Small, portable speakers have come into their own lately, thanks to Bluetooth which eliminates having to physically connect them to the audio source. But many of these speakers bypass quality sound in favor of compactness. The CERA Wireless Portable Speaker is indeed small yet avoids this problem through a unique construction that enhances the sound output. And as will be seen, this overall construction is but part of what makes it worth playing your mobile tunes through.
A spherical ball-like design can provide a speaker with the means for providing omnidirectional sound, and that’s the case here. The rubberized base keeps the CERA from marring a surface, and the only inputs are found along the bottom edges; a 3.5mm line-in for use directly with an audio source (such as the headphone output from a smartphone), and a micro-USB for charging the internal battery. This micro-USB serves a secondary purpose: it allows a direct connection between the CERA and another, with this daisy-chain being serviceable for up to 2 additional models. But it does not create a stereo effect as the mono sound coming from each speaker remains unchanged.
Initial pairing of the CERA worked in the conventional manner as would be expected of Bluetooth — however arriving at that point was a bit different than just turning on the speaker with a button or tab. The center “dial” at the top of the CERA is pressed in, which releases a section that then rises up. This not only revealed the speaker grill below but also illuminated four touch-sensitive tabs on the top. A female voice (and a realistic one at that) then confirmed that there was power and went into an auto-pairing mode (saying this also). I selected the CERA from my iPhone and the pairing completed: the voice confirming this. But as I hadn’t at yet charged the CERA, I turned it off by pushing the center back in, where it clicked into place. I then plugged in a USB charger and gave it the 3 hours the manual suggested.
With this done, I turned the CERA back on — that voice was a hoot! The first thing I played was The Doors’ Strange Days, and Morrison’s voice came through without any rasping (high-rez audio stored on the iPhone). The level of bass was low, but this was going on as I held the CERA in my hand. When I put it down on the kitchen table, the wood enhanced the bass and it perked up. I also learned that, while the touch-sensitive buttons will control volume and forward/reverse track playing, it was better to turn the volume all the way up and then adjust the level from the audio device (the iPhone, in this case).
I brought up the iTunes Festival at SXSW, using my WiFi connection. It came up in the middle of Soundgarden performing Mailman and it was loud and harsh — exactly as a live performance should be. But the lead singer’s voice wasn’t lost amidst the rock and roll (or occasional feedback). Superunknown, which had a driving drum-set and vocals that sounded like the guy needing to gargle, came next and the CERA performed well. I took the CERA out on the balcony and the volume didn’t take the “hit” I had expected (even in the subdued light, the touch-sensitive buttons’ glow was visible). I switched to Eminem and Crack a Bottle and between Em and Dr. Dre, I could definitely say that vocals were well handled by this little speaker. I gave up “testing” and just continued to listen throughout the day, carrying the CERA with me like it was one of those “stress” balls as I went from place to place in my apartment. I must have gotten at least 5 hours out of it before it needed recharging.
Bottom line: At $89.99, the CERA Wireless Portable Speaker buys you interesting technology and a unique shape, but mostly good sound. The 40mm speaker is sharp and clear and, for 3 watts, surprisingly loud.
Bluetooth 3.0, Omnidirectional sound output
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.