Review: NYNE NB-250

Thanks to the runaway success of the Jawbone Jambox, it seems most of the new Bluetooth speakers coming out are cute little things that can barely muster enough volume to hear in the next room. NYNE Multimedia's NB-250 is still compact-just 10.2 inches wide-but it packs the (relative) muscle of two 2.25-inch full-range speaker drivers plus a passive radiator on the back. That's more than three times the active speaker area of a Jambox. And that should mean a lot more output.

You could think of the $169 NB-250 as sort of a mini-boombox. It comes with a weather-resistant carrying case you can sling over your shoulder and carry anywhere. The porous fabric on the sides of the case lets the sound come out, and you can even work the top-mounted controls through the case. Nice!

Unlike most Bluetooth speakers, which use generic USB chargers, the NB-250 uses a standard charger with a coaxial power jack. A full-size USB output provides power to charge other devices, and a 3.5mm analog input lets you connect non-Bluetooth sources. A little fold-out kickstand on the back lets the NB-250 stand on its own.

There's only one design miscue: The rubbery buttons on the top all look identical unless you shine a bright light on them. I found myself having to pick up the NB-250 and hold it under a light to find the button I wanted.

Bigger = better?

It's immediately obvious that the NB-250 has a lot more dynamic capability than a typical compact Bluetooth speaker. Nah, you can't fill a house with it, but you can fill a large room and even get pretty decent volume in an adjacent room. I could crank up Led Zeppelin's "Dancing Days" or ZZ Top's "Chartreuse" loud enough to get my head bobbing but without forcing my ears to suffer significant distortion.

As with the NYNE NB-200 compact/bike Bluetooth speaker, it seemed to me that some careful and competent voicing went into the NB-250. It always sounded full and natural no matter what I played. It almost never seemed to reach beyond its limits (i.e., sounding harsh or distorted). It didn't exhibit any obvious tonal colorations. If only all personal audio products could sound this good.

Even one of my most revealing demo tunes, "Shower the People" from James Taylor's Live at the Beacon Theatre-a test track that the president of a technology licensing company recently told me was "unfair"-sounded smooth through the NB-250. Even the super-high-pitched glockenspiel in the tune, which many conventional speakers tend to bury, came through clearly and cleanly. Same with the hyperactive hand percussion instruments crowding Holly Cole's "Train Song."

I kinda expected the NB-250 to exhibit an obvious "bass bump": a narrow-bandwidth low-frequency boost provided by a low-tuned passive radiator, which would give the impression of deep bass but at the expense of a one-notey, boomy bass sound. Nope, the NB-250's bass seemed quite even and natural.

I happened to have the similarly sized, $149 Cambridge Audio Minx Go on hand because I was measuring it for Michael Berk's upcoming review, so I compared it with the NB-250. Although both sound a lot more robust than the average compact Bluetooth speaker, I thought the NB-250's sound was a little more natural, and more open and spacious. Also, the Minx Go exhibited an obvious bass bump as mentioned above, which gave the bass a lot of punch but didn't sound as natural. But in that case, which sound you prefer is purely a matter of taste.

Flaws? Yep, there are a couple. It is possible to push the NB-250 too hard, but you have to go looking for weird material to do it. Here's two examples. First is Meshell Ndegeocello's version of the Nina Simone tune "Four Women," which features ominous, pure low tones from a keyboard. The sonically dense tones pushed the NB-250 just slightly over the edge, making it buzz and distort a bit. Second is Charles Lloyd's "Sweet Georgia Bright," from his live recording Rabo de Nube. In the opening notes, Lloyd's tenor sax made the NB-250 buzz, as if the drivers were rattling against the front grille. But I encountered the problem only on this tune, only with the NB-250 cranked full-blast, and with no other music I tried. Weird. Oh, well, it took me a while to warm up to Charles Lloyd, too.

Measurements

Frequency response
68 Hz to 20 kHz, ±10.7 dB 0° on-axis, ±2.7 dB to 10 kHz, ±11.9 dB 0° to 30° avg

MCMäxxx™ maximum level test (1 meter)
92 dB

Frequency response measurements were taken with a Clio FW audio analyzer and the MIC-01 measurement mike designed for use with Clio. The measurements above 300 Hz were done at a distance of 0.5 meters with the device atop a 2-meter stand using quasi-anechoic MLS technique. The blue curve in the accompanying graph shows the response at 0° on-axis; the green curve shows the average of measurements taken at 0°, 10°, 20°, and 30° horizontally. I measured with the mike directly in front of the left driver. To measure response below 300 Hz, I did a ground plane measurement at 1 meter. The ground plane result was then spliced to the quasi-anechoic curves. The ground plane measurement was smoothed to 1/6th octave; quasi-anechoic measurements to 1/12th octave. All measurements were taken using the 3.5mm line input, feeding the left channel only.

The NB-250 measures extremely flat in the midrange, from 200 Hz to 4 kHz. It has a lot of treble roll-off above 10 kHz (although with a big resonant peak at 14 kHz), but that's to be expected with 2.25-inch cone drivers. The averaged 0° to 30° measurement is almost the same as the on-axis measurement, indicating excellent off-axis performance-perhaps the reason the NB-250 delivers such a subjectively open sound.

On my MCMäxxx™ test-cranking up Mötley Crüe's "Kickstart My Heart" until until it sounds harsh or distorted, then backing off the volume just a hair and noting the maximum usable volume at 1 meter, or measuring it at max volume if it sounds clean enough-I got 92 dB from the NB-250, +5 to +6 dB better than typical good compact BT speakers.

Bottom line

Not much more to say here. A few quibbles aside, the NB-250 is a well-made, good-sounding, nice-looking, reasonably priced product I can recommend without hesitation.

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