Whether you're chilling by the pool or screaming down a trail on a mountain bike, tunes make the experience more fun — but your speaker better be able to take a beating and be flexible enough to adapt to the surroundings. Braven's latest outdoor speaker, the $150 BRV-PRO, takes on the attitude of an action cam with a high level of ruggedness and the ability to go wherever you do. This Bluetooth speaker is tough, and with the right accessories, it can do some cool tricks, like charging from sunlight or mounting to a surfboard.
Wrapped in aluminum, the BRV-PRO has a tough look that shows off its durability. The speaker is available in silver/cyan/black or black/red. I tested the silver model.
The speaker is IPX7 rated, which means it should be able to withstand submersion in up to 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes. Braven claims that the speaker can handle only rain, water jets and splashing, but it worked fine after I dunked it in a sink full of water for five minutes.
At 6.4 x 2.8 x 1.5 inches and 23 ounces, the PRO is noticeably larger and heavier than Braven's 4.75 x 3.25 x 2.25-inch and 12-ounce BRV-1. The added depth of the BRV-PRO made it feel a little too bulky; I wouldn't want to carry it by hand for long.
The speaker features four buttons on top: power, volume up, volume down and play/pause. Some buttons serve double duty; for example, you can press and hold the volume-up button to skip to the next track, or press and hold the volume to go back. These controls are very useful if you're out on the water and your music source is back on shore.
To keep the electronics safe, Braven placed the ports behind a cap that secures with a latch. Under the cap, you'll find the battery-life indicator, a micro USB port for charging the battery and a USB port that can provide power to other mobile devices.
The extra size allows for larger drivers than those of the BRV-1, and, consequentially, better audio quality. But the real advantage over the BRV-1 comes in the accessories you can add. The BRV-PRO comes with a strap, which works for fixing the speaker to a tree, but other options, sold separately, are more intriguing.
A $15 mount accessory makes the speaker compatible with mounts used for GoPro and similar action cams, so you can secure the BRV-PRO on your surfboard or bike. Meanwhile, a $50 solar panel means you'll never run out of power while the sun shines. Fugoo's Bluetooth speakers also offer accessories such as different mounts, but nothing like the BRV-PRO's solar charger or the $50 external battery pack. However, these add-ons make the BRV-PRO even bulkier and less portable.
The BRV-PRO delivers good sound for a speaker this size, though it lacks deep bass. It delivers better audio quality than the BRV-1, but can't compete with the Fugoo Tough or JBL's $150 Charge 2+.
The BRV-PRO excels at highlighting vocals. Florence Welch's melodies sounded loud and clear on Florence + the Machine's "What Kind of Man," standing out above the guitar and horns better than they did on the BRV-1. Robert Plant's singing was prominent over the distorted guitars on Led Zeppelin's "Trampled Under Foot."
But on bass-heavy songs like Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk," the BRV-PRO lacked the oomph that the Charge 2+ delivers.
The BRV-PRO produces better treble tones than the BRV-1; Miles Davis' trumpet sounded crisp on "Summertime," but nowhere near as bright as it did on the Fugoo.
The BRV-PRO also gets much louder than the BRV-1, which is a necessity when trying to hear the speaker over water and wind. I measured the BRV-PRO maxing out a little over 90 decibels, but it was very distorted at that volume; it sounded much better at 85-87 decibels.
People could hear me better on the BRV-PRO's speakerphone than on the iPhone's built-in microphone. I had to turn up the speaker to better hear the people I was speaking to, but it was still an improvement over the iPhone's speaker.
Braven claims you can play the BRV-PRO for 15 hours on a full charge. That would be better than the BRV-1's 12 hours, but nowhere near as much as the Fugoo's 40 hours. After more than 10 hours of testing, three out of the speaker's five battery indicator lights remained lit.
Accessories can extend the BRV-PRO's battery life. The $50 solar charger should provide indefinite use during daylight hours, while the $50 battery pack adds 25 hours of playtime, making the BRV-PRO's battery life equal to the Fugoo's.
The BRV-PRO also doubles as a 2,200-mAh external battery; that's enough to recharge an iPhone 6 one and a half times. To use the speaker as a battery, you simply remove the protective lid from the back and connect a USB cable.
Setup and Range
The BRV-PRO paired quickly with iOS and Android devices. To get the speaker up and running, you hold the play button down to place the device in pairing mode. Then, in the Bluetooth settings menu of your mobile device, look for "BRAVEN BRV-PRO."
The BRV-PRO has a wireless range of 100 feet, which is much more than the Fugoo's 33 feet and a real convenience when you're taking the speaker out into the water. I found that the signal was strong at up to 75 feet, but started to break up a bit after that.
Braven doesn't offer an app or any sound controls beyond volume, which means your mobile device controls all audio quality.
If you live an active life and want music with you everywhere, the Braven BRV-PRO offers an affordable option that should handle what you dish out. It's waterproof and built durably, and it can get loud enough to be heard outside. At $150, the speaker offers an attractive mix of ruggedness and expandability (via accessories) for its price.
If you're willing to spend more for toughness and audio quality, the $230 Fugoo Tough is similarly rugged and provides better sound. If you can do without as much water resistance, the $150 JBL Charge 2+ can handle getting a little wet and has much better bass. Still, as an affordable speaker that can take a beating, the BRV-PRO delivers.
Michael Gowan specializes in audio coverage for Tom's Guide. Follow him @zebgowan and on Google+. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.