There’s a lot of Bluetooth speakers on the market and in varying sizes and shapes. But few aspire to a retail of $400.00 because of inexpensive materials corralled together to form a speaker-box. The Marshall Headphones STANMORE – Active Stereo Loudspeaker can justify the above-mentioned price tag because of its construction, design and internal technology — but mostly because of how it sounds. I believed that before I began this review and, having had Marshall’s in the past, was justified in this assumption.
The STANMORE is about as big as a bookshelf speaker and, like a well-constructed speaker, doesn’t stint on a solid, external appearance. It’s a throwback to the early days of rock and roll guitar amplifiers — a retro-look provided courtesy of a front facing vintage styled fret grill cloth with a series of dials and switches on the top. This is where the controls are housed, placed amidst a gold-toned panel. It’s worth noting what is found here, since more Bluetooth speakers are stripped down. At the left is a 3.5mm stereo input, followed to its left by a vertical bank of LEDs which document which of the two inputs are being used, Bluetooth being initiated and power being on, then a Volume knob (yes, knob), Bass and Treble knobs and Source/Wake tabs. At the extreme right is the power toggle switch (again, a switch!).
The STANMORE has a heft to it, but won’t mar the surface it’s placed on due to a rugged and rubberized-like exterior. Its size means there’s room for 2 3/4” dome tweeters and a 5 1/4” woofer and digital amplifiers of 80 watts to drive them — 2 x 20/1 x 40. Turning the STANMORE around sees a tab for standard/power-saving mode (power-saving turns off the unit after 20 minutes but doesn’t “wake” up automatically — you have to use the Source/Wake switch in this case). There’s also an optical input and a pair of RCA stereo inputs (if used with a turntable, for those vinyl purists out there, a preamp will be needed). The main reason I wanted to point the back out is for the large ported reflex bass’ position. So as can be seen, the STANMORE’s physical size isn’t just for show. Oh — there’s also the power input because it uses AC current — no battery power on this one. Sure that makes it a bit less “portable” than speakers that can be taken into fields or placed on bicycles, but considering the audio system being contained, it makes sense to have consistent current running the show. It’s also not necessary to note that the STANMORE is not designed for use in all-weather conditions, although the exterior does provide more protection against accidentally drops or scratching than if it was just exposed wood. This also protects the surface the STANMORE is placed on as well. Night tables, I’m talking about you.
Explaining how a smartphone or tablet connects to the STANMORE is unnecessary since it follows the standard conventions. but it’s worth noting that multicolored LEDs are visual indicators of what can be done, is being done and has been done.
I first tried it with a direct connection to a portable CD player. Besides having a strong volume, the STANMORE has no problems in handling the delicate nuances of strings when I played some classical music through it. Piano sonatas especially sounded clear, with none of the sharp edges that Bluetooth speakers, especially those in cheap plastic cabinets, seem to give off. I plopped the STANMORE on my kitchen table and left it running while working throughout the course of the day and frankly I am really peeved that the company expects me to send it back — it sounds that good. That’s not to say I didn’t take advantage of the Bass/Treble controls to “tweak” the sound when I switched to The Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin — for a minute or three I had forgotten that they existed since most Bluetooth speakers don’t bother with having this as an external control. But their inclusion makes a real difference since it allows for personal preferences in listening. It also helps with the sound field which, while presenting stereo well from a minimal distance, aids in keeping the bass from being overpowering, which can be a real issue — it’s that strong; an example here being Heartbeat City by the Cars where the drum kit seems to have been given steroids.
I even took the STANMORE out to the patio area where I could plug it in to a nearby AC outlet. Here I was using Bluetooth and high resolution, along with high bit-rate MP3 files. No walls to bounce the sound off of, like inside, but cranked up to just 3/4ths, the volume was quite loud — as was my embarrassment when the screen door of the balcony of an apartment some 20 feet away opened to betray a somewhat annoyed person who didn’t appreciate loud rock at 9AM on a weekend. But the electronic “vitality” that the speaker puts out really makes it choice for pop/rock/modern music — giving it a bit of a hard edged “bite” when it needs it. A good example here is Bob Seegar’s Night Moves, as his voice has a bit of brittleness/mid-range in it that can become muddled inside of the bass.
Bottom line: The Marshall Headphones STANMORE – Active Stereo Loudspeaker deserves its price because what’s being paid for is the sound it sends through a room. Using it with a high resolution source will justify the effort the company has made in the audio system, wake up the next door neighbor if you want it to and show just how “puny” those other Bluetooth speakers really are.
Adjustable audio frequencies, Coiled mini-jack cable
Not really portable
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.