Speakers are speakers, aren't they? You might think that, but there are plenty of audio companies that beg to differ. They're probably right, too, if the plethora of different shapes and sizes is anything to go by. In today's wireless world, they're vying to deliver the best smart speaker -- or if they're not Google or Amazon or Sonos, then the best Bluetooth speaker. One of the latest to arrive in our office is the Solo E500T from London-based Studio 19.
It's certainly different, a 3.5kg metal pillar just over half a meter tall. The bottom is hollow, home for a bass speaker and a bright white LED light. Meanwhile the grilled top 10cm or so hides the mid- and high-range speakers, with around 200W of output power. Available in Space Grey or Gold, it's a match for your iOS devices, and looks good in most rooms.
Connecting to a Bluetooth source is quick and easy: you hold down the power button until the Solo switches into pairing mode. Then select it from your phone or PC, and you're ready to start playing music or any other audio content. We connected to an iPhone, and it reconnected quickly each time we turned it on. Our only real quibble here is that doesn't report its battery level, so you're left listening for audio tones that indicate it's ready for charging. Studio 19 suggests that there's enough power in its 8800mAh battery for eight hours of music, and our tests found real-world performance close to the specification.
SEE: IT pro's guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)
The Solo charges through a USB-C connector, and a USB cable is included, so it's compatible with most modern power supplies, and it'll operate while charging (so you can use it with a battery bank if necessary). There's also a stereo jack connector if you don't want to use Bluetooth, as well as another for linking two Solos together. Finally, there's an HDMI connector, so you can plug it into audio-visual equipment, either in the home or as part of a meeting room.
Sound quality is good, with plenty of bass. One area it excels is in handling speech, especially with its 'Movie' equalizer settings. If you're looking for a meeting room speaker that can plug into a laptop or a projector, then it's worth considering the Solo. Wirelessly paired to a presentation PC, it's ideal for playing sound from webinars or conference calls. A microphone might be a nice touch for future versions, but there's enough here to see it as both a business and a consumer device.
The speaker is meant to offer 360-degree sound, and while it delivers an approximation, it's clear that there's definitely a 'front' and a 'back'. You'll get the best sound from the direction the controls are most readable. That's probably because the inputs form a solid bar at the 'back', as well as distracting from the otherwise smooth look. We weren't able to try out the pairing option, but for day-to-day use and as a meeting room speaker, single speaker operation is a reasonable option -- especially if you're taking it outside or using it in a larger room.
Our sample came with a touch control panel, with a single power button. A central volume control handles all audio, as there's no equalizer. You can tap a button to switch inputs between its three source options, and another to change mode from music to movie and back again. An alternate model comes with physical controls and includes a basic equalizer.
Put it all together and you have a speaker that looks good and sounds good. We'd have liked support for battery level display, but that aside, there's more than enough battery life in the speaker, and USB-C charging means you can charge anywhere or use a backup battery. The only real question is: are you prepared to pay £279 for a speaker?