Under the Radar

Go Chromecast with the Brookstone's Big Blue Speakers

Brookstone has updated its Big Blue Wireless speakers to include built-in Wi-Fi streaming with Chromecast. The Big Blue Studio retails for $129.99 and the Big Blue Party indoor-outdoor model retails for $249.99.

Brookstone is best known for selling its own electronic gadgets at mall and airport stores. It's a lifestyle brand aimed at people who don't have the patience to deal with a confusing sales pitch from the kid at Best Buy or the time to read a thousand conflicting reviews of a hundred different products online.

I've been using Big Blue Party for a few weeks and it's well-built, easy to use and incredibly loud for its size. It also sounds good for the price. Stop by a Brookstone store the next time you're at the airport and if it sounds good to you, then it's a solid pick.

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Ready to party.

Bluetooth has become the dominant wireless streaming technology, mostly because your source (phone, tablet, computer) makes a direct connection with a chip in the speaker. The downside is a limited range and wildly varying reliability when it comes to a reconnecting a previously paired device. Wi-fi streaming is usually a better option: both the source and the speaker connect to the same network and the streaming connection is almost instant and reliable.

There used to be a lot of speakers that worked with Apple's AirPlay wi-fi system, but manufacturers have dropped that option as a glut of speakers on the market have driven prices down. Customers didn't demand AirPlay but Apple still demands a royalty for the technology, so out it went.

Google's Chromecast has started to gain traction as an alternate wi-fi streaming technology and Brookstone's implementation works perfectly. If you're an Android user, Chromecast will handle any streaming music you want to throw at it.

If you're an iPhone user, Chromecast is built into Spotify, Pandora, Slacker Radio, TuneIn Radio, iHeart Radio, Google Play Music and NPR One. The iOS Music app that plays your iTunes purchases or Apple Music subscription doesn't work with Chromecast, but you can still play those songs via a Bluetooth connection.

Chromecast setup is easy via the Google Home app (available for both Android and iOS) and, since it works with your home wi-fi network, it also allows you to control multiple speakers and set up a Sonos-style whole house network.

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Big Blue Party

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The Big Blue Party is large at 6.3 x 6.3 x 15.8 inches and weighs about 14 pounds. It has 4 speaker drivers with subwoofer and passive radiator and 72 Watts of power (18W per channel; 36W subwoofer). It's water-resistant, so you can use it on a boat dock or pool deck.

There's an AUX-in port and it comes with its own power adapter. The buttons are sturdy and the handle is solid. Nothing about this speaker feels cheap. It's also incredibly loud for a speaker its size. All that power comes at a price: the speaker's battery works for 4.5 hours on a charge.

 

Big Blue Studio

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The Big Blue Studio is 10.5 x 4 x 4.75 inches and weighs around 6 pounds. It has 2 full-range drivers with subwoofer, passive radiator, and 2 dome tweeters and 16 Watts of power (3W per channel; 10W subwoofer). This speaker is designed for home use, so there's no battery.

Brookstone is aiming for customers who might consider a Sonos or Bose system but want to spend less money. These have a build quality that will remind you more of those premium brands than the perfectly adequate under-$100 speakers that Amazon always has on sale.

The earlier, Bluetooth-only models of these speakers are still available online for lower prices. If you're looking for the Chromecast option, make sure you get the latest model.

 

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