Product design doesn’t lend itself to intended entertainment center use
Brookstone’s $300 Big Blue Media Tower is an unusual entrant into the world of speaker bars. It’s powerful, it offers pretty good audio quality, and it includes Bluetooth connectivity, but the speaker’s design seems odd. It’s meant to serve as both a music speaker and an entertainment-center audio hub, but it uses a tower design that presents a placement predicament: You don’t want to put the Tower smack-dab in front of your TV, but if you place it off to the side instead, won’t you be listening to off-center audio?
Before I get to that, some details: The Media Tower is just over 38 inches tall, eight inches wide, and eight inches deep. It requires a separate power brick, which you’ll want to hide behind your entertainment center. The Tower weighs approximately 22 pounds.
The unit is mostly silver metal, with black-plastic accents near the base and at the top. On that top sits a big, recessed, blue button. You press and hold this button to turn the unit on. A ring around the button glows blue when the Tower is on, though once you power the tower up, the light fades gently so as to be less visually distracting.
Surrounding the big blue button are a number of touch-capacitive controls that are hard to see, because the labels are printed in tiny, white letters with no backlight or illumination. If you squint and get the right angle, you’ll discern that there are three buttons to choose the audio source (Bluetooth, digital-in, or analog-in), along with controls for volume, bass, and treble.
A blue LED indicates which source you’ve selected, and a separate row of blue LEDs indicates the setting for each of the volume, bass, and treble levels. The volume of the Tower isn’t synced to the Bluetooth source; though you can raise and lower volume on the source device, which affects the Tower’s audible output, doing so doesn’t change the Tower’s own volume setting. In other words, you may end up having to use both the source’s controls and the Tower’s to get the right volume level.
On the back of the Tower, near the base, sit the power-cable connection, a set of stereo-RCA analog-audio inputs, an optical-digital-audio input, and a 3.5mm audio output.
Notably absent from the Tower is a remote control.
Let me repeat that, in case you sometimes gloss over single-sentence paragraphs: The Tower has no remote. It’s a speaker meant for use in an entertainment center—Brookstone’s own promotional photos for the speaker show it adjacent a flat-screen television, and the company describes the speaker as an “all-in-one music and TV sound system”—yet I don’t see how the company can claim that the Tower is any such thing without a remote to adjust volume and/or source selection. Given this limitation, the speaker just doesn’t make sense to hook up to your television.
When you couple that glaring omission with the Tower’s shape, it feels as if the claimed television connectivity is sort of an afterthought. I found that audio sounded disappointingly off center with the speaker to the right side of my television. It sounded, in fact, like the speaker was precisely where it was. A horizontally-oriented sound bar that sits beneath your TV avoids this problem by stretching the sound across the stereo field with a (perhaps virtual) center channel pointed directly at you.
Maybe Brookstone’s just marketing this thing wrong. If you forget the television aspect, and instead focus just on the speaker’s music performance, things get better. As a less-colorful, better-quality take on something like the $200 iHome iP76 (), the Tower shines. It won’t win any audiophile awards, but the Tower hosts two dual-driver speakers, each of which employs a 1.5-inch tweeter and a 3-inch midrange driver powered by 20 Watts of amplification. There’s also a 4-inch lower-range driver. (We refuse to call it a subwoofer.)
Brookstone says that the speakers “project sound out and away from each other to reflect off walls and the ceiling, filling every inch of the room with huge, three-dimensional sound.” I like the sound the Tower can generate, but I didn’t notice an immersive, 3D sound experience. In fact, I barely noticed any stereo separation at all. What I did notice was a nice, full sound, substantial low end given the lack of a true woofer, and decent—though not earsplitting—volume.
The basic conundrum of the Big Blue Media Tower is simply this: It sounds good, but not great, and thanks to its shape and the glaring omission of a remote, it makes no sense in its seemingly intended use as a television/media speaker. Which means the Tower is best suited for use as a standard, single-box audio system. And in that context, there are much better values to be found. In fact, Brookstone’s own $150 Big Blue Studio () offers more-enjoyable audio for half the price.