Built-in smartphone speakers are, by and large, not ideal for listening to music out loud. They’re just fine for the occasional YouTube video, or for handling a hands-free call, but their limited power and size has facilitated a gigantic accessory category: The portable Bluetooth speaker. Trouble is, for a lot of folks, “portable” just isn’t portable enough. Thus a new audio holy grail has emerged, as manufacturers seek to combine the sound quality of a dedicated external speaker with the portability of a smartphone case, for a quality audio experience you can put in your pocket. Vibes Audio, with its new $150 Vibrox speaker, claims to have achieved that magical formula, thanks to a flat, carbon fiber-based speaker that snaps onto a custom case. In our Vibrox review, we set out to discover whether Vibes can deliver on that promise.
The idea of a snap-on smartphone speaker is hardly new, and we’ve seen a few examples in recent years, including the $190 Peri Duo, the SoundFocus Amp , and the Zagg Speaker Case. Sound quality aside, one thing’s for sure: These are not very attractive accessories. The reality is, with traditional driver-and-cone speaker technology, it’s hard to create a low-profile speaker that pumps out big sound.
The Vibes Audio Vibrox sidesteps this tradeoff with its flat, carbon fiber soundboard. The result is an ultra-thin speaker, that also looks really good. Its trapezoidal shape and contrasting black and silver plastics give it a high-tech yet minimalist look, and the built-in mic means you can use it as a speakerphone too. Instead of hiding the speaker in an enclosure, the Vibrox makes it the central feature, showing off the naturally appealing weave pattern of the carbon fiber.
The carbon fiber soundboard results in an ultra-thin speaker that looks really good.
Another benefit to the Vibrox’s flat-panel technology is that the entire speaker is designed with an IPX7-rating in mind for water resistance, the same rating as an iPhone 8 and 8 plus. That’s a big advantage for those who don’t want to start worrying about an accidental immersion now that their favorite phone can withstand one. Our review model, however, was a non-waterproof pre-production unit, so we weren’t able to test how it handled water.
Without the extra material needed for an enclosure, the Vibrox is remarkably light, at only 3.6 ounces. You’ll be aware of the extra weight in your pocket, but we doubt it will bother you. The potential drawback to an unprotected speaker is damage from objects, like keys, coins, or anything else that might come in contact with your phone during the day. The carbon fiber soundboard will probably withstand a lot of abuse, but the thin rubber membrane that surrounds it looks like it could be easily pierced.
Fire up the Vibrox and you’re welcomed by a very sultry English-sounding female voice, which says, “Hello. Ready to pair.” It’s such a come-hither tone, you can’t help but wonder exactly what she has in mind. It certainly elicited a few giggles from family members.
The same voice gives you feedback about EQ modes, when you’ve hit maximum and minimum volume levels, and also says “goodbye” when you power down – and yes, the voice does seem a little disappointed that you’re turning her off.
Not quite complete
The Vibrox’s $150 price tag is a little deceiving. For that price, you do indeed get the Vibrox speaker and a companion charging cradle, but if you want to actually clamp it to a phone, you’ll need to buy a $30 Baserox bumper frame for your specific smartphone — bringing the total investment to $180. The good news is that for $30, you’re getting a well-built bumper frame that offers decent protection on all four corners and edges from drops, and is designed to accommodate both the Vibrox speaker as well as the $50 Vibes Voltrox 3,000 mAH battery pack, a separate accessory for augmenting your phone battery.
One of the reasons the Vibrox is so sleek and light (and, potentially, waterproof) is that it lacks any exposed ports for charging or for an aux-in connection. In fact, it has no ports at all — just a set of five control buttons on the side, enclosed in rubber.
You’ll be aware of the extra weight in your pocket, but we doubt it will bother you.
To charge the speaker, you’ll need to undock it from your phone frame and snap it back into the included charging cradle and connect that to the included AC adapter. The dock features a built-in kickstand — good for speakerphone calls — but Vibes says that the Vibrox sounds best when sitting flat on a surface. While we’re not thrilled by the requirement of a charging dock (after all this is supposed to be an ultra-portable solution), the Vibrox’s claimed 10-12 hours of play time means that daily commuters can likely leave the dock at home. Strangely, even though Vibes’ Voltrox battery pack will snap into the charging cradle, it can’t actually be charged by it, which seems like an oversight.
Looks flat, sounds flat
We were really hoping that the Vibrox would be the best of both worlds: Great sound from a tiny, portable speaker. Unfortunately, the only real improvement it offers over your smartphone’s speaker is volume. The Vibrox does get loud — impressively so, and certainly loud enough to fill a small room — but the quality of that sound is disappointing. There’s virtually no bass, even when using the “indoor EQ” setting which supposedly favors fuller frequencies over loudness. The high frequencies are excellent however — very crisp and detailed. As you would expect with a single speaker, there’s no stereo separation.
Without another clip-on speaker to compare it to directly, it’s hard to say how the Vibrox fairs in this category, but buyers should definitely consider how important bass is to their enjoyment of music before dropping $180. If you’re looking for a big volume boost and great voice clarity for phone calls in a very sleek, portable, and (eventually) waterproof package, the Vibrox may be worth consideration.