Wednesday 17 January 2024

SoundCore by Anker Motion 100 Bluetooth Speaker

I got this free with my SoundCore by Anker AeroFit Pro earphones and the RRP should have been £59.99 (though I do see it even now reduced down from that, so do shop around if you’re in the market for a Bluetooth Speaker). As I was buying the earphones anyway, it would have been looking a gift-horse in the mouth not to have grabbed it, even if I already have 127 other options with speakers!

It’s a dinky little thing with a kind of soft-rubber. speckled-colour exterior, slippery to the touch but a material that feels solid and like it’ll take some knocks. It’s about eight inches wide, two and a bit from front to back and similar, high. So that it doesn’t slide all over the place, it has four rubber feet on the bottom. There’s also a small cloth carry-tag on the left, which is thumb-sized, or would easily to attach to a bag/case/cycle or whatever.

On top there’s a series of slightly-raised buttons, left to right, on/off, Bluetooth, the stylised word SoundCore in the middle, then a circular-looking cluster with volume down/up (left/right), pause/play at the bottom and BassUp at the top. Again, it’s all nicely ‘rubbery’. On the back there’s a grille and on the right, a very tightly-fitting rubbery seal over a cavity which hosts the USB-C port.

On the front, the rubbery stuff makes way for an aluminium “ink splash design” grille which looks very classy, rugged - and SoundCore seems to be claiming to be “3D”. Perhaps we’ll come to that! There’s a giant SoundCore icon in the middle of it, of course! The unit is claimed to be IPX7, so water (but not dust/sand) proof, so can dunked in clean or salt water (but not orange juice!) 3ft deep for half an hour. There’s a grille on the back of the unit too, which seems to pump out the main part of the bass, should you take the challenge to test and put it to your ear!

The 2600mAh battery gives about 12 hours of playback, depending on settings, but based on about 50% volume and BassUp on. It seems about right in my (limited) tests here (not upsetting the neighbours)! It also doesn’t charge the battery very quickly - they claim 5 hours and that would seem to be about right. There’s a short USB-C to USB-C cable in the box, if needed. There’s no charge-out, by the way, to top up other devices from the internal battery.

Initially setting up the connection between my device and the speaker was a bit of a dead loss. I already had the SoundCore app installed on my device, it encouraged me to use it as it had detected the Motion 100 being turned on and in-range, then after much fiddling and failing, it offered to set up ‘manually’. On launching the app manually, it then reports that the app doesn’t support this model! So even though the app detected it and launched itself, it was a pointless gesture! Anyway, doing it the old-fashioned(!) way via the device’s Bluetooth settings worked and we’re set up and rolling.

I have now discovered that the app should indeed work with this model, so I started again from scratch, turned off, uninstalled the SoundCore app, reinstalled it, then found it and reported that the app does support it. What a fiddle, though! Got there in the end. (Bring back the 3.5mm audio cable, eh - plug in, done!) We can now see that there are a number of pre-sets and a custom one, where the user can play with 9 sliders to get the sound they want. All this, plus the BassUp button, does indeed produce a marked difference. In fact, so much so that with some files, it will end up distorted. 
If your device has its own onboard Dolby (or whatever) equalisers and sound profiles to use, you can, of course, not install their app and just use what you have.

Anyway, to the sound - and the first test proved that the speaker with its 20W output (or is it 40?) is capable of silly-loud volume and with equalisation in place, BassUp engaged, it’s more than capable of providing sound in a disproportionately large area, beach/BBQ or whatever. It’s more than a match for my Marshall Willen, more bass, more volume. But to be fair, the Willen is rated at 10W output, so perhaps that’s not a fair test. I shall move up to the Stockwell II, with one 10W (woofer) plus 2 x 5W (tweeters). 20W all-round? We shall see.

Before we get there. Just a note on the output power - as the specifications for the unit seem to suggest that it’s a 20W speaker, but diagrams on SoundCore’s website also suggest very strongly that each of the two forward-facing speakers are rated 20W, so making 40W? “Dual 20W full range drivers deliver dynamic stereo sound” it claims. So is it 20W total, or 20W x 2 - 40W total? As we shall see now, I could believe from the output that it’s actually the latter. I now read elsewhere that actually there’s also 2 x 15W drivers inside and 2 x bass radiators inside. Surely there must be some reliable information about this unit somewhere, SoundCore? Anker?

Amazingly, this little SoundCore speaker keeps up with the Stockwell II for volume, but the Marshall is significantly ahead on the richness, quality and bass. It’s that ‘signature’ Marshall sound coming through, I guess - and the difference you get from a speaker costing four times as much. That’s taking nothing away from the Motion 100 though, as maybe that was a tough test. The truth is that even the smallest, cheapest Bluetooth speaker these days seems to knock spots off the speakers in any phone. How about a tablet, then? I often say how good the sound is from my Samsung Galaxy Tab S8’s 4 speakers, so here we go - nowhere near, for volume or quality. The benchmark I have come to use to test how good any phone speakers these days - my tablet - which is always oodles ahead of any phone - nowhere near even this small, cheap Bluetooth speaker. So there!

You’ll have gathered by now that I’m no audiophile! All my observations are based on using my ears to tell you what I hear - not professional sound-testing equipment. I guess you’ll get that if you want it on YouTube. I just turned the Motion 100 back on and away from the tablet’s speakers and can reiterate what a huge difference there is. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised really, when comparing what space there is for speaker hardware and sound to move - even in a big tablet, let alone a mobile phone!

You have to be pretty close to the Motion 100 to get the stereo effect with any reasonable detection rate. I have been testing it in front of my face with some music which exploits the stereo effect hugely and 18” in front of my face, I can barely detect it being stereo, 12” and yes, it’s there - 3” in front of my nose and it’s significant and clearly working very well. So not much of a soundstage then really unless you strap it to your head! Bear in mind that my ears and hearing apparatus are all-but 61 years old, so a younger person’s perception could well be keener. Anyway, I don’t really think this unit needs to be stereo, but there it is.

Bluetooth 5.3 is here and TWS present, two bluetooth compliant devices pairable together and users can send left/right stereo channels to each and separate them. I have tried this using the Motion 100 but don’t have another one to test with. I do have other SoundCore speakers which are TWS compliant but try as I have done, I can’t get the two to channel the stereo one for each. Information about this is quite hard to come by on the internet and SoundCore’s pamphlet in the box only covers the very basics of getting it working. I have had this working with my two Motion+ speakers. I have now tracked down a statement in their website help pages that suggests very strongly that this only works with two Motion 100 units, none other in the mix.

I’ve had more success pairing two different speakers (Multi-speaker) with a source device, seemingly working well in my testing with only a short delay when switching the devices to sort themselves out from one to the other and back.

LDAC is available to be used via the app on supporting Android hardware, but not iOS. This does seem to make a difference to the overall quality of the sound, but my ears don’t consider it critical to the process!

The controls are fairly straight forward, though need a very firm press to operate through that thick rubbery stuff. Play/Pause, volume and BassUp in that cluster I mentioned do just those things and you press the pause/play button twice for track forward, thrice for back. There’s not any Smart Assistant or microphone but the speaker goes quiet when the user is engaging the Assistant on the paired phone. Similarly, there are no phone controls, except that when the user, again, is engaged in making/receiving phone calls on the phone - it goes quiet if it had been playing. This is in contradiction to what it says in the pamphlet that comes with it, where it clearly shows that there is telephone call (and Assistant) support with various button presses. No wonder people get confused!

I have probably been guilty here of going into far too much depth for what is really a cheap-as-chips Bluetooth speaker, but perhaps that reflects the terrific value it is for about fifty quid if one forgets about the missing higher-end features and focuses on the sound. It punches way above its weight in this respect and it really is a cracking device, with a very good battery and even some water-proofing. And so I recommend it. If I hadn't got it for free with my earphones and know what I know now, I would certainly buy it (if I didn't have a houseful of BT speakers already)!

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