HouseParty Blu full review

Gear4 clearly hopes the HouseParty Blu’s built-in Bluetooth support will help the product stand out in a crowded market. The Bluetooth capability means you can play music using the short range wireless standard from some mobiles straight through the speakers. The system hosts a ‘Made For iPod’ accredited iPod dock, and carries a 3.5mm line-in port for other devices.

Devices streaming music must be running Bluetooth 1.2, and be equipped with A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile). The basic Bluetooth standard optimises audio for voice and is unsuitable for streaming music, but the A2DP standard enables devices to stream good-quality audio between them. A2DP has been part of Bluetooth for a while, but manufacturers only recently begun enabling it in their products. Macs are excluded. We’re a little disappointed that Apple hasn’t enabled A2DP in Mac OS X – as it stands you can’t stream your iTunes collection through the HouseParty Blu, though you can connect your Mac to the speakers using the line-in port.

The device itself reflects the slow return to executive styling in some consumer electronic products. It sports a black finish with a silver grille across the front. It’s attractive, and the build is good. Dimensions are 28 x 14 x 10cm. The all-in-one speaker slopes back at around 18 degrees so it pushes sound in the right direction when on a desk. Rubber feet help keep the system in place.

The front of the speaker displays three activity lights: blue for Bluetooth, green for iPod, and orange for auxiliary input. It also hosts touch-sensitive illuminated buttons for Volume up/down, Skip back, Skip forward, and Mode. The Mode button is easy-to-use and switches between the speaker’s three supported inputs.

The rear of the device hosts a curved power button, the power in, and line-in ports. This system requires mains power, so it’s of limited use as a portable speaker, but seems built for use in your office or den. The dock is at the top, and ships with the usual dock adaptors.

There’s no play or menu navigation buttons on the system, you must use the iPod for this – or the remote. The black and silver remote is small, half a centimeter thick, and offers a good selection of logically placed controls. You can raise volume, switch the system off or on, switch modes and repeat tracks using it. You can also use the remote to navigate through the iPod’s music library using the Menu and Select buttons. The limitation is that you need to be close enough to the iPod to read the tracklisting on its screen.

For its size, the HouseParty Blu delivers plenty of volume, 30W to be precise. That’s more than enough to fill a medium-sized room with sound, though you do experience distortion at higher volumes. Mid, bass and treble are pretty good at lower volume, though the bass lacks a little definition. Limited sound quality and a limited sound stage mean this system won’t replace your hi-fi.

With the growing trend for playing music from a mobile phone, the introduction of Bluetooth support in an iPod speaker system will attract interest. Pairing an AD2P-compliant mobile is easy and takes seconds. Once complete, the speaker does an excellent job of streaming songs from your phone.

The only flaw is that many mobile users carry highly compressed tracks on their phone to save memory. When you stream such songs you can expect them to sound a little flat. When we tested the system with 128k MP3 tracks we were quite happy with its performance (subject to the sound quality inherent to the system). Generally though streaming songs from a compatible device is an easy and novel process.

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