I wanted to get a bluetooth speaker for quite a while now. Christmas came along and a relative asked me if there was anything specific I wanted. My first obvious choice was Jambox, because lots of people have it and, apart from the companion website being not very accessible, it's a very awesome speaker. However, thanks to someone on Teamtalk I got to hear comparison between a big Jambox and the Soundblaster Roar. The latter not only sounded more impressive, but is also almost $100 cheaper. Originally, this review was written a few weeks after getting the roar and is now being updated a few months later.
As far as raw dimensions go, the roar is 8 x 4.5 x 2.2 inches (20.3x11.4x5.59 CM) and weighs 2.7 pounds (1.22KG). The front of the speaker is dominated by a large, metal grill that runs from the frontmost edge to almost the top of the speaker. 2 similar grills are on the sides. The top and back panels are plastic, but coated in rubber which gives it something of a sturdy, modern and not cheep look. The top panel has 5 round buttons, going from the left:
- "multifunction" button, used to play-pause the bluetooth device, it enters pairing mode when held and is also used to answer and reject calls.
- volume down
- volume up
The back panel features even more controls, as well as all ports. Again from the left:
- siren arm switch (right is off, left is on)
- Round terabase/siren button
- 3-way LS mode switch (topmost is off, middle setting is mode 1 and bottom is mode 2)
- a long play/pause button for the micro-SD player
- A rocker used to go to the next or previous file/folder in the micro-sd player or voice recordings.
- Shuffle switch for the micro-sd player
- A pair of 2 buttons, (record/stop recording on the top, play/stop recordings on the bottom)
- Microphone switch (up is on, down is off)
- Micro-sd card slot
- Micro-usb port (used to charge the speaker as well as to transfer the files to the sd-card/use the speaker as a sound card with computers
- A regular USB port for charging devices from the speaker's battery
- Auxiliary out port
- Charger port
I have recorded a 17-minute long demonstration using binaural microphones which goes over the various sound enhancements of the speaker and shows off how it sounds like in a few areas. Sound quality is very subjective, so this will hopefully help you make a decision. Download here
The speaker connects either via bluetooth 3.0, USB or auxiliary 3.5 out. The bluetooth connection can either be paired traditionally (hold the play/pause button on the front to enter pairing mode), or if your device supports it with NFC. While the iPhone 6 and iPad air 2 both have NFC chips, Apple has currently restricted them only for use with their applePay service. However, this could change with future iOS versions at which point you will be able to just tap your phone against the speaker to connect it. I have tested the NFC pairing with my Samsung Galaxy S4, S5 and a friend's S6 and it does work. I have also tested the speaker with my iPad air, 5th generation iPod touch, iPhone 6 and 2013 Macbook Pro (both over bluetooth and USB) and I had no problems with either connectivity or sound quality. The LS mode on the speaker controls which devices can connect via bluetooth (with LS off, the speaker is always discoverable and anyone can connect, in mode 1, only one previously paired device can connect and in mode 2 2 devices can be connected at a time). In this mode, only one of the 2 devices can play audio, and the play/pause button will control the one that played it last. Either device can take control of the speaker if no audio is playing (IE, the audio buffer was closed because no sound was played). Interestingly enough, multiple audio outputs are active at once - IE you can have the roar connected to your computer via USB at the same time as your phone and you will hear both. To use the roar as a USB sound card, after connecting it you have to hold the play-pause button at the back for a few seconds to switch away from storage mode. Thankfully this setting is remembered.
The roar can be used as a speakerphone with no problems. Audio from other sources, IE USB or the music player, is stopped when a call is received. Phone (both regular, as well as any other voip applications like Skype or FaceTime) calls can also be recorded to the inserted SD-card with the record button. Recording can be activated even if there is no call in progress, at which point sound is either recorded from the mic if it's not muted, or any other sound source (EG bluetooth) if it is. Recordings are made in wav at 16KHZ so don't expect to rip music from spotify or pandora this way :)
The speaker can also play mp3, wma and wav files that may already be on the inserted sd-card. You can skip either individual files or folders and you can set a 15 or 30 minute "bedtime mode", where the sound will fade out and the speaker will turn off.
You can use the roar's 6000mah battery to charge other devices. The output is strong enough that you can charge both phones and tablets (tested successfully with my iPad), and the charging will happen no matter if the speaker is on or off. There is also a siren feature, which again can be used no matter if the speaker is on or off.
I'm really impressed with the roar. For the price it works absolutely wonderfully. If there is anything I would improve, while there is a lot of sound feedback for connecting/disconnecting devices and toggling features, and a couple of voice prompts, there is no way to accessibly figure out the battery level from the speaker itself. For sighted people this is indicated by a ring of four lights, which we can't see. This problem is made worse by the fact that there's no low battery warning, so if you don't pay attention things will just die from completely nowhere. Also, control of a connected bluetooth device could be better - while you can play and pause playback with the button at the front, there is no way to initiate voice dialling/siri or to skip tracks (the transport controls at the back only effect the sd-card player). Lastly, the soundblaster control panel software, used to tweak EQ presets when the speaker is connected to a computer, could be more accessible. The Mac version has buttons that are unlabelled or where the label is next to them, so it could be figured out given time but it's still a bit clunky. Thankfully it's not needed to enjoy the awesome sound quality.
In conclusion, if you're looking for a relatively cheep speaker with good sound and a lot of features, this could be a good option. Creative has now released a second model, the Sound blaster Roar 2, which according to them is smaller but retains the sound quality. I do not have experience with it, but I can't imagine it being any worse. The original is still on sale and costs a little less than the new model, and I Still think it's a worthwhile purchase. However, if you do get the Roar 2, I would love to hear your opinion on it.