When it comes to consumer electronics products made in China, the one-word consensus of the American consumer -- although not necessarily accurate -- has historically been "cheap", "low-quality" or "copied."
Chinese manufacturing has gone a long way towards eliminating the "cheap" and "low-quality" stigma, particularly in recent years. But few products on the market originating from Chinese companies -- excluding those which are contract manufactured, such as Apple's -- can truly be considered original designs.
Crazybaby, which specializes in consumer audio devices, is looking to change that.
I get a lot of pitches to review Bluetooth speakers and headsets. Probably more than any other type of product that hits my inbox. Most I ignore, since they rarely are able to distinguish themselves in any way.
There are thousands of such products on the market, and virtually all of them originate from China.
Crazybaby is different. They didn't just decide to make a Bluetooth speaker -- they produced a highly-functional objet d'art.
With their Mars speaker, they out-Appled Cupertino -- which is an achievement in and of itself.
In many ways this is a Bluetooth speaker to end all Bluetooth speakers. Made of aircraft aluminum, it incorporates both a high-range loudspeaker and a sub-woofer. It comes in three different color choices -- silver, black and white.
The loudspeaker device is portable, has eight hours of battery life, can be used as a wireless speakerphone, and is waterproof at up to three feet submerged.
The saucer-shaped design also provides for 360-degree sound, so that you can centrally position the device in a room and everyone can hear it. The subwoofer base, which contains a large battery, has USB ports you can use to plug in your smartphones and tablets for on-the-go charging.
That in and of itself is impressive. But even at $329, that sounds a bit expensive, especially when there are hundreds of products to compete with on the market that have a lot of the same features.
Many are even full-fledged IoT devices with content-streaming capabilities.
But here is where things get super interesting. The loudspeaker actually magnetically levitates off its charging base. This isn't meant just to look cool, it's an engineering decision that makes the product perform better as well as look beautiful.
By not touching the furniture it actually eliminates vibration.
We've had the Mars in my home for a few weeks now and its been a real conversation starter at social events. People who are visiting walk up to it and want to touch it. They can't believe that it's hovering, mid-air.
Inevitably, when they do touch it, they knock it off its magnetic suspension field and you have to turn the base off and re-seat it on the charging base, so it can float up again. It's a minor annoyance but hey... the speaker does levitate, as promised.
Overall the audio performance of the speaker/subwoofer is decent, and particularly it responds well to content that has low-frequency sounds in it, such as an action movie with explosions Music with heavy bass also sounds great.
It's definitely not the loudest speaker you can buy for the money, and a true audiophile might make a different choice, but for the mix of music I was able to play on Amazon Prime and Tidal through my iPhone and test Android devices -- which encompasses a range of pop, hip-hop, classic rock, jazz, big band and classical -- I found the setup highly enjoyable.
That being said, the initial version of the software for iOS and Android, which includes an equalizer and the ability to pair to a second Mars for stereo, or additional multi-room Luna speakers that Crazybaby also makes was problematic, and there have been a number of customer reviews who have complained about it online since the product's late-2015 availability.
However a recent software update was applied in the last week that seems to resolve most, if not all of the issues, particularly as it relates to output volume and saving equalization preferences.
I'm impressed with what Crazybaby has done with what is essentially a version 1.0 product, and I like the fact that a Chinese company is able to apply unique design aesthetics which suit the living space that it is placed in which also improves functionality -- a technology application of feng shui, if you will.
I look forward to what the company does next, and I hope their competitors are looking at this as a leading example of how Chinese manufacturing should be setting the bar for aesthetics and quality.
Are Chinese companies ready to lead design innovation with technology feng shui? Talk Back and Let me Know.