We’ve reviewed a great many Bluetooth speakers over the years – I half-suspect Seth has built an extension to his home out of them. I’ve generally not been tempted myself. If I’m at home, I’m either streaming to the hifi in the living-room, or playing through the (wired) B&W MM-1s in my office. If I’m out & about, I’m listening through my B&W P5 headphones.

But there are times when you get chatting with friends about music and you all try to listen to an example on the iPhone speaker, and that doesn’t really cut it. A very portable speaker with a decent enough volume level for a few people to hear would be handy.

While I’m generally pretty fussy about sound quality, this scenario isn’t enough to justify investing in anything expensive, but this one looked the part and for $55 (down from $99) it seemed worth a listen … 

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Ok, I’ll admit it: it was the anodised aluminum that got my attention. It definitely looks a lot more expensive than it is. The speaker grille is clearly inspired by a spectrum analyzer, and looks stylish – somewhat reminiscent of the original Mac Pro. The rubberised controls also look and feel good.

Size-wise, it’s easy enough to slip into a bag at approximately 165x58x27mm. Or, to compare with an iPhone 6, starting with a photo you may recognize from my Apple Music diary:

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The MercuryBox claims to have a 15-hour battery-life, and this seems accurate – I ran it for a solid 12 hours in addition to playing with it at other times. For the typical use of a device like this, I’d say weekly charging would probably suffice.

Charging is via a microUSB port. This, together with a 3.5mm input jack for wired connections, is tucked away behind a rubber flap. Both charging and audio cables are included, and both are tangle-free braided ones.

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The reason for the rubber flap is because the speaker is sprayproof. This isn’t the same as waterproof – you can’t immerse it or get it totally soaked, but it’s intended to guard against everyday splashes. Technically, it complies with IPX-5, which is surviving three minutes of spraying water at it from all directions, with a total water volume of 37.5 litres.

The controls are also rubberised. It automatically goes into pairing mode when you switch it on by holding down the power button for three seconds, re-pairing with any paired device within range and being discoverable to new ones. The phone/Bluetooth button flashes blue while searching and goes solid blue when paired. No PIN is needed, so it’s very quick and easy.

Pause/play is obvious, while the +/- buttons double as volume controls and next/previous track. This is my one complaint about the controls: a single press is next/previous while a long hold adjusts the volume. This actually makes it quite tricky to set the volume precisely where you want it, but that doesn’t really matter as you can use the iPhone’s volume controls instead.

So, to the important bit: sound quality. Nothing this small is going to fill a room with sound or have deep, booming bass. It’s a tiny speaker intended to allow a few people to listen at once without it sounding horribly tinny. And this is the job it does.

There are two 5w drivers for a total of 10w. The best way to illustrate the sound volume and quality this delivers is to show a short video with a track playing first at maximum volume on my iPhone 6 and then handing off to the speaker. There’s no remote, by the way – the handoff is just the time it takes the speaker to connect to the iPhone and begin streaming.

So, it’s no hifi, but it’s definitely a big step up from the iPhone’s own speaker. It also makes an effective speakerphone thanks to the built-in mic.

At the original price of $99, this would be a tough sell. But at $55, I think it is a lot easier to justify if you have a use for a compact speaker that delivers useful sound and has decent looks too.

The Inateck MercuryBox is $54.99 from Inateck’s Amazon store (or £53 in the UK). Look out for an extensive Bluetooth speaker roundup coming soon.

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