Basic smart speakers put the emphasis on the smart, rather than the speaker, prioritizing the virtual assistant more than sound quality. What if you want both? Speakers from Google, Apple, Sonos, and others all offer a combination of improved sound and access to a virtual assistant. The latest company to add smart functionality to a proper speaker is Marshall with the Stanmore II Voice.
Amazon’s Alexa is onboard at launch, and a Google Assistant model is slated for the future, adding smart home control and assistant capabilities to a big, bold speaker. We’ve had a Stanmore II Voice shaking the foundations of the house for a week now, assessing whether it’s the perfect mix of smarts and sounds.
The Marshall Stanmore II is a bit of a whopper. With a commanding voice assistant inside, it’s the definition of large-and-in-charge, dominating the room that Alexa controls. It’s also a typical Marshall design, and wouldn’t look out of place integrated into one of the brand’s famous stage amps.
This speaker is boxy and brassy, with a set of no-nonsense knobs to twiddle, and we love it. None of that touch-sensitive control rubbish or a sci-fi look that’s only suitable for the ultra-minimalist here. Alexa may be able to do much of the everyday adjustments for you, but when you want more bass, you can also twist a big knob on the top. Doing so illuminates a scale around the edge, telling you instantly what level you’ve reached in a delightfully retro way.
In addition to the volume, bass, and treble controls is a small button to change the input source, ranging from Wi-Fi to Bluetooth, and a 3.5mm Aux input jack. The rest of the speaker has no controls, and when it’s plugged in it’s on permanently. Looking for a microphone mute control? It’s right next to the controls so you won’t need to look for long.
With a voice assistant inside, it’s the definition of large-and-in-charge. Marshall’s.
The speaker is covered in Marshall’s signature textured vinyl, the grille over the front is a mottled grey, and the logo and base plate are brass-colored, which looks really fantastic. The Marshall Kilburn II looks like a toy when put alongside, in terms of both size and materials. The Stanmore is heavy at 10.5 pounds (4.75kg), and the footprint is sizeable, so you need a decent surface to place it on. Make sure you set aside a strong shelf for the Stanmore II Voice if you want one. Once it’s there, it’ll stay, as it does not have a battery for portable use.
In short, the Marshall Stanmore II is a clever piece of design. It’s eye-catching, yet it will fit in with most choices of decor without looking out-of-place — although you definitely know it’s a speaker. You’ll have to accept this, as to get the most from the Stanmore II Voice, it has to be able to hear you, so hiding it away is not really an option. Not that the Stanmore II is small enough to be hidden away anyway. Size aside, we like the speaker’s brass look, the illuminated controls, and the sturdiness. It looks and sounds every inch of a quality piece of audio equipment.
There’s a reason the Stanmore II Voice is big. It has a 50 watt Class D amp for the woofer, and a pair of 15 watt Class D amps for the two tweeters inside the bass-reflex cabinet. Inside a modestly sized apartment, it shakes the floor, blows your eardrums, and suitably irritates the neighbors. Pleasingly, at full volume there is no distortion until you whack the bass level to maximum, when it does get messy as it falls over itself trying to maintain control.
Such anti-social behavior isn’t necessary. At three-quarters volume it’s plenty loud enough and still requires you to raise your voice to have a conversation. The bass is sweet and punchy, and the vocals remain prominent. Listening to Strangest Thing, by The War on Drugs (a FLAC file over Bluetooth), the soaring guitar sections sing beautifully, elegantly conveying the emotion you expect from not just the song, but the rock-orientated Marshall brand itself. Yes, we said elegantly. Don’t pass Marshall speakers off as bass-obsessed boxes — the Stanmore II Voice is very musical, with bright and precise mids and trebles, and a rich overall tone. It’s a speaker that’s suitable for all rooms, and most types of audio too, much like the design suggests.
Big, bold, and brassy, the Stanmore II Voice is also very musical.
Vocal-driven, pop-heavy songs such as Iz*One’s La Vie en Rose sparkle too, due to being able to manually adjust the bass and treble on the speaker or by voice. Such easy, on-the-go tweaking of the sound makes a difference if you have varied tastes. We wanted to hear the group sing, more than the bass here, for example.
Because of the ease with which you can stream music from your phone — more on this in a second — we also listened to many podcasts and spoken word sounds great too. We did tweak the bass levels, as it added too much depth to male voices; but we loved the volume it could create making listening as you moved around the house effortless.
There are various ports and connection methods on the Stanmore II Voice. We played audio from a Sony NW-A45 music player through the 3.5mm Aux jack, but didn’t like the sound — which came across as strained — as much as we did listening over Bluetooth. Bluetooth is advertised as version 5.0 and with aptX on the non-Alexa enabled Stanmore II, while the Stanmore II Voice offers Bluetooth 4.2 and aptX.
It has Wi-Fi built-in, but no Ethernet port or USB port either. There is an RCA jack on the back to connect a an analog output. You need to use Alexa, or your phone when connected via Bluetooth to control music playback on the Stanmore II, and it also supports Spotify Connect. Provided Spotify is linked with Amazon Alexa, it’s easily controlled using voice.
The Marshall Stanmore II has a set of long-field microphones inside so you can chat to Amazon’s Alexa, just as you would an Echo speaker. The Skills are all the same, the voice is the same, and the smart home controls are the same. Alexa is an excellent, capable virtual assistant. Ask Alexa to connect to your phone using Bluetooth and it’s done, turning on or off smart lights is simple, and playing music through Spotify is a breeze. It’s all highly conversational too, with less need to pay attention to your phrasing than with Google Assistant.
The far-field microphones can hear you at a great distance, even with tunes blaring.
However, it’s getting to this stage that’s frustrating. Alexa’s iOS app isn’t very good, and you sometimes even have to use it to pair new Bluetooth devices, in addition to using it throughout the initial setup. We repeatedly tried to link our Philips Hue and Spotify accounts in it, but it constantly failed. In the end, we turned to the desktop and Alexa’s web interface. Not ideal. Marshall’s Voice app has an equalizer and a few other speaker adjustments, such as the brightness of the volume control lights. It’s reliable, if bland, and you have to install it to make the speaker work.
Marshall says the far-field dual microphones are designed to hear you at great distance even when loud music is playing. How did we get on? It’s astonishing, but with the volume at 8 (out of 10), which is the loudest you’d realistically want in a modest room, we barely had to raise our voice to get Alexa to respond, even when standing on the other side of the room. The volume is reduced drastically after the wake word, and Alexa was quick to respond to requests.
However, the microphones did not pick up our voice after leaving the room, even in a connecting hallway. This isn’t a big concern, and provided you’re in the same room with the speaker, we doubt you’ll have to repeatedly yell to get Alexa to pay attention. Impressive.
Our Stanmore II Voice review unit supports only Amazon Alexa, not Google Assistant. Marshall claims it will release a separate version of the Stanmore II Voice with Google Assistant in December 2018 through its online store, with retailers stocking the speaker from March 2019. It’s disappointing an option will not be available as a software update for anyone wanting to swap from Alexa to Google Assistant, though this may well be on Google or Amazon, rather than Marshall. If you’re not settled on a virtual assistant, we recommend choosing carefully, as this situation shows you’ll have to live with your choice in the future.
Price, warranty, and availability
The Marshall Stanmore II Voice is $400, or 350 British pounds, and can be purchased now through Marshall’s own website, or retailers including Amazon. Marshall provides a one year warranty on its products, which covers defects and faults, but not cosmetic damage or that caused by misuse.Our Take
The Marshall Stanmore II has the volume levels to match its rock n’ roll looks, but don’t think it’s all about the decibels, it’s a surprisingly musical speaker with an elegance you don’t expect. Amazon’s Alexa has been expertly integrated, and will easily hear you when you say, “Alexa, turn it down!”
Is there a better alternative?
The world is not lacking Bluetooth speakers, nor those with voice assistants. Amazon’s own Echo Plus is $150 with larger drivers than the original Echo Plus. It won’t be as capable as the Stanmore II Voice, but it is half the price. The Sonos One is a great mix of value and audio quality for $200, too. You could even buy a $50 Echo Dot or Echo Input and connect to any speaker with a 3.5mm Line-in, up to and including the excellent $500 Sonos Play:5.
If Google Assistant is your virtual assistant of choice, and you don’t want to wait for the Assistant-powered Stanmore II Voice, take a look at the $400 Google Home Max. While Siri is not as capable as either of these voice assistants, Apple’s $350 HomePod has strong audio, but is designed for Apple-fans only.
How long will it last?
The Marshall Stanmore II Voice stays where it’s placed, so there’s not much concern about it breaking or being dropped. Watch out for liquid spills though, if it’s placed somewhere accessible. Amazon’s Alexa is one of the best voice assistants available, the skillset is constantly growing, and it’ll continue to improve through software updates. You won’t have to think about replacing the Stanmore II Voice any time soon.
Should you buy it?
Yes, if you like the style of the Stanmore II Voice. The audio won’t disappoint, and Alexa operates well. There are plenty of options out there if the design doesn’t do it for you, though, and definitely look elsewhere if you think Google Assistant is the better voice assistant option for your home.