Freelance contributor, TechHiveMar 2, 2023 3:00 am PST
Image: Jon L. Jacobi/Foundry
At a glance
Excellent clarity and separation
Tight, punchy bass–and plenty of it
IP67 protection from the elements
20-hour battery life
Considerably more expensive than the competition in its class
If its hefty price tag isn’t a barrier for you, the Marshall Middleton is the best-sounding, mid-sized, portable Bluetooth speaker we’ve tested. It also carries an IP67 weatherization rating, which makes its superior sonics a minor miracle.
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The Marshall Middleton mid-sized portable Bluetooth speaker costs three or more times more than most of its competition, but its sonic performance, build quality, iconic design, and protection from the elements fully justifies its price tag.
Marshall-branded speakers like this one appeal to guitar-hero aficionados of a certain age and income bracket. The speakers’ industrial design echoes that of the head units of the very loud, highly popular guitar amplifiers that rock stars ranging from Eric Clapton to Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend, and dozens more began using in the 1960s. I mention income bracket here because Marshall-branded speakers tend to be expensive.
In case you’re not aware, Marshall speakers and headphones are built by the Swedish company Zound Industries under license from Marshall Amplification; i.e., the company that builds Marshall amps isn’t directly involved with the design and manufacture of these other products. Given the quality of this speaker, that shouldn’t bother anyone; we just want to make that clear because the marketing doesn’t.
The Marshall Middleton measures 4.29 x 9.06 x 3.74 inches (HxWxD), and its robust build quality results in a 4-pount carry weight. A soft, detachable lanyard makes it easy to carry (more on that later). Having owned several Marshall amps, I find the Middleton more reminiscent of, than directly resembling the classic look. The silicone-like covering on the top, bottom and sides is black, not the dark green most Marshall amps sported. The front grille is thatched somewhat like modern guitar speaker cabinets, if not necessarily Marshall types. There is, of course, the familiar brass Marshall logo on the front, as well as an in-theme gold rocker button on top of the unit.
There are also grilles on the back and each end of the speaker (for passive radiators), but these are simply hole patterns, they’re not thatched, like the front. There are two 3-inch woofers inside the cabinet, each driven by a 20-watt Class D amplifier, and two 0.6-inch tweeters. Each of the tweeters is driven by a 10-watt Class D amp. That’s a fair amount of juice for a speaker of this size, and the Marshall Middleton does get quite loud.
You can take this speaker just about anywhere, assured by the manufacturer’s IP67 weatherization rating. That IP code means the Marshall Middleton is impervious to dust ingress and that it can withstand immersion in up to one meter (3.28 feet) of water for 30 minutes without failing. Given that there’s an exposed USB-C port (for charging its battery or for using that battery to charge another device, such as you smartphone) and a 3.5mm aux input on the back of its cabinet, I find that rating a tad surprising. I don’t know how Zound keeps the water out, but this isn’t the only speaker I’ve encountered to make such a claim, so there must be a trick to it. All the same, I’d make sure those ports are fully dried before plugging anything in if the unit takes a swim.
Jon L. Jacobi
The controls on top of the unit consist of the aforementioned multi-function rocker switch, which serves as the on/off (press and hold), volume (up/down), previous/next/forward (right/left), and stop (quick press). Separate touch-sensitive strips adjust bass and treble levels (press the top of the strip to boost, and the bottom to cut), as well as small buttons for Bluetooth pairing and battery-level checking.
There’s also a dual-purpose level indicator for the tone controls and battery to the left of the multi-function rocker button. While the controls are easy to use, they’re not particularly easy to see and you’ll note in the image below in the Sound section.
The lanyard I mentioned earlier folds under and around an attachment rod embedded in the top right-hand corner of the speaker cabinet. A combination of a pressure-fit post and screw-in cap keeps the whole deal together. I’m not really doing it justice here, but it is large enough and soft enough to make the 4-pound speaker comfortable to carry. And yes, it looks very much like a guitar strap.
Sound and run time
To be completely honest, I’ve heard other Marshall-branded speakers that sounded very good, but not quite as good as their price tags would suggest, so I was ready to sell this one short. That would’ve been a mistake.
The Marshall Middleton is easily the best-sounding, weather-resistant, mid-sized portable speaker I’ve heard. It vies for best of breed even before considering its IP67 weatherization rating. I can’t actually remember a Bluetooth speaker that created a better first impression playing the Jerry Goldsmith’s (RIP) theme to Star Trek: First Contact. It shone with AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” Toto’s “Africa,” and everything else I threw at it.
Jon L. Jacobi
What are the tonal characteristics that impressed me so? First, there was clarity. I did knock the treble up a notch or two, but the top end was salient without being harsh, as so many small speakers are when over-EQ’d. Cymbals glisten, if you’ll pardon the poetic license. There’s also plenty of thump; i.e., bass response. As a matter of fact, sitting on my desk I had to dial back the low end due to a surfeit of bass due to acoustic coupling with the wood. The low end is also what’s known in the business as “tight,” avoiding the floppiness in the lower registers that you find in much of the competition.
Mid-range is well defined, and there’s little of the overlap that muddy this portion of the sonic spectrum with many small speakers. But what really astounded me was the sense of stereo separation. It’s not as well defined as it would be with discrete enclosures, but with the speaker facing directly at me, I could pick out the right/left panning of many instruments. That’s rare, especially in a speaker of this size.
Many Marshall-branded Bluetooth speakers–including this one–support a feature that the manufacturer calls “Stack mode.” This feature enables multiple speakers to play the same music from the same source. This is a clearly tongue-in-cheek reference to the practice of placing a Marshall amp head atop two speaker cabinets to produce what is famously known as a “Marshall stack.” There doesn’t seem to be support for True Wireless Stereo (TWS) here, a technology for creating stereo Bluetooth speaker pairs, and I didn’t have another Marshall Middleton to test either scenario.
After listening to the Marshall Middleton at low volume for about 8 hours, the speaker indicated I’d depleted half of its battery. That tells me the manufacturer’s 20-hour battery-life claim is reasonable. I’ve already mentioned that this speaker gets loud, but I should hedge that comment by saying it’s loud for a mid-sized portable Bluetooth speaker–don’t compare it to the some of the 100-watt behemoths we’ve reviewed.
Pricey, but the best
It goes against my nature to definitively state that any mid-sized portable speaker is worth $300. But while you might find a speaker that approaches the Marshall Middleton’s sonic signature for less, you’re unlikely to match it. This one’s been sitting on my desk far beyond the time other Bluetooth speakers are back in their box. Consider that a sonic endorsement.
Jon Jacobi is a musician, former x86/6800 programmer, and long-time computer enthusiast. He writes reviews on TVs, SSDs, dash cams, remote access software, Bluetooth speakers, and sundry other consumer-tech hardware and software.