House of Marley Finds a Way to Be Unique in Bluetooth Audio – Review

It was painfully obvious at the 2014 CES show that there are more than enough “me too” products out there. Everybody and their cousin makes a version of a smartphone case (look, we’re unique, ours has Swarovski crystals!), and almost every booth at the world’s largest consumer electronics show featured a Bluetooth portable audio device. It went from mind-numbing to nauseating-overload pretty quickly!

In our non-scientific opinion, we would estimate 70% of these Bluetooth devices run the gamut from bad to nothing special. That leaves the other 30% to be quite good, sold by reputable companies, and worthy of consideration. However, that is still a heck of a lot of Bluetooth portable audio devices to sift through! What could possibly make us choose one over another?

Well, that’s how we felt as we stumbled into the House of Marley booth. House of Marley? Like, as in Bob Marley? Yes, confirms the massive banners sporting his iconic image. Yes, the discrete use of green, gold and red on their product tags subtly testifies (Haile Sellassie I!). Yes, declares the music bumping a chill, trans-world groove. Ok, say we, the marketing for this line of audio and lifestyle products is a no-brainer. Hard to go wrong with Robert Nesta Marley as your lead salesman. The product was good looking, well-designed. We took a few pictures, muttered a non-committal “yeah, that’s cool” and went to make our way to the next of 2,300 vendors hawking their wares at this massive Las Vegas trade show.

And that’s when Nick, one of the Beautiful People working the House of Marley booth, came sprinting after me and asked me in rapid-fire succession:  “Do you have any questions about any of our products? Would you like to try anything out or get a demo?  Would you at least take one of our free (cool, wood-finished) thumb drives that has all of our info and media on it? Is there anything in particular that you’re looking for at the show?” It was a classic, courteous, and earnest save when an experienced salesperson realizes that a potential customer has been neglected and is about to slip away. Having been in sales and marketing for a long time, the gesture was greatly appreciated. And his last question let me get right to the point, “Anything wireless?” “Absolutely, please let me have you try a few of our latest Bluetooth products…”

house-of-marley-get-together-bluetooth-wireless-review-qtoothWhy do I relate this long introduction to a review? Because I soon learned this level of professionalism and attention to detail permeates not only the company but also their products. House of Marley has found a few supremely cool niches to help them standout in a VERY crowded field. So what exactly are they doing? Here’s the three main things:

First, they made sure anyone who wanted to had a chance to actually try out their products at CES. Too many booths at the show had all of their products behind glass or securely locked down to a display case. If a company isn’t willing to let the attendees at the biggest trade show in their industry try out the gear than these potential influencers will have no reason to get excited. They might even think it’s because these companies don’t believe in their own product. In this case, Nick had me back in the House of Marley booth and auditioning the sound of their new Liberate XL Bluetooth wireless headphones in under a minute.

Second, they  definitely adhere to their credo, “Beauty—Durability—Earth-Conscious”. These are the three drivers behind House of Marley’s entire product line. There is no doubt that they have it down when it comes to the “beauty” department. Everything in their line is the perfect mix of rootsy urban cool. A strong component of their design sense is their choice of materials.  They use their exclusive REWIND fabric, a unique blend of recycled water bottles, organic cotton and hemp, along with other materials including cotton and canvas textiles, recycled plastics, recyclable metals, bamboo and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified woods. All of these things combine to create beauty and a durability with an earth-conscious peace-of-mind. The result is both fashionable and classic.

Third, they choose the right components. Let’s face it, if you know anything about technology you’ll know that most companies have to go to the same vendors to get the parts that go in these devices. Still, it helps when they assemble the right mix of components to make the whole package the best it can be. QTOOTH would go to some manufacturer’s booths at the trade show and ask what made their products special. The response would often be based on color, celebrity endorsement, or some unique feature that only worked with that company’s accessories. Ask them what they were doing to overcome the inherent limitations of the Bluetooth audio quality and either get some mumbo jumbo of it not being necessary, meaningless specs, or a blank stare. Not so with the House of Marley. Nick knew exactly what placed their product among the best.

house-of-marley-get-up-stand-up-bluetooth-wireless-review-qtoothAll House of Marley Bluetooth products include the A2DP profile, which means that they fully support wireless streaming of stereo audio. That’s cool, but then they go one step further. by making sure that their devices can handle AAC audio. AAC audio, common on iTunes and an ever-increasing number of devices, is an improved successor of the well-known MP3 format. This means better fidelity at a lower bit rates (better sound with smaller files). And on certain models (listed below) House of Marley Bluetooth also supports the aptX platform, which vastly improves the quality of all wireless audio. The results are noticeably great, especially combined with their design which included materials and ported cabinets that truly helped to improve audio quality. Can any manufacturer put these components in their devices? Yes, but only a few of them take the effort to do so. House of Marley could’ve easily rested on their cool aesthetic and the Bob Marley name and moved plenty of units. Instead, it was great to see that they cared enough to bring their customers the best experience possible.

house-of-marley-bag-of-riddim-bluetooth-wireless-review-qtoothImpressions: In general, there is always a lot of noise at these trade shows. Add to that all of the other music demos going on at the same time and it makes for a tough environment to gauge the audio quality of these devices. But in a way it’s ideal. If the sound coming out of the headphones or speakers can cut through all of that distraction and still sound great, that says a lot in their favor. Across the board we found the sound quality of the House of Marley line of Bluetooth wireless devices to be warm, tight and punchy with a good, precise articulation on the high end that provided what we would best describe as “musical clarity”. Overall, we did favor the devices that included aptX as part of the Bluetooth spec. But any way about it, the whole line gives a lot of value and easily goes head to head with the best of their competition. And did we mention all of this AND they are as Earth-friendly as possible? Irie, mon!

The Get Up Stand Up Bluetooth Wireless Home Audio System

Drivers: Two 4.5″ Woofers and Two 1″ Tweeters

Enclosure Type: Bass-Reflex

Amplifier Power: 40 Watts (20W x 2)

Features:

  • Quick pairing to any Bluetooth Device
  • Auto re-connect to last used Bluetooth Device
  • FSC Cerified Bent Walnut and Birch Wood Frame
  • Touch Sensitive Controls
  • Convenient Carry Bag with Strap
  • Optional Rechargeable Battery Pack Available
  • Supports Advanced Bluetooth AAC and APTX Codecs
  • IR Remote

Controls: Power, Volume, Bluetooth Pairing/Disconnect

Inputs/Outputs: Power Input, 3.5mm Stereo Audio Input,  RCA Sterio Audio Input, USB Power Output (For Recharging/Powering Personal Devices)

Bag of Riddim Bluetooth Wireless Portable Audio System

Drivers: Two 4.5″ Woofers and Two 1″ Tweeters

Enclosure Type: Bass-Reflex

Amplifier Power: 40 Watts (20W x 2)

Features:

  • Quick pairing to any Bluetooth Device
  • Auto re-connect to last used Bluetooth Device
  • Exclusive Rewind Fabric Covering
  • FSC Cerified Bent Birch Wood Baffle
  • Touch Sensitive Controls
  • Convenient Carry Bag with Strap
  • Optional Rechargeable Battery Pack Available
  • Supports Advanced Bluetooth AAC and APTX Codecs

Controls: Power, Volume, Bluetooth Pairing/Disconnect

Inputs/Outputs: Power Input, 3.5mm Stereo Audio Input, USB Power Output (For Recharging/Powering Personal Devices)

Roots Rock Bluetooth Wireless Portable Audio System

Drivers: Two 2″ Woofers and Two 2.25″ Passive Radiators

Enclosure Type: Bass-Reflex

Amplifier Power: 16 Watts (8W x 2)

Features:

  • Quick pairing to any Bluetooth Device
  • Auto re-connect to last used Bluetooth Device
  • Exclusive Rewind Fabric Covering
  • Integrated cover protects drivers during transit
  • Easily rests anywhere with integrated footrest

Controls: Power, Volume, Bluetooth Pairing/Disconnect

Inputs/Outputs: Power Input, 3.5mm Stereo Audio Input

Get Together Bluetooth Wireless Portable Audio System

Drivers: Two 3.5″ Woofers and Two 1″ Tweeters

Enclosure Type: Bass-Reflex

Amplifier Power: 20 Watts (10W x 2)

Features:

  • Quick pairing to any Bluetooth Device
  • Auto re-connect to last used Bluetooth Device
  • Exclusive Rewind Fabric Covering
  • Bamboo Front Baffle and Rear Trim

Controls: Power, Volume, Bluetooth Pairing/Disconnect

Inputs/Outputs: Power Input, 3.5mm Stereo Audio Input

Liberate Bluetooth Wireless Portable Audio System (Available May 2014)

Drivers: Four 1.125″ Full-Range Drivers

Enclosure Type: Sealed (Acoustic Suspension)

Amplifier Power: 10 Watts (5W x 2)

Features:

  • Speakerphone with Microphone
  • Quick pairing to any Bluetooth Device
  • Auto re-connect to last used Bluetooth Device
  • Exclusive Rewind Fabric Covering
  • Angled Design for Proper Sound Propagation

Controls: Power, Volume, Call Answer/End, Bluetooth Pairing/Disconnect, Play/Pause

Inputs/Outputs: Micro USB Power Input, 3.5mm Stereo Audio Input

Chant Bluetooth Wireless Portable Audio System

Drivers: One 2″ Full-Range Driver

Enclosure Type: Sealed (Acoustic Suspension)

Amplifier Power: 2 Watts x 1

Features:

  • Speakerphone with Microphone
  • Quick pairing to any Bluetooth Device
  • Auto re-connect to last used Bluetooth Device
  • Exclusive Rewind Fabric Covering
  • Carabiner Clip for Easy Portability

Controls: Power, Volume,  Call Answer/End, Bluetooth Pairing/Disconnect

Inputs/Outputs: Micro USB Power Input, 3.5mm Stereo Audio Input

The Liberate XL Bluetooth Wireless Over-the-Ear Headphones (Available May 2014)

Headphone Type: Over-Ear
Communication: Universal In-Line Microphone
Control: Universal Three-Button Controller
Driver: 50MM Moving Coil
Connector: Nickel-Plated 3.5MM
Stereo Frequency Response: 15Hz – 22KHz
Sensitivity: 103dB @ 1kHz
Impedance: 32Ω @ 1kHz
Supports: Bluetooth aptX and AAC Codecs