The first thing you notice about the Kicker Amphitheater BT2 Audio System is that it looks like it should be Darth Vader’s headrest. In other words, it looks pretty bad ass. You could color me intrigued.
Kicker was kind enough to send me a review unit, and it’s a keeper to my ears.
First, more about the physical product itself. It weighs about ten pounds, so while it’s portable, it’s not necessarily portable, if you know what I mean. You’re not going to be carrying this around unless you yearn for the days of big “portable” boomboxes. But walking around with it is not really what this product is meant for. Moving it from room to room, though, without a doubt, is a no-brainer. (Although a carrying handle would have been a nice touch.)
Two pairs of buttons are on the top of the unit: Source/Pair and Mute on the left side and Volume Down and Up on the right side. On the back, you’ve got a power switch, DC 24V, AUX in, and a USB port. That’s it for the unit itself… simple and elegant. (A note about the USB port: it only serves as a power charger. It doesn’t serve as a physical audio input. That’s what the AUX input is for.)
There’s a small remote — slightly larger and thicker and thus more substantial than the typical “credit card” remote — that has the same buttons as the unit itself, with the addition of skip backward/forward (hold down to rewind/fast forward), play/pause, and up/downs for bass and treble.
There’s an iOS/Android app called KickStart that provides additional controls: an eight-band equalizer, bass and treble sliders, and a “tight” or “wide” “spatialization selection” that can adjust the size and depth of the soundstage — which completely blew my mind as I adjusted it. It was like the whole world opened up, and sound was coming at me from all sides. This feature alone makes the product worth its $200 price tag.
Also on the app, you can save sound presets for different devices or users. And there’s the obligatory “hey, look what I’m listening to” Facebook share function, along with additional fine controls. All told, you don’t need the app to use the BT2… but you’ll get more out of the BT2 if you do. Most other Bluetooth speakers don’t offer such rich control.
(The only problem with the app — and I’ve seen this in other user reviews — is that the app didn’t work on my Android phone, in my case a Samsung Galaxy S4. For its part, Kicker says a fix is coming. My fix was to use the app on my colleague Hannah Abrams’ iPhone, which worked like a charm.)
Setup is pretty simple. You plug in the power adapter. (Unlike other, smaller Bluetooth speaker systems, this one needs to be plugged in to use, which isn’t surprising since it’s so relatively high-powered.) Then you pair your smartphone/tablet/laptop/other Bluetooth device to it. If you’ve done all that before, you’ll have no problem doing it with the BT2.
How does it sound? Well, like any speaker system, it depends on the audio quality of your source material, but when it’s got something higher-res than “lowest-common-denominator” to work with, it sings. And with a 50-Watt amplifier, five-inch drivers and a six-inch subwoofer built in, it’s a powerhouse. I accidentally paired it via Bluetooth while I had a White Hills track playing and it definitely got the attention of everyone in my office!
It’s a great fit for a secondary space where you wouldn’t want a full-blown sound system. For many apartment dwellers and wage slaves (hi!) who don’t want or can’t afford a big system and who like to stream their music, it could definitely stand in as a primary system. It’s got enough heft not to be annoyingly tinny or puny-sounding.
Recommended. You can buy the BT2 at Amazon.