Natural Beauty... and Bluetooth? Grain Audio PWS is Both.
There’s a million Bluetooth speakers on the market these days, so it takes something special to cut through the clutter. I’ve seen super tiny Bluetooth speakers, disco light show Bluetooth speakers, and inexplicably inane handbag shaped Bluetooth Speakers. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with being a little flashy to get a second glance (within reason, of course.) But sometimes it’s refreshing to get your hands on a product that’s simply well built, refined, and classic. Maybe this explains why I was so glad to get my hands on the Grain Audio PWS for testing. But would the sound back up the natural beauty? Made of FSC certified solid walnut, the Grain Audio PWS (PWS, by the way, stands for Packable Wireless System) just feels substantial in your hands. The rubber has a pleasant texture, and everything about the design oozes luxe without looking like it’s trying too hard. You know those million-dollar cabins in Aspen that look laid back and cozy but the rugs cost more than an average person’s car? That’s this speaker’s vibe. Even the use of “packable” implies that this is a speaker for someone who’s off to far-flung locales. The audio aspect of the design was a collaboration with Waves MaxxAudio, who specialize in the use of psychoacoustics to enhance the listener’s experience. To wit, the Grain PWS has two 2” drivers in the front of the speaker, and a passive radiator in the back to enhance the low range of frequencies. Add that to the natural resonance of the walnut, and the sound is decidedly richer and more mellow than other Bluetooth portables in the range ($249). You’ll really hear the warmth in strings, piano, and vocals. Especially at moderate volume. The issues come for those who like to really crank up the dB. The Grain PWS is not a party speaker. Once you start pushing the volume to its limits, you’ll start to hear some distortion, both in the low end and somewhere in the upper mids. Also worth noting is that with a speaker of this size and design, there is a decidedly small sweet spot for listening. Wandering around the room, the Grain PWS didn’t perform as well as when still and positioned at eye level. There was a distinct loss of clarity. Outdoor listening, as you can expect, also swallows up some of the sound. While a lot of this may seem obvious to seasoned audio fans, to a college student looking for a Bluetooth party in a bag, this could prove really disappointing. The lack of integrated controls also could be problematic for someone who wants to say, skip a track from the speaker rather than their device, or answer a call if listening to music on their mobile phone (there is no speakerphone feature). Though to be fair, Bluetooth generally hasn’t got the largest of ranges, so you’d only need to walk a few feet to remedy the situation, but still, clean designs can come at a price. Overall, however, I still have a soft spot for the Grain PWS. While I don’t think it’s everyone’s cup of tea, not everybody drinks tea. So if you are someone who likes a rich, lush sound, needs a small portable speaker, and is content with a gorgeous, simple design over bells and whistles like speakerphones or extra control buttons, the Grain Audio PWS is definitely worth that second look.