LIFEPROOF AQUAPHONICS AQ10 BLUETOOTH SPEAKER

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I’ve reviewed a handful of bluetooth speakers and headphones—and I tend to rate them all against one another, as it is difficult to be consistent about audio without some sort of reference point.  For example—if the only audio devices you’ve ever listened to are Bose products, then listening to something of objectively lower quality will tend to disappoint; likewise, if you live in the budget audio market for both speakers and headphones, then with a slight bump to the quality (even if the device you’re listening to is not objectively higher quality), you will think it the best product out there.

We are all unfortunately swayed by our opinions of past performance, and I’m no different—so my goal for this review is to compare the product against some other mainstream devices to determine whether or not I think it’s a good purchase—or if you should save your money.

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The Lifeproof Aquaphonics AQ10 speaker is presented as a bluetooth speaker that is waterproof, dirt proof, snow proof and drop proof—above all other features.  I’ve tested most of those things, except for the snow proof part…it may be June in Cleveland, but surprisingly we’ve had no snow this month.  Oh, and it gets loud (at least according to the back of the box).

This is not the first waterproof speaker I’ve owned or reviewed, and it definitely lives up to its marketing, but not in any impressive way: it is only waterproof.  It also floats, which is nice in case it falls off your boat or into the pool, as it would be easy to retrieve without damage.  But beyond that, it is useless in water.  This may seem to be a weird thing to complain about, but let me explain:

The notion of waterproof electronics loses its excitement as more and more devices are released that are waterproof.  IP67 water resistance is becoming the norm, which is great, but devices that survive submersion, versus devices that are usable during submersion are significantly different.  For example, the iPhone 7 can be submerged, finally, but the fingerprint reader and screen become all but useless under water; this means that the water resistance on the iPhone 7 is a precaution, or a safety mechanism, NOT necessarily a feature.  In a more practical sense, it’s not so easy to take pictures under water, unless you launch the camera app before submersion and then use the side buttons to take the picture.

Yes, I know this review isn’t about the iPhone, but I’m trying to prove a point.  A speaker that can float should be usable during floatation; that would make it a truly impressive product.  I don’t want a speaker I can use by the pool; I want one that I can use IN the pool.  Otherwise, it’s water resistance and ability to float is nothing more than a safety precaution.  So, you may be asking—can you use this during floatation?  Short answer is no; unfortunately the speaker is top-heavy and flips upside-down while floating, which completely submerges the speaker grills and essentially mutes the sound.

Next, on to the sound quality; after all, this is the reason you want a speaker.  Sadly, I was disappointed with this device when it came to sound output.  Later in the review I will compare to other devices, but first, here’s a quick overview of it’s performance:

  • Lows: Don’t even bother.  The bass on this speaker was the most disappointing part.  On a mid-size speaker in the $200 price range, I expect some bass, but this was virtually non-existent.  Even with the device placed on a table up against a wall (the best possible placement to allow for sound reflection) the bass on this was absent.
  • Mids: The sound profile for this device seems to be heavily weighted in this area.  It did a fine job at low and medium volumes, but the sound starts to get very blatty at higher volumes.
  • Highs: This was OK—but even at middle volumes, the highs started to split audibly and become distorted.

Another integral component to a good portable speaker is its battery life.  I didn’t drain this speaker entirely nor charge it up fully, but during the test period I used it without charging it, only utilizing the out-of-box charge that the device came with.  One thing to note on this device, though, is that it comes with two USB out ports for charging, meaning some of the juice being used by its onboard battery (which boasts 13 hours of use) is transferable to a USB device, be it your phone or MP3 player.

You might be wondering why I bring up MP3 players…since no one really has dedicated MP3 players anymore.  One of the more interesting features on this product (and it’s older brother, the AQ11) is a dry box compartment on the bottom of the speaker that keeps whatever you can fit in there completely dry, even during submersion.  I tested this with a piece of tissue that would very obviously show signs of dampness should it come into contact with any water—and surprisingly found the dry box to perform flawlessly.

So then, what can you fit into the dry box?  Maybe a couple of credit cards and your car key (as long as you don’t have a thick fob attached), and a little cash.  Or, perhaps a small MP3 player, like an iPod nano?  One of the USB out ports for charging, as well as one of the two aux line-in ports, are inside the dry box, meaning with short enough cables you could create an all-inclusive audio package that will stay safe in any element.  Not necessarily a reason to buy it, but certainly a cool feature.

And real quick—let’s talk about buttons.  Bluetooth speakers tend to have a minimal button set and tend to use combo buttons, with gestures, for basic control.  The AQ10, on the other hand, has quite a few buttons, almost to the point where it seems excessive.  The play and previous/next track buttons are all distinct, plus a bluetooth button to enter pairing mode, a source switch button, volume up and down, AND a separate power button.  There are a lot of buttons…if you’re into that sort of thing, that’s another tick mark in the positive column.

The AQ10 is regular price $200, which puts it up against speakers like the Sonos Play 1, the new Bose Soundlink Revolve and Soundlink Mini II, the Sony HG1 and the JBL Pulse 2.  None of those competitors will provide the durability that the AQ10 does, but every single one of them will outperform the AQ10 from a sound quality perspective.  What this means is the durability of the device is far more important from a marketing perspective than the sound is.

I think a big competitor for this device is the UE Wonderboom, which is half the price and offers better sound quality and most of the durability features that the AQ10 offers (no dry box, though).  The AQ10 is a little louder than the Wonderboom, but that additional volume doesn’t do much good for the audio quality.

Maybe the most ideal use case for this speaker is someone who spends a lot of time on the water canoeing or kayaking.  You can leave a few important items in the dry box without fear of anything getting wet, but still have your tunes out on the water.  A larger boat would be too loud and would drown out the audio, with the exception of a fishing boat that sits more quietly.

The sound is adequate enough for a small area provided you are looking for some background noise, but won’t provide much entertainment at a pool party.  It’s maybe not a bad choice for a small patio gathering in your back yard, and works just fine indoors for a single-room deployment.  I like any waterproof speaker for use in the bathroom, since you can be close to your sound without fear of damaging the speaker.

One other thing to note—my past audio reviews on speakers point to three categories of speaker that I try to confine my purchases to: The Budget, The Go-To and The Beast.  A speaker that is good for any of those categories has matching audio performance and price in its category…but the AQ10 doesn’t fit that profile.  Its performance is more of a budget speaker, with a price in the “Go-To” range.  It’s almost as if the speaker doesn’t know what it wants to be, although I’d be curious what the AQ11 sounds like in comparison.

In general, I’m not totally sold on this one—at its price point, I’d expect the audio performance to be a little bit better.  At the time of posting this review, you can only really find this device at Best Buy, and even if you can find it on sale I’m not convinced this is a good purchase decision.  At higher discounts—maybe 25% or greater—this might be a good purchase purely for it’s durability.  Otherwise, I think it might be wise to pass on this one.

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