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Bowers & Wilkins T7 review: Where less is so much more
A great sounding speaker, though it's not the most versatile
- Loud and clear sound from a small speaker
- Outstanding battery life
- Well designed
- Easy to use
- Does not double as portable battery
- No NFC
- No microphone for use as a speakerphone
- No resistance to water
Price$ 499.00 (AUD)
Prestige audio brand Bowers & Wilkins has focused on the basics with its first Bluetooth speaker, the T7. Outstanding battery life and class-leading sound are its hallmarks, though the tight focus has meant features that typically make Bluetooth speakers versatile could not make the cut.
What a looker
About the flashiest part of the B&W T7 is its design. The small speaker is identifiably Bowers & Wilkins as it blends unique design cues and refined functionality seamlessly.
Rubber wraps uniformly around the sides of the B&W speaker. The grippy material keeps it steady at high volumes, and it works on an aesthetic level by integrating the controls and LED lights. The grip, buttons and lights are all part of one uninterrupted rubber strip.
Few controls line the rubber frame. Up top are volume toggles, a Bluetooth pairing button and a play button, which if double pressed, skips to the next track. The final button on the side is a power button. Tapping it once illuminates up to five LED lights, which indicate battery life, while holding it down turns it off and on. Otherwise the speaker relies on subtle and tasteful audio cues.
Between the rubber and the speakers is B&W’s ‘micro-matrix’ design, a transparent honeycomb brace inherited from the company’s range of professional stereo monitors. The design element proves functional as it keeps the speaker taut, even when the volume edges towards max, so that no cabinet shake spoils the soundstage. That’s the nature of its function, though it is the source of a great deal of charm for the T7.
The clear micro-matrix wraps around the speakers and completely separates the controls and the LED lights from the battery. If the controls and LEDs are separated from the battery with no visible wiring connecting the two, then how are they powered? Knowing the answer to this quandary takes away some of the appeal, much in the same way learning how a magic trick is performed spoils the fun.
Sound — not tech — is the focus
No other part of the T7 is flashy or unfocused. There’s no NFC technology on board for simplified Bluetooth pairing. A lack of waterproofing means it's unlikely the $499 speaker will be placed alongside a pool. You won’t find it sitting in the middle of an office desk as it has no microphones in which conferencing calls can be held. And, even though there is a micro-USB port, it cannot be used to charge smartphones or tablets.
What you are paying for is sound, fantastic sound, that is so sophisticated you could forget it is coming from a Bluetooth speaker, and a battery ample enough to last the better part of a day.
Loud as it is clear, clear as it is loud
Nesting at the T7’s core are two 50mm mid-range drivers and two passive bass radiators. These speakers, coupled with the bracing micro-matrix design and the apt-X Bluetooth standard, could comfortably fill a mid sized room with bodied, crisp audio, and still have a fair amount of volume in reserve. We imagine most T7s will rarely play music at max, even on the days when it is taken for use outside.
The clarity of the speaker also challenges what was previously possible from a Bluetooth speaker. Music often sounds layered with the high- and mid- frequencies proving easily identifiable. Passive radiators round off the sound by adding bass that is balanced for a sense of depth.
B&W has, for the most part, overcome the obstacle of producing spacious sound from a speaker that has little space to begin with. Tracks including Gareth Emery’s Long way home and The Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition are ripe for this speaker, as is Richard Marx’s 80’s classic Hazard and the piano rich Primavera from Ludovico Einaudi. It takes most genres in its stride, playing melodious tunes with ease, and doing so at volumes that will have you forget this is a portable speaker.
The T7 is a marked improvement in the category of Bluetooth speakers, just as the Harman/Kardon Aura and the B&O BeoPlay A2, but there are brief moments that bring to mind the limitations of the compact speaker category. Busy enough tracks over populate the mid-range, such as The Killers’ Mr Brightside. The best Bluetooth speaker then still can’t manufacture the space afforded by a multi-speaker setup.
The best battery life in its class
Battery life is one of the T7’s stellar points. B&W claim the Bluetooth speaker can play music for 18 hours without needing to be charged, though it is quick to point out the speaker could last longer at lower volume levels.
Testing the claim proved troublesome for the best of reasons. The T7 is too loud at max to listen to for hours on end. Another reason is that the battery simply outlasted us.
We’ve been using the T7 as our full-time personal speaker for over a month, and in that time we have only needed to charge it once. One session involved us listening to music for 8 hours straight. Most other speakers keel over by then, but the T7 had some 60 percent left in its proverbial tank. Our experience with the T7 only endorses B&W’s claim that it can play music for three-quarters of a day.
Bowers & Wilkins’ T7 is a purist speaker for audiophiles who value sound quality and battery life above all else. The micro-matrix design is functional as it is beautiful, while the audio quality leads the industry, particularly when this speaker is compared to similarly sized rivals. In short, the Bowers & Wilkins T7 is proof a Bluetooth speaker can challenge a 2-channel stereo system.
People who love technology more may want to consider some alternatives. The T7 can’t double as a Bluetooth speakerphone or a battery pack. We relish the speaker’s long battery life; we only wish we could choose how it is used.
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