The Light Speaker wants to be a portable audio lantern. And while it gets a good flame going, the sound system doesn't quite match the style of the aesthetic
Why are there so many wireless speakers? The world certainly doesn't need yet more entrants into this super-crowded space where there are already far more products from which to choose than any sane person would consider comparing. This, indeed, is the very reason we have done the hard yards for you and selected our favourite portable speakers.
The answer is, of course, money. Despite our lives being awash with Bluetooth audio devices, depending on who you believe, the projected global market for wireless speakers will grow to hit $27 billion by 2023, $12.11 billion by 2025 or $65.65 billion by 2026. Whichever it is, it's undoubtedly getting bigger.
So, how should a speaker brand stand out entering such a raucous playing field? You can concentrate on making sure your product has an amazing sound, better than anyone would expect from something of such a size or price point. Another option is you focus instead on going after the punters who choose a product based primarily on how it looks, with the sound quality being a secondary concern. The new Light Speaker from Transparent falls into this second camp.
The Swedish audio brand has taken its love of something audio professionals usually avoid like the plague – glass – and shrunk its see-through speakers down to a new handheld version with a lantern-like design, a 5W output and even an audio-responsive light that can mirror either a flame or ordinary lamp.
With ten hours of battery life to go with that detachable handle that completes the lantern effect, this is the brand’s first portable speaker, and it costs a decidedly punchy £290. That's £110 more than the superb AudioPro Addon T3 and the same price as a Bose SoundLink Revolve+. For comparison, the Addon T3 is a 25W speaker while the Bose has a 16-hour battery life.
Ah, Transparent says, that matters not, because the Light Speaker is playful. It looks like a lantern! Joking aside, the light effect, up close, is genuinely impressive. Transparent has analysed the appearance of real flames, from the light temperature, the brightness and characteristics of movements, and then attempted to program the Light Speaker to evoke a natural light that "glows with your music".
It is convincing, and draws the eye in much the same way a real fire can hypnotise. There is even a dedicated knob that allows you to alter the light from "the subtle burn of coals, to flickering candlelight" and on to a bright white reading light. Of course, this is not virgin territory as Sony has been here before a few years ago.
As for the sound, which is kind of important for a portable speaker, this is handled by a 2.5in full-range driver and passive 3in radiator channelling those five watts. You get an omnidirectional sound and you can stream to just one or stereo pair. There is no app and no voice control. The vibrating bass-and-light element sits in the bottom of the speaker beneath a borosilicate glass tube all encased in black aluminium. An IPX2 rating means the Light can handle a few splashes, even the occasional spill but not a downpour.
On our limited demo, the Light itself seems to have decent bass, but the mid ranges appears to be slightly overpowered by the highs. Glass is tricky for audio engineers – just ask any vehicle manufacturer looking to make good sound when half the car cabin is windows. And there's a reason acoustic guitars are almost exclusively made from wood and not glass. As a result, Transparent has tried to bring a lot of DSP and algorithm trickery to bear here. The result is this is a perfectly serviceable portable speaker, and one that greatly benefits from being stereo paired, but at £290 it is quite plain that you are paying predominantly for the design rather the audio ability.
Transparent launched its glass speakers on Kictstarter almost a decade ago, and the company hopes to replicate this success with the Light Speaker. If it does, the speaker will be available in April 2021. While there are undoubtedly enough design-obsessives out there to fund such an aesthetic audio project, especially as the 'flame' element is a neat and effective USP, it is hard to get away from the fact that – thanks to that crowded market – there are many more options that offer much better sound quality. And some even offer that sweet spot in the Venn diagram where inspired design and quality audio meet.