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Many outdoor Bluetooth speakers focus more on toughness and portability than audio quality. Braven’s $300 BRV-HD strives for high-end sound, and throws in some ruggedness and a 28-hour battery life for outdoor use, but is a little too bulky to carry frequently. If you crave big sound and you don’t plan to take it hiking, the BRV-HD may be the right outdoor Bluetooth speaker for you.
The 10 x 4.3 x 3-inch BRV-HD resembles a brick in both form and weight. At just over 4 pounds, the Braven is more than twice as heavy as the 30-ounce UE Megaboom. You won’t want to lug this thing around in your pack. But the bulk could be useful in more permanent outdoor settings: I never worried about it rolling away or getting accidentally knocked off the table. Its rubber case also prevents it from slipping easily.
The BRV-HD is only available in black. With grilles on both sides, the speaker spreads sound widely—perfect for a party. The big case offers plenty of room inside and Braven takes advantage of it, packing two drivers and two passive radiators for improved bass.
On top, you’ll find buttons embossed into the rubber: power, volume, speakerphone and play. Because they are the same color as the case, the buttons are difficult to see in low light. On the right side beneath a protective flap, Braven placed the battery indicator, auxiliary input, and AC power connection (unlike most portable Bluetooth speakers, the BRV-HD doesn’t charge from USB). The BRV-HD also functions as a battery backup for devices you can charge via USB; with its 8800 mAh internal battery, the speaker should be able to charge an iPhone 6 about four times.
The BRV-HD comes with an IPX 3 rating, meaning it can withstand a spray of water, but shouldn’t be submerged. That means despite its beefy looks, the BRV-HD isn’t as rugged as many competitors, including the UE Megaboom and Fugoo Tough, which can go under water for 30 minutes and are shock resistant.
Setup and Use
The BRV-HD easily paired with iOS and Android devices we tested. To put it in discovery mode, press the play button on the speaker until you hear a sonar-like repeating sound. In your Bluetooth settings menu on your mobile device, you’ll find “BRV-HD” listed; select it to finish pairing.
When you power on the BRV-HD next, it will reconnect automatically with your mobile device, but you’ll need to be patient; it usually took about 5 seconds for that to take place. Other Bluetooth speakers tend to be quicker.
Braven doesn’t offer an app to add functionality like the UE Megaboom, but you can use combinations of buttons to improve the sound. If you press + and - for 2 seconds while music is playing, it engages SRS WOW digital signal processing, and the sound greatly benefits from it. You can also pair two BRV-HDs — or any 800 series Braven speaker — to create left-right separates for stereo sound. To pair two speakers, you press the battery indicator button on both speakers for 5 seconds until you hear the sonar sound. Within 30 seconds you should hear a chirp indicating the two are paired. While it sounds simple, I found keeping the speakers paired difficult after they had been powered off.
The BRV-HD offers the standard 33-foot Bluetooth wireless range, and the signal remained strong at that distance, even with walls between the music source and the speaker.
With SRS WOW mode turned on, the BRV-HD produces very good sound, rivaling that of the UE Megaboom.
The BRV-HD produced crisp hand claps and bright horns on Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk,” while delivering impressive bass. The saxophones on Charles Mingus’s “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” felt warm and full, as did the piano and acoustic bass accompanying them. It also produced excellent resonance on classical music like Joshua Bell’s take on Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor. The large speaker handled the left-right mix on Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be” better than smaller speakers like the Fugoo.
But while Rihanna’s vocals on “FourFiveSeconds” came across clearly, I found the vocals slightly buried in the mix. The Megaboom boosts midtones more and is better suited to songs dominated by singing.
The BRV-HD gets plenty loud — I measured it at just over 90 decibels, which easily filled a large room. It started to distort around 85 decibels, similar to the UE Megaboom and Fugoo Tough in loud mode.
The BRV-HD’s speakerphone worked well, making the people I spoke with sound full and loud compared with the iPhone’s built-in speakerphone. People on the other end of the call said I came across clearly, although I wasn’t as loud as I was when we spoke directly on the iPhone.
Braven says the BRV-HD should play for 28 hours from a full charge, and I found that to be accurate. After more than 15 hours of listening at moderate volume, the battery indicator showed as a little less than half full. That puts the BRV-HD ahead of the UE Megaboom’s 20 hours but behind the Fugoo’s 40 hours.
The BRV-HD only charges with the included AC adapter—not microUSB like most portable Bluetooth speakers—which means you need to remember the charging brick when you travel. Because of this inconvenience (and its weight), the BRV-HD really is better suited to outdoor use in a single location instead of taking it on trips.
With very good audio and a big sound to match, the Braven BRV-HD can make the music the center of any outdoor event. But it is large and heavy compared to similar options, and it requires a dedicated AC power brick for recharging. If you plan to be more mobile, consider the UE Megaboom or Fugoo Tough. If you’re planning to use your outdoor Bluetooth speaker mainly in one spot—mostly by the pool or on the deck, for example—the BRV-HD is a strong choice.
Speakers: Two drivers and two passive radiators
Size: 10 x 4.3 x 3 inches
Weight: 65 ounces
Inputs: Bluetooth, 3.5mm auxiliary input
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Michael Gowan is a freelance technology journalist covering soundbars, TVs, and wireless speakers of all kinds of shapes and sizes for Tom’s Guide. He has written hundreds of product reviews, focusing on sound quality and value to help shoppers make informed buying decisions. Micheal has written about music and consumer technology for more than 25 years. His work has appeared in publications including CNN, Wired, Men’s Journal, PC World and Macworld. When Michael’s not reviewing speakers, he’s probably listening to one anyway.