Perhaps you know Westinghouse best as a maker of home appliances such as refrigerators, stoves and microwaves. Or, if you’ve been keeping tabs on the TV section at your local big-box store, you know Westinghouse now also makes TVs. Take a quick tour around the company’s website and you’ll find a decent array of LED models available, distributed at retailers like Costco, Sam’s Club, and Target. However, like a puzzle straight out of Sesame Street, if you look a bit closer at the site’s product page, you’ll also find something that doesn’t belong: a single, entry level Bluetooth speaker.
Dubbed the Unplug, and available at $100, the speaker is yet another miniature sound box to add to the burgeoning landscape of Bluetooth devices that seem to multiply like a virus. And while the offering of such a product from an appliance-maker might seem strange to some, in this brave new Bluetooth reality, we really aren’t surprised at all — mostly just curious.
What kind of sound would a device with such parentage present? How would the Unplug compare to similar offerings from companies whose primary focus is audio? And just why is there a rather large section cut out of the top of the speaker? The answer to these questions, and more, are revealed below.
Out of the box
Pulling the Unplug from its small cardboard package, we got our first glimpse of the little grey speaker with its soft plastic casing and distinct slot cut through the top – vaguely reminiscent of a CD input. After the slot, the next thing we noticed about the Unplug is its fairly hefty weight, which is often a telltale sign of some decent electronic guts.
Inside the package we found the usual suspects of accessories including a USB to mini-USB charging cable, a DC adapter, a 3.5mm input cable, and a black neoprene carry bag. Switching the unit on, we were pleased to find the Unplug arrived already charged – it’s the little things, folks.
Features and design
Even for a Bluetooth speaker, the Unplug has a pretty succinct design. Three buttons adorn the top of the grey box, including two volume keys and a play/pause/phone button. Also on top is a pinpoint microphone port for the device’s speakerphone functions. While we always appreciate the speakerphone option, like many entry level portables, we would ultimately find the Unplug’s call quality to be pretty mediocre for parties on both ends of the line.
On the glossy back of the unit is a mini-USB charging port and 3.5mm input, as well as a power switch. A small rubber pad on the bottom helps keep the speaker securely in place on slick surfaces.
The distinctive slot we mentioned earlier is not a purely aesthetic addition. It’s used as a kind of sound reflector for the Unplug’s passive radiator “subwoofer” that rests at the base of the slot. Accompanying the passive sub are two 40mm drivers which handle the upper midrange and treble.
The Unplug offers an estimated 10 hours of battery life. Unlike many of its peers, there is no USB slot for charging a smartphone, nor an FM radio, or any other frills. Though the features are a bit light, we held out hope that Westinghouse put the money it saved toward sound quality.
Bluetooth pairing for the Unplug is activated by holding down the play/pause button until the LED circling the Westinghouse logo on the front blinks red and blue like the light bar on a police car, at which point “Unplug 100” will appear in your device’s Bluetooth settings. Not unexpectedly, the Unplug uses the older Bluetooth version 2.1 profile. This extremely old version of Bluetooth has a tendency to create poor signal quality in many devices, though we’ve found varied results on that front.
Admittedly, considering the Unplug’s parentage, miniscule size, and older Bluetooth protocol, we didn’t have high expectations for its sound quality. However, though the speaker isn’t without some issues, we were pleasantly surprised to find a powerful low end and midrange matched by a clear upper register that combined for a fairly well rounded, full sound signature.
Though the Unplug has a powerful max volume for its size, we definitely revealed its limits.
The thick low end also adds some much-appreciated depth to the upper portion of the Unplug’s midrange. Vocals were rendered with clarity and presence and had some nice body rounding out the sonic picture. We were also treated to some fat, gritty color in the electric guitar tone on Led Zeppelin’s “Rover” and a ruddy warmth in the acoustic guitar on Ray LaMontagne’s “Rock n Roll and Radio.”
The Unplug’s treble range was a bit hit or miss. We enjoyed clear-sounding harmonica, alto sax, and even some well rendered crash cymbal hits on many productions. However, the treble could quickly turn brittle, especially in hi-hats and tambourines. We found lighter acoustic guitar recordings to be a bit flimsy and tinny at times, and there were instances of other instruments that seemed to cross the line from brilliant to sizzly, causing a bit of ear fatigue.
Though the Unplug has a powerful max volume for its size, we definitely revealed its limits. While auditioning Muse’s “Madness”, we were a bit disappointed with the anemic treatment of the low synth patch on the tune, and when we cranked the unit to full blast on our iPhone 5, we heard an odd high click that let us know the passive radiator was distorting badly. Still, for most of our listening, the medium volume range was more than ample, and that was our singular experience with distortion.
While we managed to dig up a few complaints about its sound and at times wished for a better feature set, we walked away fairly impressed by Westinghouse’s Unplug 100. The Unplug offers some of the deepest low end we’ve heard in an entry level portable, combined with a clean upper register that makes for some enjoyable listening. If you don’t mind giving up frills like phone charging for the sake of beefier sound from an ultra-tiny speaker, the Unplug might just be your bag.
To be sure, we think the $100 Unplug matches up pretty well to its competitors, and is worth checking out. Westinghouse might not have a legacy of audio products for you go off of, but we’re here to tell you it did its brand justice with this little speaker. To get more insight and comparisons in the ever expanding Bluetooth speaker market, check out our recent Bluetooth roundup.
- Full, broad low end
- Clean upper register
- Well rounded sound signature
- Unit can distort at full volume
- Inconsistencies in the treble
- Poor speakerphone function