Published on July 15th, 2013 | by Greg0
NuForce S3-BT: Balanced Bluetooth 4.0 Bookshelf Speakers
Wireless speakers are a fairly hot category right now, with several manufacturers jumping in and offering options that range from outdoor weatherproof-capable models to those meant for whole-home use. Docks have largely been dismissed as a category, thanks to ever-changing peripherals, device sizes and the end of the former Apple near-monopoly on top-notch smartphones. This has allowed the wireless speaker market to grow rapidly, bringing along with it a couple of competing incompatible styles. The two basic ones: AirPlay and Bluetooth, with a few other custom protocols like Sonos, or the solid , or even the recently-reviewed Play-Fi Phorus for Android.
Joining the mix is the NuForce S3-BT, a wireless Bluetooth speaker pair from a company that we’ve previously seen produce other excellent audio equipment. On the outside, they look like a friendlier, classy bookshelf speaker, featuring rounded edges, with small red tabs and removable speaker grills. As you might expect from a 2.0 component system this size, they are fairly compact but dense and perfect for use on your desk. We liked the gold-plated connectors and the solid binding posts for cross-speaker cabling- all of the electronics are on the right speaker, which is simply connected to the left one via a single set of surprisingly decent wire.
There is a handy USB connector for charging devices, along with an RCA input. A provided adapter allows you to plug in any normal 3.5mm mini-jack headphone as well, if you want to save a bit on battery life or use a device without Bluetooth. But wireless is the main draw here, especially the apt-X Bluetooth 4.0 protocol that allows for energy-saving, battery-preserving, range-boosting, superior fidelity. We’re definite fans of the update to Bluetooth, though it still doesn’t offer the multi-room capabilities that we’ve talked about with other systems. Also, at 18 watts per speaker, this isn’t a living room, entertainment system for parties- but a great companion for your mobile devices, like your iPad or other tablets, laptops, or smartphones.
Of course, audio quality is the most important feature of all. And these sound markedly better than most other Bluetooth speakers that we’ve heard of any size or shape. Of course, comparing to battery-powered portable models isn’t fair, but the NuForce S3-BTs also stood up against other audiophile-quality gear like the swanky Geneva Model S Wireless or the Monitor Airstream WS100s. Listeners praised the “lovely” mid-range and soundstage, great for “believable, like you’re there” jazz and folk renditions, and the “bouncy, slightly bright” pop and rock sounds. On tracks like “Danse Caribe” by Andrew Bird, strings and vocals are clear, authentic, and great. But bass lovers might miss the lower spectrum, which sounded “a bit hollow in the lower registers”- hip-hop felt a bit flat.
Overall, at $240, the NuForce S3-BTs are a good value, with plenty to recommend them and no major flaws. Stands would be nice, since speakers this size often require some tilt for optimal placement and sound, but that is about the only complaint. Available now, even the colors are sleek if simple, in black or white.