Bowers & Wilkins have a reputation for premium-quality craftsmanship that precedes every product they release. Hailing from England, their speakers have lent their voice to venues such as stylish apartments and concert halls. They make speakers so beautiful that I want to fondle them so badly.
And that's exactly what I felt when I first laid eyes on the B&W T7 portable ($589) at a shop selling electronics. A key design element of the T7 is what B&W terms the 'Micro Matrix' chassis. The purpose of this translucent honeycomb design is two-fold. To eliminate excessive internal resonance for high-fidelity audio, and to make the speaker look so damn sexy. I must have gotten some curious attention when I lifted the speaker, inspected its rectangular curves all over, and caressed its four buttons by gliding my fingers over the rubberized surface. Salesman came over and asked me if I needed help.
Well yes Mr Salesman, I need some serious help all right. I'm a compulsive admirer of beautiful objects and I'm about to get down and dirty with this speaker if you don't mind. Just a few technical details before I get it on. 18 hour battery life, aptX codec support and AUX input for connecting non-bluetooth devices. The pause/play button also allows you to control your music, allowing one to skip through tracks easily without your mobile device. Unfortunately, portables these days have a few key features which are sorely lacking in the T7, like USB Charging (For charging the speaker without needing a proprietary plug) or a Speakerphone for conference calls. It isn't water-resistant so you can hardly take this to the beach or the pool. But if sound is more important to you in a portable, you could shrug your shoulders at that.
Pairing it up is fairly easy, though I found out that to power it on, I needed to press and hold down the power button, when with other speakers I simply need to press once. Not very intuitive. I took two steps back to listen, and when I put on my standard test tracks, I found out that Clarity is a key strong suit of the T7. Playing ‘Have a good time’ by the Brand New Heavies, The energetic drum kit sounded very distinct from the Bass Guitar, and you could sense the guitarist confidently plucking his strings. Wind instruments rang out loud and clear and there was even a certain airiness to it. Unfortunately, while the Bass Guitar sounded sharp and clear, there was little bass extension. And strangely, the speaker sounded metallic overall. Like the band’s playing in a giant tin can, to a small extent. I decided to reconfirm what I’ve just heard by playing the less energetic ‘Baby it’s cold outside’ by Diana Panton and Harrison Kennedy, with lots of vocals.
True enough, the double-bass, though sounding clear, lacked meat and ended up sounding flat and un-engaging. Diana’s vocals sounded okay, but Harrison Kennedy’s raspy voice lacked weight. Still, the clarity was right there, without sounding harsh and grainy. The speaker sounded a little more airy than the common Bluetooth Portable, but had too little sound-staging. It doesn't play as loud as either the venerable Klipsch KMC-1 ($399) or the Bose SoundLink III ($499) Bluetooth speakers, with both of them actually costing less but able to throw their audio further in open environments.
The B&W T7 is a stunningly designed speaker that belts out a superb clarity and instrumental separation that suits classical or instrumental music lovers. It's so beautiful you'll never grow tired staring at it, but you might miss work and risk losing your job. With an 18 hour battery charge, one could enjoy it for much longer than most other speakers at at a similar price point. Alas, with all due respect to B&W and its sexy portable, LP cannot recommend this to people who love bass in their music, or want the latest feature set with conference calls and USB charging.
"Buy if you're a big B&W fan or if you love its design, but it really doesn't stand out from the $90 cheaper Bose SoundLink III in terms of performance or sound quality; nor can it compete in features or durability with the $290 cheaper UE Boom. Can anyone imagine dishing out $589 for this speaker except to buy a fancy display piece?"