Brian Kahn is the longest tenured writer on staff at HomeTheaterReview.com. His specialties include everything from speakers to whole-home audio systems to high-end audiophile and home theater gear, as well as room acoustics. By day, Brian is a partner at a West Los Angeles law firm.
The Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 is different from most of the other Bluetooth speakers I've used lately in that it is a larger speaker, relatively speaking, at 13.9 by 7.2 by 4.6 inches and nine pounds. It's still easily moved around by the handle molded into the back panel. The Bluetone 100 has no internal battery, which means it must be plugged in to a power source. At $299, the Bluetone 100 is significantly cheaper than the model it replaces. The prior version had Apple's AirPlay technology, which is omitted here. (Cambridge Audio still sells other AirPlay speakers if that is your preferred streaming method.)
The Bluetone 100 has three connection options: Bluetooth, a stereo mini-plug, and a traditional RCA stereo input. I used the Bluetooth connection option for my listening and left the volume on the speaker itself turned all the way up so that I could use my iPhone to control the volume. I listened to the Bluetone 100 in my home office and my large living room that opens into adjacent spaces. The Bluetone 100's 100-watt, Class D amplifier drives two four-inch Balance Mode Radiator drivers. The Cambridge Audio website has some animations that depict this driver technology as a cross between traditional piston drivers and flat-panel drivers in that they can move air laterally as well as back to front. The best way to picture it is to envision a can top that has a series of articulable, concentric, circular ribs. Cambridge Audio claims that this technology widens the sweet spot by increasing dispersion and eliminates the need for separate tweeters.
The Bluetone 100 can play very loudly with very little distortion. If it had a battery, it would be easy to recommend this speaker for the beach or other outdoor situations where extra volume is needed. Leaving the adjustable bass control toward the center worked best for most locations, but the ability to boost or cut the bass came in handy when moving the speaker around. The Bluetooth connectivity was solid, and I was able to stream music without any interruptions from over 30 feet away. Using my iPhone or iPad to stream music, the lack of an included remote was not a hindrance. However, if I were using the Bluetone 100's auxiliary or RCA input, the lack of a remote would be bothersome.
I listened to a variety of music with the Bluetone 100 and found it to be a "go to" speaker when doing work around the house, as it was the Bluetooth speaker that had enough volume to fill larger spaces and overcome higher ambient noise levels. The bass produced by the Bluetone 100 was palpable. No, it will not energize your room like a 15-inch subwoofer; but, with bass-heavy music like Katy Perry's "Dark Horse" (AIFF file from the album Prism, Capitol Records, CD), the bass notes had decent weight and could be felt when listening in a smaller room at higher volumes. When listening to this track at lower and midrange volumes, with the iPhone volume up to about two-thirds of the way, the bass was still fairly well defined. When cranking the volume up on bass-heavy tracks, though, the bass would lose definition and become muddy.
The upper-frequency performance of the Bluetone 100 was very laidback. This worked okay with tracks that might otherwise sound harsh due to a bright mix, but I missed the upper midrange and treble detail with many songs. Jimi Hendrix's "Blue Suede Shoes" (AIFF file from the album The Jimi Hendrix Experience Box Set, Experience Hendrix, CD) was missing the aggressive edge it should have. Likewise, Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" (AIFF file from the album Grace, Sony, CD) was missing detail that I know is present in this recording.
• The Bluetone 100 is versatile, with its multiple inputs allowing it to serve multiple roles.
• The midrange and upper mid-bass have more warmth and fullness, giving solidity to vocals and many instruments that other smaller Bluetooth speakers cannot.
• The Bluetone 100 is able to achieve higher volumes than its size would suggest.
• The lack of clarity and detail in the upper midrange and treble can strip some of the detail and texture from your music.
• Not having a remote is no problem if you can control the sound from your source device, such as an iPhone via Bluetooth, but it can be annoying if you are using a hardwired source and need to keep getting up to adjust the volume.
Comparison and Competition
The Wren V5BT ($399) is a capable Bluetooth speaker that offers a more traditional wood-veneer design. The Wren has a more refined sonic profile, with more detail in the upper ranges, but it's thinner in the midbass and has fewer inputs. The Wren also has a USB port to charge your portable device. The Marshall Stanmore ($400)--with styling influenced by the iconic Marshall guitar amplifiers--and the JBL Authentics L8 ($600) are other worthy yet more expensive options if you are looking for a larger Bluetooth speaker system.
The Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 rocks hard and loud, filling a void left by most other Bluetooth speakers. While the Bluetone 100 lacked the upper-frequency energy and finesse that we seek from our audiophile speakers, this did not detract from its ability to serve as a source for casual listening. I think that Cambridge Audio's choice to provide better dynamics and low-frequency extension with low distortion, rather than focus on the ability to reproduce lifelike detail, is a smart move for this type of product. I cannot remember the last time I was streaming music from my iPhone to a Bluetooth speaker (other than when working on an article) and being upset about the lack of detail, but I can remember quite a few times I wished the speaker would play louder or that it would not have so much distortion at higher volumes. That was never a problem with the Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100.
• Cambridge Audio Minx Xi Streaming Music Player Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS USB DAC/Headphone Amplifier at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Check out our Bookshelf and Small Speakers category page for more reviews of tabletop/Bluetooth speakers.