Find the right Bluetooth speaker for you

By Kevin Hunt

Chicago Tribune

Divoom’s Voombox-Ongo is a little brick, maybe the fittest and most ready-for-action of all portable Bluetooth speakers selling for less than $70.

Koss’ BTS1 portable Bluetooth speaker weighs less than 6 ounces and couldn’t fight its way out of an Altoids tin, but what a beautiful voice for less than $60.

Let’s play matchmaker. Which of these two Bluetooth speakers is right for you?

Indoors/outdoors

If they were cats, would they be an indoor or indoor-outdoor pet?

The Voombox-Ongo is an outdoor cat, for sure, with ruggedized, silicone wrap-around protection between front-and-back speaker grilles secured to alloy frames by tiny hex screws. It looks industrial and feels substantial.

Let’s roll: The Voombox-Ongo is the first portable Bluetooth speaker I’ve seen that comes with a bicycle mount. (It’s also a speakerphone.) So saddle up your specialized mountain bike and blare your tunes through the neighborhood.

Speaker on a stick: The quarter-inch threaded mount on the speaker’s base also accepts a tripod. (Or dangle it from a backpack by connecting a carabiner to the Voombox-Ongo’s loop.)

The BTS1, meanwhile, might not survive a heavy downpour. Other than a back panel with a rubberized trim, this speaker could pose for the centerfold of Plastic Monthly. Do not expect to find this speaker, also equipped with a microphone, strapped to a bicycle handlebar.

The Vitals

Size: The Voombox-Ongo (5.5 inches wide, 2.36 inches tall, and 2.87 inches deep) fits in my winter coat's side pocket. It weighs almost 15 ounces.

The BTS1 (4 inches wide, 3 inches tall, and 1 inch deep) fits in my shirt pocket. It weighs 5.76 ounces.

Rechargeable battery life (estimate): Voombox-Ongo, 8 hours; BTS1, 5 hours. Both use a micro-to-USB cable for charging.

Colors: Voombox-Ongo (light blue, light green, red, orange and black); BTS1 (pale white with gray grille).

Speaker drivers, power: Voombox uses a pair of 1.5-inch drivers with a passive radiator system — to enhance lower frequencies — at the rear of the speaker enclosure. Amplification: 3.5 watts per driver.

The BTS1 has a single 1.5-inch driver. Amplification: 3 watts. Instead of a passive radiator, it’s fitted with a front port.

Controls: Four pushbuttons for Voombox-Ongo (power/pairing, volume up, volume down and play/pause), three for the BTS1 (power/pairing volume up, volume down).

Bluetooth: The Voombox-Ongo uses the newer, more power-efficient Bluetooth 4.0. The BTS1 uses Bluetooth 3.0.

Extras: Voombox-Ongo: none. BTS1: an output for adding a second speaker and a flip-out kickstand for additional security on a flat surface.

Sound: Indoors, the Voombox-Ongo sounds dull, distant and somewhat bottom-heavy. Outdoors, it becomes a different animal: More authoritative and better balanced. This is not unusual for a speaker designed for the outdoors. An outdoor speaker must play louder, with greater bass energy, than the standard indoor speaker living in a confined space.

The BTS1, though a portable, is better voiced for indoor use. For its size, the BTS1’s sound is smooth all the way to the highest volume, up-front and engaging.

Information: Divoom Voombox-Ongo ($69.90, Divoomusa.com); Koss BTS1 ($59.99, Koss.com).

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