Tuesday 26 October 2021

Marshall Stockwell II

In July 2018 I got round to eventually reviewing the Marshall Stockwell Bluetooth Speaker here on my Blog and it's taken me just as long to get round to reviewing the unit's successor, the Stockwell II. I got here in the end!

The newer version is actually quite different physically as it places the the two speakers out the front and back instead of left and right, front-facing. Sounds odd, but actually it seems to work quite well as I'll try to explain later! These units are for casual use with the emphasis on getting as much of the signature Marshall bass-boom sound as possible whilst retaining a small enough unit for people to carry - and enough power to last the day, out and about.

Physical knobs and controls are one of the reasons some of us flock back to Marshall gear and here it feels like they have supplied the best of both worlds. The signature design and nostalgic functionality alongside some modern features. I say some, because this is not a connected speaker for anything beyond Bluetooth or 3.5mm input. So no WiFi for anything (including OTA updates), Alexa (thank goodness) or Google Assistant here!

Where Marshall have dragged things into the 20's though is with Bluetooth 5, so connecting to multiple feed devices, USB-C charging and a smart LED Battery indicator up-top. There's a pairing button to the left of the knobs which facilitates that function quickly and efficiently and the USB-C charging enables just that, with any old cable you have hanging around (obviously USB-C ones)! You can also use the battery in the unit to charge another device - so out and about with a mobile phone, it can be used as a powerbank as the USB-C works for power in or out.

The battery is not the quickest to charge at around 5 hours from flat but does offer a quick blast if needed, 20 minutes giving 6 hours of playtime. Marshall claim 20 hours of playback per charge, but in my testing here it's more than that. More like 30 - but then it depends how loud you're playing it, I guess. Maybe full volume for 20 hours would kill it. My neighbours won't appreciate me testing that!

Before I get to the sound, a word more about design and features. Those three knobs at the top are an absolute delight in a world where everything's push-button, capacity, touch-this and touch-that. Here we have a volume knob with off/on round to the left, bass in the middle, treble on the right, all with clear white position-markers on their top and 0-10 around the base. The knobs are slightly 'cone' shaped as they go up with rubberised grips around the edges. The resistance as you turn them is just right - not too firm, not too loose.

I have the black version which comes with a leather removable carry-strap, lined inside with red velvety stuff - so classy! The casing is made from the same solid material which their amplifiers are made from, which makes the unit near-indestructible, but also quite heavy - apparently 1.38Kg - with an IPX4 water-resistance rating (so not a dunking, but rain shower/splashes). It feels hefty and looks rugged, especially with the metal grille going down the front side and 'Marshall' in the middle, with the same on the back (only in black, not chrome).

Anyway, enough drooling, onto the sound! Plugging in a source via the 3.5mm audio-in or Bluetooth, the net result is pretty much the same with variations depending on the user's source device and material, but it's powerful and bass-orientated as you might expect. Testing here with various output devices, leaving any equalisation flat and just using the knobs for adjustment. The bass makes the speaker pulsate, even when set to zero! Wind it up and it blasts out the beats shaking anything it is touching!

Keeping this in perspective, no, of course it's no huge cabinet speaker - after all, it's a small, portable speaker for carrying around and enjoying on the move. It's perfectly good enough to fill a bedroom for volume, not a source of music at a party or larger gathering. More of a personal or small-group sound-source. Having said that, it's the loudest and most powerful-sounding speaker I have here (and I have a good few in the size/class).

I should explain that the speakers inside the unit are one 10W class D amplifier for the woofer and two 5W Class D amps for each tweeter which somehow work together to offset the fact that the sound is coming out back and front of the unit. Marshall claim that the tech creates a multi-directional sound which is still stereo but in some way defies the space around it, not depending on where the listener happens to sit in relation to the unit. Something to do with Marshall having progressed Alan Blumlein's principles of stereo, separating-out and projecting all around. So "...a specially created 'Blumlein Stereo Sound' system that improves multi-directional performance by separating spatial content, then reassembling it".

I have to admit to being a bit lost here as I don't really understand the physics of what's going on. If I place the unit side-on in front of my nose, I can clearly hear two channels of stereo, one in each ear, but as it's moved away, that effect becomes disproportionately lessened but a soundstage of sorts is created. However, the stereo thing with such a small table-top unit probably isn't worth worrying about as much as the general sound in the space - and this is excellent. I'll go and do the physics degree later! All I care about is that it sounds great wherever I place the unit and wherever I move around it, or move it to! A good position is a coffee table or breakfast bar island. You get the idea!

Marshall don't have to do much, I'll admit, to sell me on their gear, but this speaker has done great service for me since I picked it up. The USB-C in/out is really bringing Marshall up to the minute, the battery is fabulous for the size of the device - as is the sound and booming bass. The design and physical controls are a delight and, as you can see here, I find it hard to fault this unit in any way!

On release two or three years back it was £219 but you can now buy the Black and Brass version from AmazonUK currently as I write for £159 which is an absolute steal for anyone who wants to just listen. And enjoy music. Instead of being bugged by Alexa, Siri or any other pesky so-called smart interruptions!

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