Hands-on review: Gravastar portable Bluetooth speaker
Image credit: Zoeao
A sci-fi-inspired, refreshingly 'out of this world' take on the portable Bluetooth speaker.
Not unreasonably described by its LA-based creators Zoeao as a “crazy cool speaker with ultimate sound”, the Gravastar portable Bluetooth speaker is as striking in its appearance as it is impressive in its sonic delivery.
Looking like something beamed in from a distant galaxy - a reconnaisance robot dispatched by an advanced civilisation to explore (and possibly conquer) the universe - fortunately for us earthlings the Gravastar comes in peace. All it wants to do is rock out with us, at volume, and make our homes a little less staid.
Unquestionably, the Gravastar makes a compelling visual statement. There’s no shying away from the ‘alien’ aesthetic - on top of its zoomorphic sci-fi design and shape, there are also spacey green LED accents that decorate the body and illuminate the speaker. There are clearly going to be some people who absolutely love the look of Gravastar, just as there are going to be people who ordinarily wouldn’t have anything like this in their home.
We probably started out somewhere in the middle, leaning more to the ‘love it’ side of things, in appreciation of Zoeao’s noble ambition to boldly go where no Bluetooth speaker has gone before. The sci-fi look does grow on you as you warm to Gravastar’s charms, too, so don’t discount this speaker if you find yourself initially apprehensive.
By way of visual comparison (and visual comparison only), we happen to have a pair of Genelec 8010A monitors here and the Gravastar sits neatly between them, a single-source counterpoint to the stereo Genelec pair and a surprisingly close cosmetic match, sharing a similar gun-metal grey body and black speaker grille. When you turn the Gravastar’s green lights off, the resemblance is even closer.
Gravastar does have some *ahem* gravitas of its own, with a real heft to it when held in the hand. It’s almost like a collectable sci-fi model, something from Alien, Predator, War of the Worlds or Japanese anime comics, and it evokes a similar sense of ‘shelf appeal’.
You can tone down the more outré aspects, if you so desire. The pointier ‘claw’ element of the three legs can be folded inwards, making the footprint of the Gravastar smaller and also marginally more stable overall. You can also turn most of the green lights on and off with a single tap of a button at the back. In the ‘minimal’ off position, the only lights that remain on are two small rear lights and the touch-sensitive volume control strip that runs up and over the top of Gravastar’s head, like a neon mohican.
The evolution of Gravastar to this point is a good indicator of the committment, focus and downright good intentions of its creators. Beginning with the earliest design stages in November 2017, through to the March 2019 pilot production, via a pilot production phase in September 2018, Zoeao has taken its time in bringing Gravastar to market. It sent out early production samples to audio experts and displayed the speaker at design shows in order to gather professional feedback, which was in turn used to further refine the product.
The company also halted its first Kickstarter campaign in October 2018 - despite hitting the fundraising goal in only 24 hours - because the experienced design and engineering team behind Gravastar felt it wasn’t quite ready. Six months later, Gravastar is now available on crowdfunding site Indiegogo.
Members of the design team at Zoeao have also previously been involved with the design and manufacture of ‘boring’ boxy Bluetooth speakers: Gravastar is almost their polar-opposite response to those ‘same old, same old’ products designed to a price point.
There’s certainly nothing cut-price about Gravastar and it’s obvious that a lot of love has gone into its creation. The spherical body shell is tough but smooth metal, all “sleek angles with built-in psychedelic lights”, as the company puts it. This rounded nature also allows sound waves to resonate, it says, enhancing the audio performance. Gravastar is no lightweight, either, clocking in at 1.6kg and standing tough on its tripod legs, so however loud you crank the tunes, Gravastar ain’t going anywhere.
Size-wise, the unit has a diameter of 140mm and a radiator of 80mm, with a 70mm, 20W full-range speaker. The bass driver is made from a polyphenylene composite with a metal magnetic core, intended to better reproduce deeper drums and clearer vocals.
Gravastar employs a Qualcomm chipset for control; is fully Bluetooth 5.0 compatible; supports True Wireless Stereo; has a 2600mAH battery providing up to 30 hours playback; uses USB-C for charging (cable included) and has an Aux In socket (cable included).
Pairing the speaker with a variety of devices via Bluetooth took mere seconds, after first powering up to an otherworldly series of digital bleeps (you get the same tones when powering down). Once you’ve checked the spec, admired the look and lined up the music, the big question is: what does Gravastar sound like? In a word, fantastic.
We left our music on shuffle mode, flitting back and forth across decades of popular music, embracing myriad styles on our sonic journey through time and space with Gravastar. Everything sounded pretty damn good: clear without being brittle, bassy without being muddy, solid and present without mid-range ‘honk’. Well-balanced across the spectrum. No upper-register sibilance. No low-end flub. And it goes loud - easily filling a standard domestic lounge or open-plan apartment.
Naturally, as is true of any speaker, the quality of the audio reproduction starts at the source, so any low-bitrate MP3s will be embarrassed to show their digital face on a decent speaker such as this, as their weaknesses will be laid bare. Gravastar does a good job of exposing the limitations of poor-quality files, whilst simultaneously elevating good-quality conversion. Good music sounds great with Gravastar.
As a single-speaker device is essentially virtually monophonic in reproduction, it was noticeable that Gravastar gave a pleasing three-dimensional effect to the sound, with the layers of a song distinctly reproduced without being over-clinical. We heard and appreciated new elements in songs that we are already very familiar with, which is always a good sign when auditioning a speaker. We’re confident that as the loudspeaker diaphragm itself settles in and loosens up with use, things should only get better. The speaker also projected the music well into the various rooms we used it in and sounded good when listening from all angles.
With spring/summer on the way and the long playback time provided by the battery, Gravastar could also make a good companion for your life outdoors, although note that the speaker is not explicitly dust or waterproof. Its weight and shape also make it a little more awkward to transport than more traditional speakers, so you might want to hang onto the tough, foam-lined cardboard box that it ships in if you intend to move the speaker from A to B and back again.
Overall, we’re very impressed with this speaker. The quality of materials, components and construction bodes well for a long and happy life and the design is always a talking point. Much more than just a pretty (unusual) face, Gravastar is a stellar speaker that delivers on all fronts. This alien attack is a benign invasion.
Early bird pricing: from £99, (48% off RRP £191, subject to availability)
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