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TechnologyTell Review: Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100

Sections: Audio, Bookshelf speakers, Reviews, Speakers, Stereo, Streaming

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With all the audio options available to consumers, there is little reason to not find a product that is just right. They come in such a wide variety of shapes and sizes, fit for practically anyone. As of late, portable Bluetooth wireless speakers have been immensely popular. We love to bring our music with us, but want better quality than the speakers built into mobile devices. However, these same speakers may feel a bit small when we’re home with computers or large screen HDTVs.

If you’ve been looking for a speaker that lands between backpack-portable and fixed-bookshelf, the latest from Cambridge Audio may just be the thing. The Bluetone 100 is small enough to move around, yet big enough to deliver some serious sound output.

Design & Connectivity

The Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 speaker is a bit bigger than other speakers within the same price range. But the trade up in size brings along a fuller sound. The overall design of the speaker, with the fabric-covered upward-tilting grille, looks great in any room. It has a solid weight to back it up, too. You know you’re getting some pretty good hardware here.

Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 speaker box

The box leads you to believe the Bluetone 100 is bigger than it is

There is no internal battery on this speaker, so I wouldn’t classify it as being portable. At least beyond the reach of an outlet. With the built-in carry handle it’s easy to move from room to room, but the Bluetone 100 is not backpack-portable (ideally). This is the kind of speaker you set up in a semi-permanent position with all the cables hooked the way you want.

The onboard controls are simple. Silicone buttons for power, volume, and input options crown the Bluetone 100. The power is a no-fuss, single-press button for on/off.

Bluetooth provides wireless, the MP3 input connects via the 3.5mm audio cable through the rear, and Aux also connects through the rear. The Aux connection is ideal to hook the Bluetone 100 to TVs, DVD players, gaming consoles, and such. All of these cables are included with the speaker.

While the Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 speaker may not have onboard track controls, there is a knob to adjust the bass level. By default it’s set to the middle, so depending on your mood and music genre you can crank it up or down. I left the bass setting it in the middle for the majority of all my listening with the Bluetone 100.

With the exception of a thin beep indicating Bluetooth connection, this speaker is totally silent. Powering on/off, switching inputs, and adjusting the volume are mute. There is a great range for adjusting the volume level, but no accompanying indicator of when you’ve hit the min or max. You’ll have to just listen for it and be satisfied. The volume resets to its default each time the speaker has been turned on. Sometimes you will hear the first couple seconds of the first song you play be at the last volume level before the speaker was turned off. But then it automatically switches to the default, and you have to manually turn the Bluetone 100’s volume back up again.

Audio Quality

The Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 speaker can reach some great volume that delivers power to project sound very well. It can get pretty loud without suffering the kind of distortion that many speakers do. What it seems to lack in overall volume it makes up with quality. At the worst, sound within the upper registers tends to turn bright and over-sharpened, piercing the ears with such intensity. The mids get a little muddy, too. But nudge the volume down a bit from that point (which is max on both the speaker and connected device), the Bluetone 100 maintains proper composure.

Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 speaker width

Nice curves and a good thickness

Don’t assume that this speaker can’t blanket areas with sound, because it can. It does a fine job at filling medium-to-large sized rooms at moderate volume levels. Crank it up more and it will cover adjoining rooms with full, vibrant tunes.

Even if you happen to be listening from one room over, the projection power of the Bluetone 100 lets it ‘enunciate’ musical details that are typically lost over distance. This speaker can create a party atmosphere for sure.

One of the first things that caught my ear about the Bluetone 100 is how adept it is at handling swift changes in volume and energy. This speaker can follow a song playing quietly, and then burst open with excitement as intended. It has the strength to handle the powerful crescendo of choral voices without flattening out and rolling off at the top terribly much. You can feel the intensity of held chords as they reverberate on a track and emanate from the Bluetone 100.

But what’s also great is the clarity of sound throughout. You can hear true empty space when there is a lull or brief pause of instruments within a song. The sense of a open soundstage is right there, without any electronic interference from the speaker’s hardware. Instruments sound very clean and layered, each having enough room to play without rubbing up against something else. And without excessive open space. The Bluetone 100 creates a good sense of depth, where you can clearly hear elements that are closer to the front versus the ones in the back of the stage.

Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 speaker top

Bass port doubles as a carry handle

The track “An Comhra Donn/Rights of Man” from Glenn Morgan’s Southwind album has equal elements of precise and drawn-out notes. The Bluetone 100 enunciates each very well – this is an area that many other speakers tend to blur and hum these sounds together. It really captures the lively essence of the hammered dulcimer. The Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 performs very well with percussion and acoustic instruments such as drums, piano, and guitar.

Violins also sound great, especially when they’re a driving force in a song. This speaker transitions the sound quickly, as violins go from sweet to pointed and back again. The highs from the Bluetone 100 are powerful and can hold their own quite well against the lows. Listening to Lindsey Stirling’s first and second albums showcase how well this speaker handles highs and lows that meld together in great harmony. The balance is pretty good.

Female vocals sound amazing. The Bluetone 100 captures subtle vocal fluctuations and pitch while maintaining smooth output. If there is detail in breathiness or echo, you’ll hear all that too. I’ve found myself listening to Kesha Deconstructed a few times over, just to take in the beauty of her natural voice. No, seriously, she has some great pipes when stripped of auto-tune and left to its naked power. The Bluetone 100 continues delivering great vocals down into the mids. You can hear the husky soulfulness of Joanne Shaw Taylor’s voice in front of full drums and guitar.

Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 speaker rear

Multiple connections and, most importantly, the bass dial

Although the vocals are fantastic overall, they sometimes develop a little bit of sibilance. Some of Bruno Mars’ vocals can be a touch too bright at the tips, and the album Chick Habit by April March develops some harshness on consonant sounds. Thankfully, it’s not so pervasive and prominent to take away or stand out from the rest of the music playing.

For the most part, cymbals and hi-hats sound great with clean edges and tone. However, cymbals can hiss at the end of crashes. This seems to happen quite often when there is a lot of action going on, especially with continuous cymbals or horns playing. The edges of the hits tend to roll off. Intermittent cymbals sound fine, like in Matiyashu’s song “King Without a Crown.” But sections of Michael Buble’s “It’s a Beautiful Day” sound pretty bad since cymbals and horns both go on at the same time.

Buckethead’s song “Soothsayer” off the Crime Slunk Scene album, and Sabaton’s song “The Lion from the North” off the Carolus Rex album, underscore the Bluetone 100’s high-end limitations. The guitar and mids are so prominent and forward in these tracks that much of the cymbals sound like they lose energy and bleach at the topmost edges. Dialing the volume down a bit eases up on these effects.

Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 speaker shelf

It’s been “liberated” by my wife, now set on her nightstand

Vocals in the mids don’t suffer the rare issues that they do in the highs. The midrange purity of the Bluetone 100 is very present, as you can hear it through the true-to-life sound of vocal nuances from singing.  Male vocals, especially, are strong and carry in front of the instruments. There is a balance to them, as they’re not so forward to sound detached from everything else on the stage.

A recurring element of music reproduction in the mids is how vibrant everything sounds. Music by the Gipsy Kings plays very rich and lively. The layers of instruments and vocals come together really well that you can’t help from grooving along with it. Even if you’re sitting down. The Bluetone 100 showcases music detail down to visceral elements such as claps, finger snaps, and the physical striking of instruments. This speaker nails the bright intensity of some awesome brass and horn instruments. You can hear how the Bluetone 100 brings out the rich burnished tone and soul of saxophones in Moon Hooch’s self-titled album.

The mids do get a little coloration from the lows. Most of it comes off as a tiny bit of warmth added to guitar and other instruments in the lower end of the mids. It’s more noticeable when a song has guitars that play close to the lows and the highs, since that coloration difference is there. It exists, but it’s not that bad with the Bluetone 100. Powerful guitars tend to maintain themselves very well, so if you do notice you’re not likely to hate it (I don’t!)

Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 speaker front

Overall great design that looks good anywhere

I appreciate how the Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 speaker delivers some great punch, with a snappy attack and decay. It also carries some mid- and sub-bass texture. The tracks “The Noose” and “The Package” off A Perfect Circle’s Thirteenth Step album are great to listen to for that texture. You can clearly hear how clean yet powerful the drum kit sounds. When the bass guitar kicks in, it takes up its own space separate from the drums. If you’re close enough to – and with enough volume – the Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 speaker, you can hear and feel the difference between the instruments. Those small elements and the intensity of delivery make great songs truly epic.

You get a sense of depth even when drums and bass aren’t hit or strung so hard. The more delicate notes, though scaled down, still exhibit their own depth and tone. It’s not limited solely to thumping hip-hop or EDM genres. The Bluetone 100 pays equal attention to all notes and instruments in the lows. Drum kits come off detailed with accurate tone. Listening to Bruno Mars’ song “Young Girls” off the Unorthodox Jukebox album, the drum set sounds totally alive, full-bodied, yet crisp. The Bluetone 100 speaker delivers more in the lows than you might expect for both its size and price.

All of the beforementioned has been with the bass dial in the middle, just as it comes right out of the box. If you want to crank it up or down to adjust to musical tastes, you can. And the difference is palpable, especially with the right songs that want enhance or reduced bass effect. But even with the bass maxed out, the Bluetone 100 maintains the same clean quality without a muddy mess.

Bluetooth

The Bluetone 100 encounters the occasional mini-stutter or hiccup through Bluetooth playback. It’s slight and, depending on how closely you’re paying attention, can be easy to miss. I notice this happening once every handful of songs, but not so much that it irritates me. It’s a pet peeve of mine when Bluetooth makes itself present too often during music listening. I’ve experienced far worse speakers than the Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 when it comes to maintaining a wireless connection.

Thankfully the wireless range is very good too. I’ve been able to maintain clear music well over 30 feet through an interior wall. Bodies passing through the signal didn’t seem to bother it at all. The connection is quick to drop off at the edge of the Bluetooth range. Either way, it’s more than enough for audio playback within a sizeable room.

Verdict

If you want a solid speaker that doesn’t need to be battery-portable, the Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 is a definite contender. It certainly casts a greater volume of sound than you might expect it to, based off the size. But make no mistake that the Bluetone 100 belts out powerful music, like someone singing from the diaphragm instead of just the mouth. It can bring house-party level volume that can cover 2-3 rooms. If I stick the Bluetone 100 in the kitchen, the sunroom, living room, and part of the backyard (closest to the window and sliding door area) get blanketed with sound.

Aside from some of the weak elements in the upper registers of the highs, the Bluetone 100 treats instruments true to sound. The bleaching effect of the top end of cymbals and horns is only more prominent because of the overall quality of everything together. Even then, it’s more situational than not and is fairly easy to overlook. I had to find something to nitpick, right?

The Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 excels at shifting quickly to keep up with fast-paced changes in volume and tempo. Combine that with its strength of clarity and conveyance of toe-tapping energy across all ranges, you’ve got a speaker that is a true joy to listen to. Whether you want to play music wirelessly via connected device, or to have a permanent setup for TV and video entertainment, the Bluetone 100 delivers a noteworthy performance.

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