I've just finished reviewing the Anker Soundcore 3 Bluetooth speaker and I have to admit, it sounds remarkably good for its $51 / £56 price tag.
I'm something of a sceptic when I see audio products offered at such low prices, and tend to convince myself that they must sound pretty poor to cost so little. I've heard (and reviewed) plenty of well-thought-out audio products over the years and for me, $50 for any kind of speaker is just too cheap to consider.
Let me explain. Years of reviewing consumer audio tech has taught me about the costs involved in the development, manufacturing and distribution for all kinds of audio products, and I confess, I have sometimes been guilty of disregarding speakers that retail for so little.
Don't get me wrong, I've never had particularly deep pockets myself, but like it or not these sorts of factors can stick in my mind when hunting for audio products and have influenced many of my buying decisions.
Of course, I'm always happy to be proved wrong, and there are plenty of great products out there that defy expectations at their particular price point. But I suspect many fellow audio aficionados would agree that anything available for $50 is not likely to count sound quality among its top priorities.
I'm not suggesting that it will sound so bad as to make me not want to listen to it, but it could suggest the product hasn't been put together with the greatest care for sound and build quality.
As a product reviewer, it's important to keep an open mind and be aware of the sorts of factors that could influence your opinion and to be sure you eradicate any preconceived ideas before embarking on any kind of product evaluation.
As you can read in my Anker Soundcore 3 review, this is one such product where build and performance were way better than I anticipated, and although I approached the review with a very open mind, I was still surprised by the high standards of build and sound delivery, given its size and price.
If you're unfamiliar with the brand, Anker is an electronics company covering all kinds of consumer tech including chargers, homes products and security devices. Its Soundcore brand specializes in audio products, and as some of our reviews covering other Soundcore products have discovered, it has successfully tapped into the budget-conscious quality-audio sector with a range of products aimed at leisure and active lifestyle audio fans.
Breaking the sound barrier
To give my sound obsession some sort of perspective, I'm the kind of annoying car passenger that's got my hands on the sound controls of your in-car entertainment system, tinkering with the tonal balance and volume to get it sounding better. I can usually improve on any of the factory-preset EQ profiles, and would rather sit in silence than listen to a thin and scratchy-sounding music system. In fact, I have such a reputation that I'm pretty sure friends get jittery around me when it comes to the sound from their audio set up.
To me, sound quality is everything. And if you understand anything about the laws of physics, small speaker drivers like those found in the Soundcore 3 simply shouldn't be able to move sufficient air to push out the big sound waves that generate low frequency sounds. Except, in the case of the remarkably compact Soundcore 3 speaker, Anker has developed a speaker arrangement that manages to overcome the challenge more efficiently than most, and puts out powerful bass that defies the original science.
Today's technology is helping manufacturers overcome the belief that small speakers equals small sound, and the Soundcore 3 has certainly helped me to re-evaluate my own understanding and expectations.
I'm not suggesting for one moment that it generates the kind of deep bass to shake the house, but it's certainly enough to get a party started wherever you are. This is largely thanks to Soundcore BassUp technology, which promises low-end intensity and power that utilizes an in-house-tuned digital signal processor (DSP) with multiple dynamic range controllers to analyze and intensify bass frequencies with whatever music is being played. Dual passive radiators inside the Soundcore 3 ensure the full sound wave is output from the speaker, and the depth and power achieved by the tech, combined with the inert material used in the cones of the driver, delivers bass sounds that are undeniably impressive.
It's not all about bass, of course, and the Anker Soundcore 3 also performs well in other areas across the frequency spectrum. But whether we realize it or not, bass frequencies are a big part of our music enjoyment. Bass notes give music their richness and warmth; and vocals and voices their depth, gravitas and a sense of naturalness to ensure they're believable and convincing to the human ear.
Without good-quality bass frequencies, vocals and voices sound thin and weedy, and music lacks energy and a sense of rhythm, which are all important parts of the way we enjoy and connect to music. Speakers that are missing parts of the bass spectrum simply don't engage or connect in the same way.
There are plenty of factors to consider for any brand developing a product at a low price point, but I'm pleased to say that as far as this $50 Bluetooth speaker goes, Anker has its priorities right. The Soundcore 3 is a practical portable that sounds great, looks great, and is one of the most rewarding $50 spends I've found.
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As a former editor of the U.K.'s Hi-Fi Choice magazine, Lee is passionate about all kinds of audio tech and has been providing sound advice to enable consumers to make informed buying decisions since he joined Which? magazine as a product tester in the 1990s. Lee covers all things audio for Tom's Guide, including headphones, wireless speakers and soundbars and loves to connect and share the mindfulness benefits that listening to music in the very best quality can bring.