Tenqa aims for cost over luxury in wireless speakers. (March 20th, 2010)
Most Bluetooth speakers have historically been expensive; it's not uncommon to spend over $100 for something that would normally cost $80 or less. Tenqa wants to solve that with the SP-109, a Bluetooth speaker that comes in at just $50. We'll find out in our review if the device is a minor revolution or has the quality to match the low price.
Product Manufacturer: Tenqa
- Easy setup for mobile players.
- Minimalist design that blends with most decor.
- Aux input allows non-Bluetooth MP3 players to be attached.
- Small footprint.
- Sound quality is low to middling.
- Volume must be controlled from the speaker itself.
- No remote control.
- No built-in battery.
- Average build quality and materials.
appearance, construction and setup
The SP-109 is nearly self-contained, with the exception of an external wall brick-type AC adapter. The box contains the speaker unit, power adapter, and a six foot stereo cable for playback from devices without Bluetooth.
Visually, the SP-109 bears a superficial resemblance to the Bose SoundDock, although somewhat smaller. The speaker unit is very light and (unsurprisingly for the price) is composed almost entirely of plasticwith a thin aluminum screen over the speakers. The power switch, volume dial, AC input, and 3.5mm stereo cable jack are all located in a control panel on the unit's right side.
Setup is a simple, straightforward process. The SP-109 enters discovery mode on powering up. This is signalled by a series of tones and a flashing blue LED below the speaker grille. The SP-109 does require the media player to use the A2DP stereo Bluetooth protocol. An older MacBook would not connect, even after manually entering the pairing code; we'd recommend making sure you're using a modern OS like Mac OS X Snow Leopard or Windows Vista/7 if you're going to use a computer. On the other hand, there were no problems syncing with a HTC Droid Eris, not even requiring a pairing code. iPhones, iPod touch players and the iPad shouldn't have difficulty, either. The speaker generates a confirmation tone when a connection is made successfully.
In our experience, the connection with the phone was good and maintained up to the full 33ft range allowed by the Bluetooth standard, as long as there was a clear line of sight between the player and the speaker. Obstructions such as interior walls decreased the effective range to approximately half that, but it's long-ranged enough to listen in the same room.
performance and sound quality
Unfortunately, the visual similarity to the Bose SoundDock is where the resemblance ends. The overall sonic profile is thin, comparable to typical laptop speakers. There is no bass to speak of, and the SP-109 has no tone control of any kind. The midrange and high frequencies have a somewhat scratchy quality. Because the range is skewed to higher frequencies vocals tend to be lost even at moderate volume levels. Unlike the admittedly much more expensive Sonos S5, stereo output from the unit was barely appreciable. Volume from the five watt, two speaker setup is adequate, but exhibits moderate clipping at the higher end of the scale.
The SP-109 doesn't have a remote; that's expected as the audio source itself will likely be the controller. Power and volume are steered manually, through the controls on the right side of the unit. The speaker supports volume control by the media player, but at lower input levels hissing and spitting are more noticeable.
The SP-109 is a bargain-priced Bluetooth stereo speaker, with obvious tradeoffs to bring the unit to that price point. One cannot help but notice that iPhone, iPod and Zune docking stations in the same price range offer much better sound, leading to the conclusion that sound quality was sacrificed in exchange for the ability to connect with Bluetooth. The SP-109 is also hindered by the lack of battery power, which might have made it acceptable for use on a picnic or trip to the beach.
The existing configuration limits the use of the Tenqa SP-109 to only those situations where the user needs a small, lightweight speaker in a somewhat inaccessible location with a wall outlet, and requires relatively high volume levels and no great concern for audio quality. These limitations will make the SP-109 appropriate for only a very small handful of situations.
Except for the ability to connect wirelessly, any number of more common docking station configurations in the same price range will provide a much better user experience -- though there's no doubt that Tenqa has at least achieved a good price.