House of Marley is one of those audio brands that’s always on the fringe of mainstream. Not everyone is familiar with the company’s products, which is a shame because they tend to perform well against the competition and the line-up is quite extensive. HoM gear—which has a close association with the family of late reggae star Bob Marley—combines high quality audio with sustainable practices. The result is wireless speakers like the Chant Mini and Liberate, that don’t just deliver House of Marley’s “signature sound” but also stand out in a crowd thanks to use of natural and recycled materials.
A quick aside before we get into the review. If you’re not familiar with Bob Marley and his music, Google him. House of Marley gear—from the deep bass to the choice of fabric, use of bamboo and touches like tags with the colours of the Jamaican flag—all makes more sense once you know something about the guy whose musical legacy started it all.
What You Can Expect From House of Marley
I’ve had a number of audio products from House of Marley over the past few years, including headphones and four different portable audio systems. The Chant Mini and Liberate review units are the latest.
There’s no getting around the fact that HoM gear is different from everything else out there. Expect extensive use of natural, renewable and recycled materials. Even the packaging consists largely of recycled cardboard and paper. Expect audio gear that looks like nothing else out there. No shiny plastic or rectangular candy bar form factor.
If you like the look of natural wood and fabric, you’re going to love these speakers. I’ve always found the construction quality to be excellent (and this can be tricky when your speaker has stitching on it instead of moulded plastic), while the sound punches above its weight class and often surprises given the size of the source speaker.
And now the details for the House of Marley Chant Mini and Liberate Bluetooth speakers…
HoM Chant Mini
|HoM Chant Mini Specs
Just introduced at CES 2015 (look for it soon at Best Buy), the Chant Mini is the new entry level wireless speaker from House of Marley.
Its form factor is a squat barrel shape, with a single driver pointing straight up. Think teacup without a handle and an aluminum speaker grill over top and you’re getting close. The bottom two thirds of the Chant Mini is clad in HoM’s REWIND fabric, which is made of 30% hemp, 30% organic cotton and 40% recycled plastic bottles. The top is trimmed in bamboo. To finish it off, a carabiner clip is attached to a loop in the fabric.
That clip might come in handy, because the Chant Mini is meant to be an ultraportable speaker. Clip it on a backpack and take it with you.
For something so small, the Chant Mini can pump out a surprising amount of volume, enough to be loud in a small room without becoming overly distorted. Outdoors, the sound gets lost more easily—I found that while puttering in the yard, if I got more than a few metres away it would begin to fade. The sound is projected upwards, which doesn’t help, but if you’re willing to risk rolling you can place the speaker on its side to target a specific area.
The sound quality is respectable for something in this price range. The bass is well defined as with all HoM gear I’ve used and it’s bright at the high end, but the mid-range isn’t as well represented. With a single driver you don’t get any stereo separation or depth, either.
Bluetooth worked well, including automatic connection if its powered up with a connected device playing nearby. I never got out of Bluetooth range, although the size of my back yard means I was alsways within 20 metres or so. And if Bluetooth isn’t your preferred music delivery method, there’s also a 3.5mm auxiliary input.
The battery is rated at six hours on the Chant Mini, which is a little on the low side. My results were in that range, but went down when I used it outdoors and had the volume cranked.
HoM Liberate BT Speaker
|HoM Liberate BT Speaker Specs
The Liberate BT is a step up from the Chant Mini and utilizes a very different form factor.
Instead of a barrel, the Liberate BT is an elongated monitor-style speaker, angled upward to pump sound with maximum effect. A dual layer grill covers the front and protects a row of four drivers, while REWIND cloth covers the cabinet body. A strip of bamboo trim on the back and a blue LED logo give the visual clues that this is a HoM product.
The Liberate BT’s amp is only slightly more powerful than the Chant Mini’s, but the sound reproduction is much more satisfying.
Bass isn’t just there, it’s a presence. When I set the speaker on the arm of a chair I was sitting in, I could feel the vibration through the entire chair. The midrange is much stronger as well and while the high notes are there too, they are less pronounced than with the Chant Mini. With four drivers and a wide form factor, the sound the Liberate BT produces has more depth as well.
This speaker can pump out the volume to fill a small room without hitting the point of distortion but its still small enough to stuff in a backpack and take to the park or a friend’s house. Like the Chant Mini, the Liberate uses quick-connect Bluetooth 4.0 and also offers auxiliary input. This one also includes a microphone if you feel like using it with your smartphone as a speakerphone.
Battery life is rated in the six hour range, but I was seeing eight.
If you’re in the market for an attractive, affordable Bluetooth speaker that outperforms many portable speakers costing more, the House of Marley Liberate BT should definitely be on your short list.
Bluetooth speakers are one of the most popular smartphone, iPod and tablet accessories. Everyone loves to have music on the go and a wireless speaker sounds so much better than any built-in sound system. The Chant Mini and Liberate BT from House of Marley are Bluetooth speakers that not only outperform many of the portable audio systems in their class, they stand out from the pack visually as well.
If you need additional reasons for putting one of these Bluetooth speakers on your shopping list, how about the altruistic angle? Both of these speakers make extensive use of both recycled and natural materials, and House of Marley donates a portion of its profits to global non-profit 1Love.