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Bowers & Wilkins T7 a good little bluetooth speaker

T7-Wireless-vari-Product

The Bowers & Wilkins T7 Wireless Portable Speaker

I am not going to lie.  I went into this review with high expectations.  And why shouldn’t I.  It’s a Bowers & Wilkins speaker.  They are know for their speaker design and sound clarity.  So to say I wasn’t looking to the moon from this would be an understatement.

So let’s get the simple stuff out of the way. The Specifications

Height – 114mm

Width – 210mm

Depth – 54mm

Net Weight – 940g

Technical Features

Bluetooth v4.1

Digital Signal Processing

High Quality Class D Amplifiers

Rechargeable lithium ion battery

Inputs

Auxulliry – analogue (stereo 3.5mm jack)

Service – firmware update only micro USB)

So that is the simple stuff.  Now let’s get into the actual nitty gritty stuff.

Drive Units

2 x 50mm (2.0in) full range

2 x Auxiliary Bass Radiators (ABR)

Amplifier Power output

2 x 12W

Frequency Response 

58Hz – 19kHz +/- 3dB

Frequency Range

-6dB @ 50Hz to 21kHz

Testing

So let’s talk about what I did for testing and what I used.  Unlike most sites that test for only a week or so.  I’ve had the T7 for two months.  I have been testing it in my office, car, outside, and also in the kitchen while cooking and cleaning.  i tried to utilize the T7 as I would in everyday life. I didn’t want to do anything special.  For sometimes reviews seem to only do specific things and don’t really show how the average person would utilize the equipment.

I streamed everything from my phone.  Which is a Nexus 6 on AT&T’s network.  I only streamed from Tidal for music.  For movies I was streaming in my house on my network using Plex as the streaming tool.  I did use YouTube to stream videos as well.

Below are the songs I utilized for specific testing.  I say specific because I wanted to do testing in a controlled environment, before I went out to the real world.  Again, all music was streamed via Tidal.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Soundtrack

Alex Clare’s “Too Close” from Unplugged

Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” from No Diggity: The very best of Blackstreet

Emeli Sandé’s “My Kind of Love” from Our Version of Events

Candlebox’s “Far Behind” from The Best of Candlebox

Jessie J’s “Bang Bang” from Sweet Talker (Deluxe Version)

Gossip’s “Heavy Cross” from Music for Men

AWOLNATION’s “Sail” from Megalithic Symphony Deluxe

Flo Rida’s “My House” from My House

As you can see it’s pretty eclectic. I wanted a good mix.  But if you are a Jazz fan, then The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Soundtrack is a great one to listen to. Just saying.

Review Time!!!

The Build

First I want to talk about the build quality of the T7.  It’s just great.  No other way to put it.  From where the rubber meets the polycarbonate is spot on.  And the metal work that incases the speakers is well built and finely milled.  For the $350 price it had better be.

The rubber outsole is nice, but it can be a bit slick.  Especially when you have wet hands. I found this out, because I was cooking and had just washed my hands and had to turn the volume down a little to hear what someone was saying.  The button at the top are nice and easy to “read” with your fingers. So if you want to find the volume up or down, it’s easily done.  The one issue/complaint, is that I had to press harder than I had anticipated.  Not that that is a bad thing, it’s just you don’t expect it when you first utilize the buttons.  Once you figure it out, it isn’t an issue.  But I would like it so that a lighter touch was able to be used.

Just inside the rubber outsole is a honeycomb casing.  This is called the Micro Matrix.  In B&W’s own words “A rigid honeycomb of interlocking cells that brace the cabinet and reduce vibration and distortion.” Does it work? It’s hard to actually say without trying the speaker with a Micro Matrix and one without to do a comparison sound check.

The nice thing about this Micro Matrix is that it is see through.  Which is a neat little thing.  When you have the speaker outside, it adds to the character of the speaker and helps it become part of the scene. Versus sticking out like a sore thumb in a greenhouse. One of the problems I personally have, is that when I have to carry this thing somewhere, I tend to grab it from the top.  And because the actual Micro Matrix, isn’t that tall, I grab the mesh coving the speakers.  This can be a problem if you squeeze to hard.  You could actually damage the diaphragms in the speakers. You can also buy a carry case for the T7.  So that is an option.

The central section of the device houses the speaker assembly. Looking at the detail it took to make all the little perforations in the metal shows the dedication to craftsmanship and also to putting out a great product.   The edges are rounded.  It reminds me of the roundness on the newer Sony mobile phones.  It’s smooth and nicely curved.  It makes no difference for anything other than the esthetics of the enclosure.  But it is that level of detail that makes it look and feel like a higher end device.

Around the back, you have four things in the lower left hand corner.  A power port, auxiliary port, service micro usb and a reboot button. The auxiliary port is used if you have something that doesn’t have Bluetooth and still need to utilize a 3.5mm jack.  So you can go from that device to the speaker.  The service micro usb is used solely for any services.  And the reboot button is just for that, rebooting the system.

There is a speaker grill on the back that allows the second bass speaker to lend it’s sound to the room. Which is nice.  This gives the speaker a feel of depth and also helps fill the room with sound.

 

The Sound

I will not lie, I like this little speaker.  The sound is expansive.  It does a good job of not just projecting the music, but making it feel as if it is engulfing the room.  When I was outside using it, it was clear and crisp.  And I had no issues with hearing it over what I was doing.

This speaker really reaches it’s sweet spot at about 50-75% of volume level.  Turn it up any higher than that, and you really start to get a lot of noise and static coming through.  Granted every speaker will do that.  But some speakers handle the volume above 75% better than others.

The highs and the mids were nice.  They seemed crisp and clear to me.  In every song I plaid, the T7 seemed to project these levels consistently better than I would have expected from such a small speaker. But, it’s when you play a bass heavy song, that you start to see where the T7 falls short.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice.  But when you listen to a bass heavy song like AWOLNATION’s “Sail” from Megalithic Symphony Deluxe, you start to hear a lot of noise and static.  It was to a point on this song, I had to turn the volume level down to about 25% in order to hear the song without all the noise and static.  Conversely, when I was listening to Jazz, specifically The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Soundtrack I had no issues with anything.  In fact, this is where the speaker shined the best.

Would I like more bass presence?  Yes and no.  Some songs that are bass heavy I would like less sound distortion.  But other songs I would like the bass to be “heavier”.  I know this is hard to do in a little speaker. The T7 has two bass diaphragms.  There is one in the front and also one in the back.  As I stated earlier this helps bring a fullness to the room. Since you are getting sound not just projected towards the listener, but also a little “junk in the trunk” help, it makes the sound much fuller and filling.  Rather than just coming at you in one direction.

I am impressed with the quality and amount of sound that comes out of this little thing.  It’s just about the perfect size to fit in anything and go anywhere with.  Plus with it utilizing Bluetooth, I can have it handle not only music but video as well.  Speaking of video, it does a pretty good job of sound from a video file.  I used both Youtube as well as streaming a movie from my home system using Plex.  Is it equal to a big system?  NO. But, if you have crappy phone speakers, it does a very good job of reproducing the sound and action well.

 

The Tech and fun stuff

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty stuff that makes this thing good.

First, let’s start off with what everything in the descriptions mean.

Bluetooth v4.1 – This specific version is an software update to v4.0.  This isn’t a hardware update.  What this version provides is better usability on the consumer side.  These include increased co-existence support for LTE, bulk data exchange rates—and aid developer innovation by allowing devices to support multiple roles simultaneously.

New features of this specification include:

  • Mobile Wireless Service Coexistence Signaling
  • Train Nudging and Generalized Interlaced Scanning
  • Low Duty Cycle Directed Advertising
  • L2CAP Connection Oriented and Dedicated Channels with Credit Based Flow Control
  • Dual Mode and Topology
  • LE Link Layer Topology
  • 802.11n PAL
  • Audio Architecture Updates for Wide Band Speech
  • Fast Data Advertising Interval
  • Limited Discovery Time

So the good news is that the T7 supports almost the most current form of Bluetooth.  There is a v4.2.  But I am not so sure that it really matters here.  And if you want to read more on Bluetooth, go right here and get your reading on.

Digital Signal Processing – Definition: is the numerical manipulation of signals, usually with the intention to measure, filter, produce or compress continuous analog signals. It is characterized by the use of digital signals to represent these signals as discrete time, discrete frequency, or other discrete domain signals in the form of a sequence of numbers or symbols to permit the digital processing of these signals.

In simplistic terms, the signal is coming into the T7, being transferred to a digital signal, changed into numbers, re-changed back into a signal and then the “sound” is broadcast through the speakers.

Analog Sine wave Bits & Bytes - Digital Music Playback Demystified.indd

If you look at the above diagrams, then you can see a regular analog sine wave.  The second diagram shows what the digitized wave looks like.  Why is this important to visualize?  Because it is this lack of fluidity that keeps digital music or sound from exactly matching what true sound is.  Depending on the way the DSP converts the information will make a difference on how the sound coming out of the speakers reflects what is truly there.

If you want to learn more about why this is, then go look at the article I wrote about Hi-Fidelity music.  HERE 

The fact that the T7 has a dedicated DSP means that the work it takes to make the digital sound wave isn’t being pushed on the main processor.  The DSP can make the signal much more efficiently, and allow the CPU to do other tasks. This not only produces better sound, but also allows the T7 to “focus” on producing great sound.

 

High Quality Class D Amplifiers

First let’s talk about what the amplifier does.  It is the “tool” that helps drive the speaker.  To “drive” the speakers means to push and pull the diaphragm.  Or to move it back and forth.  Just like you do a car.  You either it drive it forward or backwards.  Same thing with the speaker.

There are several classes of amplifiers. Class A, B, A/B, D, G and H. I’m not going to go into detail about what all the different classes are and do.  But, if you want to read up on it and learn a lot more, then go here and get some reading on.

The one we care about is the Class D amplifiers.  This is the best of the Class A, B, and A/B amplifiers.  It not only boasts better efficiency, but is also lighter than the others.  So it requires less heat sinking to keep it cool.  Which in turns helps whatever device it’s in, be just that little bit lighter.

So let’s look at one and get down to why and how it works.  So there are really three parts to a Class D amplifier.  First is the comparator, the transistors and finally a low-pass filter.

The comparator, also known as a Pulse Width Monitor, takes in two signals. The first being that actual sine wave of the sound.  The second being a triangle type wave.  So to keep it short, when the incoming sine wave is more positive than the triangle wave, the transistor goes to the maximum state.  When the incoming since wave is more negative that the triangle wave the transistor goes to the most negative state.  So you get a series of pulses that match the incoming sine wave, but is amplified.

comparator

Once the amplified signal is passed through the comparator, it then goes to one of two transistors.  One transistor does the pushing and the other does the pulling.

class D-amp

As you can see in the diagram, the signal goes from the comparator to one of two transistors.  As stated one transistor does the pushing and the other does the pulling.  So if the signal is more positive, then it will go to the top transistor.  Which then pushes the diaphragm out.  When the signal is more negative, then the signal goes through the bottom transistor and pulls the diaphragm back.

But the signal isn’t actually moving the diaphragm, it affecting the polarity of a magnet directly behind the diaphragm and that in turn does the actual push and pull action.

The final part of this amplifier is the Low-pass filter. It is there to mitigate the noise that the Class D amplifier makes during the process of amplification.  So what you get out, is an amplified signal that is pretty clean of noises.  That is the down and dirty version.

So by having great digital signal processing, and giving the Class D amplifier solid and stable sine waves in, it is getting high quality, amplified sound out.  So good in gives good out.  Great in gives us the T7!

Drive units

The drive units are the part of the speaker that contain the voice coil, diaphragm and dust cap. When talking about speakers, if you say “Speaker” then you are referring to all components that make up the speaker. When you talk about the “Drivers” you are talking about a very specific part of the speaker assembly.  There is a difference when speaking to someone in the know.

When discussing drivers you also speak of driver size.  This is a measurement take at the widest point.  So in the case of the T7, each driver is 50mm wide.  There are two of them, so that is where the 2x50mm comes into play for the Drive Units.

Frequency Response

The frequency response is a measurement of what frequencies a speaker can reproduce within a specific amplitude. So another way to put it is the frequency response is the frequency range versus the amplitude.  This is measured in Hertz(Hz)  So for the T7, it has a frequency response of 58Hz – 19kHz +/- 3dB.  The +/- 3dB refers to the fact that the sound will not deviate 3dBs above or below the centerline of the frequency.  So that +/- 3dB refers to the amplitude.  Not the frequency.

The 58Hz – 19kHz refers to the frequency response of the speaker.  So the lower the number, the better. Can the T7 produce sounds outside of this range?  Yes.  But once you are outside this range the variations of amplitude could be more than the 3dB range.  For example, at 59Hz it might produce 100dB of output.  At 18kHz the T7 might produce 98dB and at 57Hz it might produce 95Hz.  So once you get outside the frequency response you can start to get more inconsistent amplitude.

Frequency Range

The frequency range is the actual range of frequencies that a speaker can produce.  So in this case the T7 can produce 50Hz to 21kHz.  This also has a deviation of -6dB.  As stated above within this range the signal will deviate in amplitude -6dB above or below the centerline of the frequency.

So why do these matter??  Well think of it this way.  Your car can rev up to 9,000RPM.  So your RANGE is 0-9,000.  But your sweet spot for power is 1,500 – 6,000.  So your RESPONSE is 1,500 – 6,000.   The speakers are the same way.  The T7 can produce sounds from 50Hz to 21kHz.  But it’s sweet spot, in so far as the least amount of deviation is from 58Hz – 19kHz.

Putting it all together

So let’s put all the tech together and see what we get.

  1. Bluetooth 4.1 which gives us a much better and more efficent way to handle signals from a device to the T7
  2. The T7 is utilizing Digital Signal Processing to help “clean up” the information coming in and giving us a cleaner and more consistent signal
  3. Utilizing a High Quality Class D Amplifier to take that cleaner signal, amplify it and help drive the speakers properly.
  4. Having a good Frequency Response so that the sound is much more consistant coming out of the speakers.
  5. Having a good Frequency Range so that we can hear all the sounds the artists want us to hear.

Putting all that great stuff into a very nice small and compact package gives you a very good portable bluetooth speaker!

The Conclusion

So this is the part where I talk about all the goods and the bads.  But to be honest, there really isn’t much bad I have to say.  it is a great little speaker.  Bowers & Wilkins have done a great job of making a very small, portable bluetooth speaker.  I had no issues with taking it anywhere I wanted to go.

The sound that comes out of this little speaker is awesome.  No, it isn’t going to fill the room like the Bowers & Wilkins Zepplin Wireless or the A5 or A7.  But, this thing puts out the sound.  I used to use just my computer speakers for background music while I was working.  Now, I keep it paired up and actively listen to music. Instead of music just being there, it is actively part of how I work and what helps motivate me and keeps me moving.

I also find myself utilizing it when I’m watching movies or videos on my computer or phone.  If I’m going to do anything that requires good sound, I use it.  It’s just that good.  If I had a few gripes, I would only really have two.

  1. Sometimes the bass gets a little noisy and can have too much static.  Some of that is the song itself.  Some is the source, but either way, it can be very noticeable.
  2. I wish there was a better way to hold this when I carry it somewhere.  Yes I can get a carry case, but you don’t put something in a carry case, just to take it from the living room to the kitchen do you?  Neither do I.

Those are really my biggest “gripes”.  I can see how this thing would be great at small parties.  The charge on it seems to last a good long while.  And it pairs so easily and quickly with whatever I want, that it is almost a no brainer.

Is it worth the $350 that B&W is asking on their site?  I would say yes.  But I also think bringing it down to the $250 range would allow it to be more accessible. $350 is a hard nut to crack for something that is just bigger than a paper back book.

Our giveaway winner Caroline raves on how good it is.  And for me, to have a community member rave about something is much more higher praise than anything I can say.  I highly recomend the T7 if you are in the market for a solid, quality bluetooth, portable speaker!

Now if I can just figure out how to got B&W to outfit my house with the Zepplin, Panarama 2 soundbar, and a few A5 & A7’s.  My life would be in music and sound heaven.  🙂

Click HERE  to see pictures and a few videos.

Published in Review

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