifier resides in the right speaker where inputs and controls for setup and navigation are also housed. The left speaker is slaved to its partner, connected only by a single length of provided speaker wire.
On the rear of the right speaker we found a power jack, stereo RCA input, a USB power output for charging devices, and the main power switch. A rectangular panel sunken into the top of the speaker holds a small set of control keys including buttons for volume, song navigation, play/pause, and a source key which alternates between Bluetooth and the stereo line-in.
Prying off the speakers’ grills revealed 1-inch tweeters above 3.5-inch midrange drivers. Nuforce claims the speakers’ built-in amp delivers 18 watts x 2 RMS.
For the S3-BT, Nuforce has employed the very latest Bluetooth profile version 4.0. The relatively new protocol allows for the cleanest, lowest-energy Bluetooth communication available, optimized for high-fidelity audio. When correctly utilized, Bluetooth 4.0 makes crystal clear wireless audio with very little latency possible.
After tethering the two monitors via speaker wire, we powered up the system and were promptly greeted by a blue and red-flashing LED, indicating the speakers were in pairing mode. After a lightning-quick pairing, we were ready to rock.
To test S3-BT we wirelessly piped music directly from our iPhone 5 and iPhone 3GS, and via Nuforce’s Air DAC wireless digital audio converter. What we heard was an extremely well balanced sound system, supported by one of the cleanest Bluetooth signals we’ve encountered so far.
The S3-BT have a light and airy touch that we found especially well-suited to acoustic and instrumental music. Selections from Nickel Creek and Bela Fleck were delivered with bright, intricate guitar clicks, warm upright bass, and brilliantly smooth mandolin and banjo.
Vocals rendered by the speakers were well detailed, and the midrange was bolstered by the pristine accuracy of the treble, roundly exposed in shimmering crash cymbals and tactile piano lines. We were also struck by the S3’s strong command of instruments like harmonica and accordion, which were played with a reedy vibrance.
Compared to the… NOCS NS2 Airplay, the S3 BT have a less zesty treble region and less robust low bass response.
Considering their size, the S3-BT are understandably limited in their bass capabilities. Though Nuforce claims the speakers’ frequency response is rated down to 50 Hz, we heard a serious roll-off after about 100 Hz. As such, the deepest notes in hip-hop tracks went missing. Still, what the speakers did crank out provided a solid groove, and the chocolate-y smooth tones we heard from the upper end of the bass were gorgeous as well.
On the whole, the S3-BT were a joy to listen to, but we did dig up a few problems to report: We noted a minor lack of presence in the upper midrange which left some instruments sounding pushed back in the mix. We also experienced a few instances of a delay in the entrance of some music when delivered via our iPhone 5 and a friend’s iPhone 4s. When we quickly switched songs, sometimes we’d miss out on the first second or two of our track. The issue seemed related to buffering and was not easy to replicate, though, so we don’t see it causing most listeners any major problems.
Compared to the recently reviewed NOCS NS2 Airplay speakers, the S3-BT have a less zesty treble region and less robust low bass response. Still, their right midrange response and sufficiently detailed highs make them a great choice for those seeking a room-filling sound without the need for heavy-handed bass.
Though we’re not ready to trade in our full-sized hi-fi just yet, the S3-BT managed to push us further in that direction than any other wireless system in its price range has to date. Nuforce has delivered a rare combination of attractive design, user-friendly interface, excellent sound quality and approachable price point with its S3-BT speakers. Whether destined for your desktop, bedroom or living room, these should be a welcome addition to your home or office.
- Gorgeous upper register
- Smooth warmth in midrange
- Big power in a small package
- Crystal clear wireless signal
- Intuitive and convenient
- A little weak in the bass and upper mids
- Some signal dropout in certain instances