Fenda W18BT Swan portable Bluetooth speaker
An attractive looking Bluetooth speaker that's merely adequate when it comes to sound quality
- Very solid build
- 360-degree sound distribution
- Form factor
- Battery life
- Distortion at high volumes
- Lacks bass and highs
- Little pricey
While its sound is average at best, the Fenda W18BT Swan offers excellent design and battery life making it a good investment for those requiring a small, portable speaker to be packed in a bag or shifted around the house.
Price$ 119.00 (AUD)
The Fenda W18BT Swan portable Bluetooth speaker combines 360-degree sound delivery, above average volume levels, and impressive battery life in a small, solidly built and very portable sphere. However, while its form factor is commendable, the device suffers from distortion and a general lack of clarity, making its $119 asking price questionable.
The W18BT Swan is 70mm in height and 75mm in diameter. This makes the spheric (sans flat base and top) speaker ideal to place and forget, and to transport to different places. It’s small enough to be thrown in a backpack, or to sit on an office desk or coffee table. The only time you’ll need to pick it up is to turn it on and off (the switch is located under the base) and to charge the battery. The white model we reviewed looked particularly good sitting beside Apple products, although a black version is also available.
While small in stature, the device, which is made from zinc alloy, is heavier than it looks at 378g (although Fenda lists a net weight of 530g), but still more than light enough to be carried around in a bag. At the same time, the speaker’s sturdy construction stops it from potentially shifting due to vibrations at high volumes. We would have liked it if the base had rubber feet to further assist with keeping it still; the smooth body has no real traction and therefore relies solely on weight.
The flat top of the speaker houses its simplistic control panel which contains nothing more than five touch-activated buttons. These include volume up and down, and previous and next track selection. There is also a pairing button represented by a Bluetooth logo; this needs to be pressed for about two seconds to enter pairing mode (confirmed by voice prompt). The W18BT Swan can be paired with two devices at any one time, but can only deliver sound from one at a time.
What the W18BT really lacks is a play/pause button. Yes, it’s a Bluetooth-operated speaker, but in order to pause/stop media, you must use your source device (this can also mean having to unlock your smartphone/tablet when using third-party media playback applications). The addition of a play/pause button would be convenient, particularly if the speaker is situated within arm’s length.
A tiny microphone hole is situated between the volume down and fast forward buttons, allowing the speaker to be used for phone calls as well as any voice commands.
The W18BT Swan’s only input is a USB 2.0 port situated on the lower back of the unit through which the speaker is charged. This is accompanied by an indicator light which is red when the device is charging or low on battery, and temporarily green when fully charged. Although the unit will warn you (via voice prompt) that the battery is running low (once every few minutes when you are on your last 15 minutes), there is no battery indicator. We recommend charging the battery to full if you plan to take the W18BT Swan out and about.
Setup and performance
Pairing the speaker with a compatible media source via Bluetooth is straightforward. Flick the switch at the W18BT Swan’s base to turn it on, at which point a voice prompt will state “bar on” and the lights on its control panel will switch on. From there, it’s just a matter of selecting the speaker on your source, which for us was listed as ‘FENDA Swan’; no password is required, and the connection will be confirmed by a voice prompt stating “connected.” It should also be noted that the W18BT Swan uses Bluetooth 4.0 which drains less battery than previous versions.
The W18BT Swan has been designed to produce a 360-degree sound field. As the image below shows, the product’s 2in Neodymium driver faces upwards, with a cone-shaped top pointed down towards it in order to equally distribute sound in all directions.
While the 360-degree concept works well, the quality of the sound produced by the W18BT Swan leaves plenty to be desired. When set between low-to-mid volume (roughly 25 to 50 per cent with source set between 70 to 80 per cent), the speaker produces reasonable clarity. Mids prove prominent, with both highs and bass struggling, almost overshadowed by the mids. It’s suitable for listening to relaxing, ambient tunes (such as those by Tycho), as well as vocal- and acoustic-heavy songs (such as those by City and Colour), but it won’t deliver on tracks that have big beats (such as those from The Chemical Brothers).
At high-to-maximum volume (90 to 100 per cent), the W18BT Swan is capable of offering an average listening experience, but not enough to justify the $119 asking price. Mids are again at the forefront, with highs falling further behind as bass gains some ground. The depth and clarity of bass is below average, though; it sounds fairly flat and lacks the depth to produce deep thuds. While playing one of our benchmark songs, “Under the Influence” by The Chemical Brothers, the numerous bass climbs triggered rustling more so than the intended deep rolls within the song.
We strongly recommend against setting both source and speaker to maximum volume as the distortion will make the listening experience unbearable regardless of the genre being played. Lower volumes aren’t completely void of distortion either, but it’s not all too noticeable unless the song has a lot going on.
Fenda claims the W18BT Swan’s 700mAh lithium-ion battery will get through “at least four hours” of playback at under 80 per cent volume. During our testing period, we moved well beyond this mark, registering about two additional hours. When we turned the speaker below 50 per cent for more quiet office listening, we managed to get through the full eight-hour work day. When low on battery, the speaker will prompt you with “battery low”, which it will repeat several times (roughly every two to three minutes) until the battery is completely drained. Unfortunately, there is no battery meter, so we recommend a full charge if heading out.
Realistically, the W18BT Swan’s value proposition lies more in its form factor, battery and design than the sound quality it’s capable of producing. Its size and build quality are excellent, with a zinc alloy body and small frame, which makes it sturdy and heavy enough to avoid passive movement during playback, but still compact and light enough to pack in a bag. It’s also easy to use, and has a huge battery life with the help of Bluetooth 4.0. The 360-degree design must also be credited.
Despite these positives, it does struggle to deliver songs as the artist would intend, with distortion causing trouble at high volumes. It can’t host a party, but if you need a speaker to carry around without having to worry about damage too much, or if you just want something to place on the coffee table, the W18BT Swan is ideal.
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