Quintessential British purveyor of stylish speakers and headphones, Bowers & Wilkins, has made its first Bluetooth speaker, the T7 – which would be noteworthy in itself if it wasn't for the fact that it's also the firm's first non-AirPlay-only wireless speaker, too. Which is fairly interesting timing, all told.
With Apple first buying up Beats Electronics, makers of stylised speakers and headphones, and then banishing Bose from its retail stores, it could, of course, be a massive coincidence that B&W has chosen this exact moment to make such a concerted play for Android users.
But make a play it has. Where once the Zeppelin Air or Z2 were for the iOS faithful only, shunning Bluetooth for AirPlay exclusivity, the T7 is at its best when using the loss-loathing Bluetooth with Apt-X – which, of course, Apple devices don't support.
Weighing less than a pound, the impressively light, hardback-sized T7 can be connected over ye olde Bluetooth, too, of course, or hooked by ye even older 3.5mm jack. But the real selling point is the whopping 18-hour battery life off a four-hour charge – something we haven't been able to test yet, of course, but that our holidays are eager to be true.
What we have been able to try out in our few hours with it is general operations and it's been a breeze. Connecting quickly and easily, the screen-less interface is reassuringly basic and idiot-proof. Battery remaining is shown in a slick line of white lights down the side when turned on, while a succession of digitised harp noises (Mira Callix, fact fans) act as an aural guide to connections and functions, reminiscent of Intel's iconic 'bongs' and bizarrely comforting in no time at all. We need a hug, clearly.
The T7 at first glance looks almost an exact cross of Loewe's unashamedly posh, brushed aluminium Speaker2Go and the rugged rubber of the more hard-wearing Jawbone Jambox; indeed, the moulded buttons on top are almost a direct rip of the latter.
This halfway house between form and function is a funny one, as it's resulted in something that's too fancy to be thrown around too much (all that metal means it's obviously not waterproof), but that's sacrificed its look slightly for the sake of some more durable edges. That said, the metal middle and Perspex honeycomb outer give it a certain on-trend geometric, "HTC One in Carbonite" effect that we rather like.
Of course, the Blockbusters board effect isn't just for aesthetics, it's called "Micro Matrix" and it actually does something – in this case, hold the drive units sturdily in place. The tech was developed originally for a Jaguar parcel-shelf subwoofer concept, but has found its first production gig on a Bluetooth speaker.
The T7 has two drive units and two force-cancelling ABR bass radiators, front and rear, which partner up to move in tandem to extend low frequencies, effectively pretending they're in a bigger box. Or at least that's the theory, and in practice it's surprisingly full sounding – up loud, this is chucks out a real living room-filling sound, with depth and genuine warmth.
We tried a variety of musics: the throbs of Disclosure were palpable but the synth layers still well defined, the all-encompassing live atmosphere of Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense fully realised, Death From Above 1979's bass punk suitably thrashy but detailed. As ever with a portable speaker, the T7 does tend to lose definition a tad at lower volumes, finding its real voice when nearer maximum, and having it plonked on the floor resonates far better than on a desk. But it's to its credit just how good that sound is when ramped up, the high-end DACs on board producing impressive detail even streaming from Spotify.
Where the squeeze comes is the price. At a penny shy of £300, this is one hell of a premium Bluetooth speaker – that's the same price a free-standing Geneva number and as its big brother, the Zeppelin Air. But then the T7 is utilising much of the same tech, in a much smaller form, with much more versatility, and that battery life… we can see where they're going with it but it's still a stack for a portable. You certainly get what you pay for, though.
The T7 is available to pre-order from B&W today, before getting itself in actual shops for November. We shall see how many times we have to charge the battery before then…