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B&O Explore Portable Speaker Review
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B&O Explore Portable Speaker Review

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For a while now, the primary concern of the Bronco-verse has been getting a Bronco. Now that more and more folks are taking delivery, we here on the Bronco Nation team think we need to start thinking about some of the auxiliary gear that might enhance your Bronco experience.  

We’ve talked about trail essentials like camp skillets and backpack coffee makers, but what about the non-essentials? What about the little things that you can technically do without but that make a good trail experience a great one? This is a space for nice-to-haves, for the small luxuries that no one NEEDS but that, when we’re honest, we all kinda want. We’re kicking off with music.

 

The B&O Beosound Explore is a rugged, waterproof, and sturdy little Bluetooth speaker from Bang & Olufsen. All of us in the Bronco world are familiar with B&O from the premium sound system in the Bronco’s Lux package, but the rest of the world knows them as purveyors of extremely high-end audio equipment. By extremely high-end I mean that they make a set of floor-standing speakers that start at $100,000. Yeah, that’s five zeros after that one.

But that’s not this speaker. This is the cheapest speaker that you can get that says Bang & Olufsen on it. It’s $199 and, in my opinion, not a bad value given its feature set. Disclaimer: B&O sent it to us so we could have some tunes running in our booth at events, but I’ve enjoyed it enough to want to give it a full review and write over a thousand words about it without anyone asking – or wanting? – me to.

Ford places Bronco in a market segment that stresses versatility and durability. While the interior of a Bronco is appropriately utilitarian for an open-top off-roader, its modularity and toughness in areas like the powertrain and suspension are the core of its ethos. If you applied that kind of thinking to a Bluetooth speaker, you’d get the B&O Explore. It’s rugged, versatile, and, like the Bronco, a bit on the heavy side.

Sound

I’m not an audiophile snob, but I’m working on it. However, before I come to fully appreciate all the subjective nonsense that audiophile snobs have arbitrarily decided is “good” sound, I’m going to appreciate the fact that I like the sound of the B&O Explore. Both indoors and out, I feel like I hear the aspects of familiar tracks that I most enjoy. It has good volume, though I wouldn’t push it past about 75%. There’s some distortion beyond that level, but below that it hits all the things that I look for in a listening experience. I’m a guitarist, acoustic specifically as I get older, and when I listen to new speakers or headphones I’m always listening for whether I can discern the sound of picks against strings or if I can separate harmony vocals from melody.

Now, the ability to enjoy these nuances decreases with distance from the speaker. I think the optimum listening distance is between 2 and 10 feet if you’re inside and 2 to 6 feet if you’re outside. It’s perfect for setting on a tailgate table while you put a camp meal together or sit around a campfire. Also, its sound remains very consistent 360 degrees around the speaker, it doesn’t seem to be directional at all.

If you don’t like the sound out of the box, it can be tuned. The B&O App gives you a measure of EQ control, and those settings can be saved and swapped quickly depending on what you’re listening. If you’re an insufferable optimizer, like me, you can have a setting saved for each of your playlists –– which you’ve obviously grouped by genre and recording quality.

Bottom line –– the sound is better than the average Bluetooth speaker, but if all you’re looking for is sound, then there’s room at this price bracket for improvement.

B&O Explore - Bronco

Build Quality and Design

From a quality and design standpoint, this is the nicest BT speaker I’ve ever handled. Not surprising from B&O, since that’s always been their bag. It’s a tough item with an aluminum external shell, and it is water- and dust-resistant to the point that it can be fully submersed in water and survive, unlike your Bronco’s alternator.

Now, I’d admit that I haven’t drop tested … intentionally. However, when loading and unloading our event kit from our trailer, it took a tumble or two and came out of the experience both functional and still beautiful. It’s not the most scientific durability testing, but it is our real-world experience with the Explore.

And yes, being a B&O product, it’s as Instagram-worthy as a product in this category can be. The B&O branding is certainly there, but it’s subtle enough to not be bothersome or flashy. It comes in a few of colors but, as with most things, the Black Anthracite is the one to get since it hides the scuffs that this thing will inevitably pick up as a Bronco companion.

It comes with a strap and carabiner that allows it to be affixed to backpacks, tents, and sport tubes. The carabiner is a bit basic, but it’s functional and can be easily swapped out for something beefier if that’s your preference or need. The strap and the loop that affixes the strap to the speaker are surprisingly heavy duty. The loop appears to be metal and strap is some kind of soft-feel nylon.

The top and bottom are rubberized so it doesn’t slip off slippery things like metal surfaces. The top buttons feel a bit mushy to a guy like me that loves mechanical keyboards, but they’re perfectly functional and give some tactile feedback when pushed. Overall, this a premium piece of kit that balances a beautiful form with plenty of function.

B&O Explore - Bluetooth Speaker

Versatility

Bluetooth speakers are popular because they fit a variety of situations. They have better sound than the speakers in your phone, and they’re more portable than your home audio setup. You can carry the B&O explore out to the garage with you for some tunes while you wrench, or you strap it to your day pack on a hike.

Obviously, all portable Bluetooth speakers are … well … portable. But the Explore is smaller than most, a better shape for most situations, and still packs in some good sound. It is hefty, for what it is. Weighing in at 637g with the carabiner attached, its durability seems to have driven some weight gain. I’d say that it’s a good kind of weight, the kind that makes it feel premium, but then I threw it in my backpack with a laptop, laptop power brick, and the rest of my every day carry, and I suddenly liked the heft less. It’s fine. Frankly, in the lightness vs. durability argument, I tend to come out on the durability side. I am a Bronco person after all. But there are some situations when you wish the Explore was lighter.

Some of that weight is undoubtedly the battery. That’s weight that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I charged this thing up a couple weeks ago and have 78% battery left. I don’t use it constantly, but I’ve used it whenever I’ve traditionally used a BT speaker. It would certainly last through the 4-day weekend camping trip with anything approaching normal usage.

Before I wrap this up, I should mention that the Explore has a cool trick in its kit bag that allows you to pair two Explores together for a portable, wireless stereo set up. I haven’t had a second speaker to test so I can’t vouch for whether it works or not but it’s a neat idea.

B&O Portable Speaker - Bronco

Conclusions

The Explore is a great match for a Bronco. Throw it in the cup holder (which it does fit in, I’d mention), the center console, or one of your trail cases and break it out to add some ambiance to your adventures. You don’t need it, but if you’re like me and are never far from some tunes, it’s the perfect companion for your Bronco. It’s made for the same punishing environments that your Bronco is and can take your trail-gating to the next level. We like it enough to have asked B&O if we can sell some for the Christmas season –– look for the B&O Explore in our gear store in limited quantities for the holidays.

Want to talk Bronco gear? Head to the forums.

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Comment(3)

    1. It will vary depending on the environment. I’ve been on the other side of a 3-bedroom house and still maintained a connection. I’ve also been around 60 feet away from the speaker in the open and it was still connected.

  1. Subaru gave me a JBL bluetooth speaker a few years ago when I served as a Subaru Ambassador. I gave it to a friend once and never saw it again. LOL I’m a believer. I love how much sound comes out of these tiny speakers. I wouldn’t mind getting one for my use on the trails or during a workout. I’m glad you vouched for it!

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