While the NB-200 sounded just fine on the road, I couldn't do a serious listening test when the traffic was creating an ambient noise level of 65 to 70 dB SPL. So I brought the NB-200 back to the house and lined it up against two other bike-friendly speakers: the $229 FoxL v2 Platinum (which can be ordered with a $29 bike mount) and the $149 Turtle Shell Wireless Boombox.
At $99, compared to 1.5x that for the Turtle Shell and more than 2x that for the FoxL, all the NB-200 has to do to be competitive is not suck. But not only does it not in any way suck, it actually sounds pretty good. It has a full sound, with decent bass for its size and a slightly rolled-off treble response, with just a trace of edginess in the upper treble. On "Chartreuse," from ZZ Top's La Futura, the NB-200 filled my office with sound and gave me a nice sense of the tune's ferocious groove. It even held its own with heavier material like "Os Abysmi Vei Daath" from extreme metal band Celtic Frost's Monotheist.
More demanding and detailed material such as Steely Dan's "Aja" showed that the NB-200's sound doesn't have much treble detail, but it does sound smooth—a lot smoother, for example, than the treble-heavy Turtle Shell does on the same tune. The FoxL sounds much more hi-fi than the others, with a neutral, flat response that's won it praise from countless audiophiles, but it doesn't sound as full or as loud as the NB-200.
170 Hz to 20 kHz ±8.2 dB on-axis, ±5.6 dB avg 0-30°
85 dB at 1 meter
To measure the quasi-anechoic frequency response of the NB-200, I set it atop a 2-meter stand and placed the microphone at a distance of 1 meter. (Quasi-anechoic measurements eliminate reflections from surrounding objects to simulate measuring in an anechoic chamber.) To create the graph shown here, I spliced the bass response below 200 Hz to the on-axis response (blue trace) and the average of quasi-anechoic measurements of the left channel only taken at 0°, ±10°, ±20°, and ±30° (green trace). I used a Clio FW analyzer in MLS mode for the quasi-anechoic measurements and log chirp mode for close-miking, feeding test signals into the left channel of the NB-200's 3.5mm line input. The quasi-anechoic measurements were smoothed to 1/12th octave.
From the standpoint of frequency response, the NB-200's sort of "got it where it counts." Between 200 Hz and 10 kHz, it's pretty close to flat, with a -1.5 to -3 dB dip between 1.5 and 6 kHz being its only major audible flaw. (That dip centered at 2.4 kHz is probably too narrow to be audible, and that big resonance centered at 18 kHz is too high in frequency to be audible.) The response is even smoother off-axis. There's not much bass, but I'm betting that dip between 1.5 and 6 kHz is what keeps the NB-200 from sounding bright.
In my MCMäxxx™ test, in which I crank up Mötley Crüe’s “Kickstart My Heart” until it sounds distorted then back off just slightly and record the C-weighted average SPL at 1 meter, the NB-200 romped and stomped, playing about 3 dB louder on average than the FoxL and 6 dB louder than the Turtle Shell. Incidentally, the NB-200 still sounds good even when you crank it all the way up.
At $99, the NB-200 is a great deal, not only in a bike speaker but also in a portable Bluetooth speaker. It can play loud enough to fill a hotel room while still sounding good, and its bike-oriented feature set makes it a terrific training companion.
Brent Butterworth and Geoff Morrison combine their years of gear testing and knowledge in one überblog of irreverence and techiness.
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