Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 review

This speaker pairs such a big sound in a small package, you'll wish it was portable ... but it's not.

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Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100

“If you want smooth, potent sound in a compact speaker, Cambridge Audio’s Bluetone 100 delivers.”
  • Rich, powerful sound
  • Expansive stereo image
  • Big bass without distortion or unwanted resonance
  • Stylish design
  • Detail could be more precise
  • No battery-powered option
  • Multiple volume controls are inconvenient
MSRP $300.00

An audiophile-grade Bluetooth speaker is an increasingly rare animal these days. It seems portability trumps sound quality among the populous, and we get that – rocking tunes on the go is fun, and really good sound is … well, good enough when music plays a supporting role rather the lead. For those who want the convenience of wireless music streaming without compromising sound quality, there are a handful of outfits making stand-alone wireless speaker solutions that aim to deliver the kind of refined sound expected from a larger, component-based system; and UK-based Cambridge Audio is positioning itself as one of the best of them.

The Bluetone 100 is Cambridge Audio’s latest effort at a powerful speaker with a small footprint. You can’t haul it to the beach, and it’s not really meant for a backyard BBQ, but you can place it in your living room or study and expect it fill your room with rich, powerful sound. With a $300 price tag and such a compact form factor, it would be fair of you to wish it was portable, but alas, this speaker needs a wall outlet to work its magic. On the positive side, the level of sound the Bluetone 100 is capable of rivals that of speakers twice its price, such as the B&W A7 or Definitive Technology’s W9. Find out below how the Bluetone 100 atones for its mobile limitations, making for a loveable addition to the Cambridge family.

Hands on video

Out of the box

The 100 feels pretty hefty as you pull it from its box, weighing in at a full 9 pounds. That makes this unit a bit of a bear to tote around, but its rounded-off rectangular frame is well-balanced, and the bass port at the top doubles as a handle, making the device easy to get a hold of. The design breaks away from solid black with a subtle strip of charcoal grey along the front face, and heavy plastic gives the speaker a premium feel, littered with rubberized controls and a thick rubber pad along the bottom to reduce noise and stabilize it on slick surfaces.

The stout back panel is made of brushed aluminum and bears a succinct collection of inputs, including an RCA analog input, a 3.5mm analog input, and our personal favorite, a bass control knob. Accessories in the box include nothing more than a power cable and a packet of instructions.

Features and design

With the exception of the back panel, the Bluetone 100 isn’t lavishly garnished with brushed aluminum like many of Cambridge’s home theater pieces. Still, the textured plastic along the outer frame feels solid, and a knock reveals a robust cabinet. Little touches like the forward-facing silver Cambridge logo and the aforementioned charcoal stripe all combine to make the speaker an elegant addition to a table top, counter, or stereo cabinet.

The top of the speaker bears on-board controls split into teams of three, with volume and power on the right side, and source and pairing set along the left. Initial Bluetooth pairing is quick and easy, but unlike most models we audition, on-board volume for this powerhouse is independent of source volume. That means you’ll have to crank upthe speaker itself before your device’s volume control can reach its full potential.

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Once volume is adjusted, you’ll have no trouble coaxing power out of the Bluetone 100. Inside the cabinet the speaker sports a claimed 100-watt Class D power plant (hence the “100” in the name), which sends juice to a pair of proprietary 4-inch balanced mode radiators (BMR). Cambridge Audio is all about BMR drivers, which are exhaulted for their power and versatility, able to span an extremely wide frequency range without depending on tweeters, or involving crossover points. The drivers are also known for their wide dispersion properties, which helps the Bluetone expand impressively beyond its compact frame for big stereo sound.

Other features for the Bluetone 100 include Bluetooth with aptX for CD-quality sound from compatible devices, a suite of Cambridge Audio’s digital signal processing, the aforementioned analog inputs at the back, and of course the adjustable bass control knob which helps the speaker transition from acoustic to hip-hop tracks with ease — though we ended up keeping it at the midway point most of the time anyway.

Audio performance

The Bluetone 100 sounds rich and warm along the bottom, with a touch of steely sparkle up top, like a rich chocolate cupcake with a dash of those metallic-looking sprinkles (do they still make those?). Listeners looking for superb accuracy may be a shade disappointed with what the Bluetone 100 delivers at the $300 price point; the details are in there somewhere, but they aren’t pushed to the forefront – that’s kind of the Cambridge way. Still, this powerful speaker offers a wealth of sonic talents to win you over.

The sound is like a chocolate cupcake with a dash of those faux-metal sprinkles on top.

We really like what the Bluetone 100 does with the lower midrange, especially thick-cut percussion, like the smashed snares you’ll find roaming through Neil Young’s Harvest Moon album. The speaker also does a fairly good job with the upper edge of the DI bass lines running through the album — we found ourselves wishing the attack was more firm and present there, but it’s hard not to enjoy the buttery resonance that follows.

The upper register can be a little steely at times when rendering lighter acoustic instruments, especially when listening to records that already lean that way, such as the colorful Pink Floyd bluegrass cover album, Pickin on Floyd. Still, the speaker’s midrange reproduced just enough extra presence to keep us satisfied, rendering clear and full vocals, and adding a pleasant touch to other midrange stars like piano, acoustic guitar, and horns.

We found ourselves in a bit of a goldilocks scenario when we compared the Bluetone 100 to the premium Beoplay A2 portable speaker from Bang & Olufsen. The A2 is exploding with nuance and detail, but the sound is bright, and needs to be eased into like a crisp day at a ski lodge. Moving from the warm, smoothed-over sound of the Bluetone only accentuated that crisp cut. On the other hand, while the Bluetone’s sound is easier to digest upon first encounter, it sounded soft and sanded down in the transition from the more accurate B&O speaker. And while the Bluetone is $100 cheaper, let’s not forget it’s a much bigger device, and inconveniently tethered to a wall outlet.

However, the Bluetone holds a firm advantage over most pricey portables thanks to its powerful sound, and its rich and full lower register. The speaker’s BMR radiators also give it some very impressive stereo expansion for its size. There’s enough power and presence here to fill a crowded room, without resulting in distortion, or unwanted resonance in the bass. Finally, we love the comforting control of the bass knob at the back — a real seller for this little block of sound, and one that should help it to appeal to a broad audience.

Conclusion

While the Bluetone 100 may be one of the last of its kind to forego battery power, the speaker’s powerful punch and expansive stereo image make it worthy of consideration for those who rarely venture far from an outlet. For those who seek a smooth, potent sound in a compact speaker, Cambridge Audio’s Bluetone 100 delivers.

Highs

  • Rich, powerful sound
  • Expansive stereo image
  • Big bass without distortion or unwanted resonance
  • Stylish design

Lows

  • Detail could be more precise
  • No battery-powered option
  • Multiple volume controls are inconvenient

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