Altec Lansing’s BoomJacket ($199.99) is built to withstand the great outdoors, or even just being dropped several times. Its rugged shell and extra features like voice control help it carve out a unique niche in a crowded field of water-resistant portable Bluetooth speakers. The BoomJacket’s extra features make it a good choice for backpackers, but for everyone else, it’s a bit expensive for the sound it offers. For the same price, you can get the Editors’ Choice Braven 805, which isn’t nearly as rugged as the BoomJacket, but offers much better audio quality.
Measuring 7.5 by 3.1 by 2.9 inches and weighing in at an even two pounds, the BoomJacket feels a bit bulkier and more dense than most portable Bluetooth speakers, but it won’t weigh down your backpack too much. Our review unit was aqua blue with a black, removable shock-absorbing sleeve that looks like it would protect the speaker if you threw it hard against a brick wall (but don’t do that). Altec also offers a version in red and black.
The BoomJacket is submersible and sand-proof, with a rating of IP67. It even floats. The bottom panel is compatible with most standard screw mounts (mounting hardware is included), so you can fasten it to almost anything. In other words, this is a very outdoors-focused speaker.
The front face houses a rounded grille that hides dual 2-inch neodymium drivers. The back panel pushes out the work of the passive radiator, which is there to help increase the sense of bass. Unfortunately, it also makes the speaker vibrate intensely. It’s a good thing it has the rubber sleeve to keep it from vibrating off of flat surfaces.
The top panel houses a Power button that immediately puts the BoomJacket in pairing mode, plus Volume Up/Down buttons. There are no playback controls, which is a bit annoying; you’ll have to rely on your mobile device to switch tracks.
Pairing the BoomJacket was a quick, simple process with an iPhone 5s, and if you have an NFC-enabled device, you can just tap to pair it with the speaker in an instant. The back panel houses a snap-shut, protected bank of connections: a mini USB port for charging the speaker, a USB port for charging other devices, and a 3.5mm aux input for wired listening. The BoomJacket comes with a USB-to-micro USB cable for charging, a wall adapter, and a 3.5mm audio cable. Altec Lansing estimates the battery life to be roughly 40 hours, which is a hefty number, but your results will vary greatly depending on how loudly you play your music.
One defining feature you’ll either love or hate (I enjoyed it) is the voice-controlled caller ID and call answering/ending. When you receive a call, the speaker will announce the name of your contact and then ask whether you wish to answer. Say yes, and you are connected. Say no, and the call is ignored. Hands-free answering is pretty great, and it requires no additional setup after pairing. But you might rather not have the names of your contacts blurted out over your music by a Siri-esque voice.
Performance and Conclusions
A transient peak, in audio, is when a brief moment of a song is louder than the others–think of a snare drum hitting hard in an otherwise quiet section. With pop music, we don’t hear this much because most music is mastered to smooth out transients. Classical music, jazz, and a few other genres, however, tend to not use as much dynamic compression during the mastering phase, thus the quiet passages are quiet, the loud passages are loud, and a forceful drum hit in a quiet section really will stand out noticeably. The digital signal processing (DSP) on the BoomJacket seems to handle these peaks by dipping the volume noticeably for a moment. It’s certainly better than the drivers distorting, but it’s a jarring quirk if you listen to classical music or other transient-heavy genres.
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On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the dipping is far less apparent. At top volumes on the speaker and sound source, this track flirts with distortion without ever really getting into ugly territory. The deep bass response is implied more than delivered, despite the speaker itself getting quite loud and powerful. This is the sound of a system that is using a passive radiator to vibrate and deliver resonant lows in combination with the two active drivers. Passive radiators do indeed add plenty of punch (and vibration) to the mix, but you need to go with larger drivers for truly deep bass.
When listening to tracks with less deep bass content, like Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” the BoomJacket reveals itself to be a crisp, precise, mids-focused speaker. Callahan’s rich baritone vocals get a pleasant treble edge, and the higher register percussive hits and guitar strumming take center stage alongside the vocals. This track’s drums can sound unnaturally thunderous on speakers that boost the bass in a major way, but that isn’t the case with the BoomJacket; mids, not bass, rule the mix.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the attack of the kick drum loop gets some extra high-mid edge from the BoomJacket that lets it slice through the mix as one of the most prominent forces. The highs are boosted enough here that we hear the vinyl crackle of the loop a bit more than we normally would, while the sub-bass synth hits that anchor the mix are once again more implied than delivered. We hear their raspy top notes primarily, while most of the low frequency content is more subtle. It makes for a crisp, punchy sound that is perfect for outdoor usage, where treble fades away without walls to box it in.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound bright and clear, with little in the way of added bass presence to help the lower register instrumentation match the intensity of the higher register strings, brass, and vocals. However, when the volume is high, the BoomJacket can let out a slight hissing sound. At more moderate volume levels the issue disappears, but take note that it can be quite noticeable during quiet classical music passages.
We’ve tested rugged, portable Bluetooth speakers that sound fairly similar to the BoomJacket, but for less money, like the Divoom Voombox Party and the Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker. The same-price Braven 805 offers a slightly better listening experience at the expense of some ruggedness. If you want big bass out of a Bluetooth speaker, you’ll need to spend significantly more money on a less portable system. The pricey, outdoor-friendly Soundcast Melody isn’t very attractive, but it sounds fantastic. For $200, the Altec Lansing BoomJacket is a wonderfully designed system with innovative features, but the audio experience could be more compelling.