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Image taken from jabra.com

(Note: This review is a significant expansion of a much shorter review I wrote for Pioneer Magazine in 2012)

Jabra’s Solemate (S$288 list) makes no pretenses about taking the Jawbone Jambox head-on and challenging its iron-fisted grip on the portable bluetooth speaker market. The question is whether the Solemate has what it takes to give the Jambox the boot (pun intended), to become top dog in the portable wireless speaker category.

Connectivity

The Solemate offers a slew of connection options for use with different media sources and players: bluetooth and 3.5mm mini-jack are pretty standard, but what sets the Solemate apart from other portable speakers is the additional option to pull audio via USB, acting as an external DAC and speaker. This is a very welcome option for someone like me, because I tend to pull music from several sources in the course of a listening session (typically in the office): I might listen to some streaming audio off Soundcloud, then an album on my iPod Touch, and review a video for work on my laptop. Not having to plug and unplug the speaker from multiple sources is a handy convenience.

Another neat feature is that the 3.5mm interconnect cable tucks in neatly underneath the unit, where the rubber “sole” (from which the Solemate derives its moniker) is. Very, very clever and definitely makes the unit so much more portable – no more scrambling to find that pesky cable when you urgently need it!

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Image taken from jabra.com

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Image taken from jabra.com

Build Quality

The Solemate’s heavy-duty rubber chassis and metal grille makes it heftier than other portable speakers, but pretty much guarantees that it can take a tumble. Not that I’d deliberately put that to the test!

Sound Quality

Interestingly, it seems that the larger chassis also allows it to deliver music at a higher volume, while retaining a solidly warm sound signature. A look under the hood reveals a larger centre speaker – I’m assuming that its the woofer – which probably helps with low end reproduction. The relatively larger enclosure probably enables a bigger bass response too. In my opinion, this really adds a good amount of definition to music, without having to push overall volume.

Image taken from jabra.com

Image taken from jabra.com

The Solemate definitely deviates from the Jambox mold here: where the Jambox offers clean and bright reproduction, the Solemate’s signature is warm and a tad treble-shy. At normal listening levels, audio is clean and distortion-free through Bluetooth, USB or 3.5mm line-in. To me though, while the Solemate’s relaxed sound signature may not be audiophile quality, it offers enough thump and presence to rock a small party whilst being discreet enough to use in the office. I particularly enjoy using the Solemate to listen to my weekend jazz playlist on lazy Saturday mornings – absolutely lovely. It’s loud enough to fill up my apartment’s living room, and even provide the soundtrack to my daughter’s first birthday party in a private function room. That said though, the Solemate still has to obey the laws of physics. It’s still a compact portable speaker, and won’t get disco-loud.

Speaker To-Go

Another feature unique to the Solemate is a “sound bag” which gives it an added layer of water-resistance for outdoor use, but doesn’t diminish sound quality. Whilst the claim sounds somewhat incredible on paper, I must say that the sound bag definitely doesn’t affect sound quality one bit. The bag appears to be covered in countless tiny circle motifs, which upon closer inspection reveal themselves to be made of different material from the rest of the bag. I suspect that its the same sort of fabric that speaker grilles are made of, hence its ability to allow audio to pass unfiltered. I’ve tested it at outdoor functions, and it works a treat. However, the opaque material does make it a bit hard to adjust volume.

Battery Life

Jabra states that the Solemate’s rechargeable battery lasts 8 hours, and in practice the battery does seem to last quite a while. My Solemate lasts an entire weekend without having to be recharged, and I do tend to use it on the go quite regularly throughout the weekend, taking my music wherever I go in the apartment.

Speakerphone

Of course, with this being Jabra, there’s bluetooth speakerphone functionality, and quite capable at that too. I can imagine using this for mobile conference calls – its a far cry from the miniscule, tinny-sounding Blackberry speakers we have to use for mobile conference calls some times!

Conclusion

With its plethora of connection options, lovely warm sound quality, great battery life and intuitive controls, the Solemate certainly deserves to be mentioned alongside the Jambox as a well-priced option for a portable speakers.

The Solemate is now available in Singapore at all Apple premium resellers, selected Challenger stores and other authorised Jabra resellers.

Special thanks to Jabra’s Singapore PR agency, who furnished a review unit of the Solemate – which I subsequently purchased!

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