As awesome as portable audio can be, it doesn’t compare to the power of a fuller-sized speaker. Anything that fits in a backpack isn’t going to wash your body over with vibrations and melodies. Sometimes you really need to get that fix, even at the risk of a having a neighbor calling in a noise disturbance (they’re probably just jealous).
So when offered the chance to get some ears on with Marshall’s Woburn speaker, the only answer should be an emphatic yes. And it was. The houses around me deserve to hear the beats I like to thump.
Design & Connectivity
The Marshall Woburn aces it in the looks department. It’s big, but not too big, and boxy, but with rounded curves. Totally looks like a bitchin’ amp. I mean, the whole feel of the Marshall Woburn just oozes vintage style and detail. Don’t like vintage? Good, more for me! My favorite parts are the metal knobs, buttons, and switch. When so many speakers are made of plastic with controls that blend in with the body, it’s nice to enjoy something a little more substantial.
Besides, having dials to tune bass, treble, and volume is a lot more refined than jamming on a plastic button to adjust, especially for a speaker of this price. So be sure to place it somewhere nice for guests to admire (and envy). Expect to have some hands run over the vinyl exterior.
The included 3.5mm audio cable with textured metal tips is a very nice touch. The coil is nice and springy when stretched, reverting back to its neutral state once you let go. Of all the audio cables that might outlast your equipment (heck, maybe even you), this would be one of them. Definitely a keeper. Aside from the manual and a bricks of styrofoam, the only other things included are power cables. If you plan on using the other inputs, you’ll have to provide your own equipment.
RCA and optical connections are on the rear of the speaker, convenient for permanent cabling to fixed-location electronics. The auxiliary is at the top for easy reach for mobile devices, MP3 players, or laptops, to name a few. You can think of it as your centerpiece for audio entertainment, especially if you like to watch movies on a big screen. Underneath the front face of the Woburn are a whopping pair (each) of woofers and sizeable tweeters. They bring plenty of noise.
Wireless pairing is simple, just like most all Bluetooth enabled speakers. Despite the Woburn’s heft and excellent construction, the Bluetooth range isn’t as strong as I was expecting. Without any walls or people in the way, you can carry a mobile device 15 or so meters away, no problem.
But if you’re planning on having a party with people milling about, the connection starts to get really touchy at 7.5 meters. Someone walking between the speaker and smartphone can interrupt the music – two people in the way cuts it off completely.
After a period of musical inactivity, the speaker sometimes needs to be woken up with a button press. Or a power cycle. If you don’t like this, just flip the switch on the rear of the Woburn from ‘powersaver’ to ‘standard’ and it’ll stay always visible. All in all, this is a simple speaker to operate.
If you own a mobile device that supports aptX, you’ll enjoy Bluetooth wireless quality equal to that of using the audio cable. I’ve listened to the Woburn both ways and can’t tell any difference, which is the way it should be. For listening purposes, I started off with the Woburn’s bass and treble knobs in the middle at five. I felt it would be a good neutral place to start, considering that a quick tweak can tune as desired. But later.
After listening to a few tracks by The White Buffalo, I brought the bass level to right above the three mark. This toned down the lows without neutering them; it’s good for the beforementioned music as well as most everything else. I wanted to go for balance first and foremost. Hip-hop and EDM definitely wanted that lows knob wrenched up a lot further, but I left that for last.
The Woburn’s volume doesn’t just fill rooms; it vibrates them. Granted, you have to have the volume on both the speaker and connected device nearly out (upping the bass knob helps too).
Then you’re really going to be pushing and feeling the decibels. However, the immediate problem is that the audio takes a sharp downturn in quality. Although the lows remain mostly untouched, the mids start to thin out and fuzz at the edges. The upper registers and vocals are worse with excessive volume; the highs turn piercing bright, brittle, and vocals peak, producing sibilance like there is no tomorrow.
Don’t freak, this stuff happens with most all speakers once they go past their ideal listening range. Music genre and track recording quality make a difference, too. If the Woburn’s volume dial is set to max, these problems start to become noticeable once my smartphone volume goes past the 60 percent mark. But that’s still a goodly amount of sound anyway, so keeping the volume toned down maintains all the smooth, natural, and musical you deserve to hear. Even with the output pulled back from max, music flows from the Woburn into adjoining rooms/areas. It doesn’t take much effort to rock an entire two-story house. It’s like having a live event right in the front room.
Even if you don’t crank the speaker volume up, you’ll still be able to hear the quieter aspects of songs as well as the loud parts. Things like (but not limited to) whispered lyrics, instruments in the background, and the ghostly fade of acoustic guitar chords are all present. This, combined with the level of energy and texture of instruments, really presents a true-to-life performance for the ears. It doesn’t matter what you choose to play – streaming, MP3s (even the variable bitrate kind), CDs, FLAC – it all sounds fantastic.
When you listen in, you’ll notice that the soundstage is a little different – there’s more depth than perceived width. The Marshall Woburn loosely sounds like one huge mono speaker. Although you can hear the lateral expanse of music, the finer definition that identifies the right and left sides of the stage aren’t as present. At least to my ears, where the depth is more refined than the width.
However, there is room enough to hear each individual instrument and voice with excellent output. The front to back positioning is clear, and there’s practically zero speaker in the way when you’re listening to the Woburn play.
Oh, how I love listening to how the Woburn handles vocals in the highs down through the mids. The delivery is so powerful and vibrant, it makes me believe I can sing along with the artist perfectly, with wild abandon, no shame. Bruno Mars’ song, “Just the Way You Are”, positively soars as I hear the detailed breathiness of his voice. You can hear how the instruments support his voice throughout the track. The bell in the background rings clear, even against the thumping of the lows.
Although the Woburn treats all music files equally & gently (i.e. variable bitrate MP3s won’t show their ugly nature of peaks and dips), you can still hear vocal differences between lossy and lossless. Versus a 192kbps MP3 file, Bess Rogers on my CD comes out sounding more lush and clear. While the Woburn can highlight other details that allow one to hear the difference between low- and higher-quality tracks, the vocals pop out to me first. Lossy files tend to leave the vocals sounding a bit more distant and muffled. If you’re an audiophile, the Woburn is right up your alley.
Vocals aside – and despite the arrangement of width versus depth – instruments maintain space and most definition. The stage depth is very evident, and you can hear which instruments are in front of or behind others. Not just that, but notes have crisp edges that don’t bleed or blend in with each other. Rapid fire melodies from a fiddle or piano come individually as they’re meant to be, without an added hum or warm tone.
The one aspect of the Woburn’s mids, which never fails to draw me in, is how it conveys expressive emotion within vocals. Imagine the speaker pouring out a glass of soul to refresh your mind and heart. Just like that. As I listen to The White Buffalo or Mr. Moonshine, I get that same body feeling like when I’m at one of their live performances. The energy is present, and along with the instruments it’s almost impossible to not sing or move your body to the music.
Although the mids have more overall energy, versus the highs, it’s not quite as refined. Song complexity, especially combined with higher volume levels, tends to melt away the sharp edges. This aspect is easier to pick out when guitars contrast against full vocals. Don’t get me wrong, it all sounds very good. More like the mids lean toward muscularity over agility, yet without slack on the decay of notes.
If you’re a basshead and you crave that feeling of big woofer beats, it’s here. It’s so here. The amount of sound that comes from the lows feels entirely massive. Even when sitting five meters away, you get the mid- and sub-bass going right through your chest and jiggly parts of your body. And this is with the bass knob still set right above the 3 mark. But with the volume pushed up as far as it can without sounding terrible, mind you.
It’s not just the explosive power the beats that grabs your attention and amps you up. The Woburn is exceptionally expressive with the level of low-end detail. You can hear (and feel) nuance through the rumbles, all the loud and quiet parts in even measure. I swear, it’s easy to get lost in the Woburn’s lows. The sudden impact is the first surprise, with the way the hits are fast yet precise. As notes quickly decay, you get this serious level of hypnotic, musical articulation (second surprise). Even with furious drumming, tone stays spot on with no blending or rolling-off of notes. I’ll reference “Awaken” by Dethklok, or Vadrum’s Classical Drumming album.
Invite a dozen people over for a cookout, and without saying anything just fire up track eight of The Prodigy’s “The Fat of the Land.” Not only will everyone stop their conversations until the song is over, but they’re going to forget what they hell they were talking about too. It’s so good, just standing there looking at the wide-eyed expressions frozen on their faces. It’s a combination of derp disbelief with open-mouthed euphoria, almost to the point of drool.
I totally missed my chance at a photo for proof. Sigh.
Max bass knob and volume both? Hell yes I did it. The front of the Woburn looks like it’s having palpitations while it’s doing its thing. Considering how amazing the lows sound with the knob set to three, one might think that max makes the lows three times as addictive. Almost. Not every song is going to sound good with the bass up that high, and the overall volume level makes a big difference. The right combination makes it feel as if a live drum kit, bass guitar, and synthesizer are performing right there. If a track is already big on the lows, I’ve found that 6 to 8 on the dial is optimum. But if you decide to max the bass, then tone down the decibels to prevent the lows from turning bloated (and any highs from sounding crappy) or expanding bigger than the envelope.
Prepare to have your music sound new all over again. That’s what it’s like with the Marshall Woburn, especially if you prefer to listen loud. The Woburn delivers a massive amount of energetic sound, yet retains the rich nuances your ears deserve. With this speaker’s array of connections, there is every reason to have it as the main focus point for all audio and video entertainment. Despite the size, it’s reasonably easy enough to move around.
Pay attention to your guests – the ones who are more sight and touch oriented. These fools are more likely to ignore their ears’ pain threshold in order to get right up to the Woburn to physically admire it (I’ll be the first to admit having done this once or twice). It’s almost kind of sadistic, the combination of enchanting audio and vintage allure. It draws you in and makes it easy to forget about anything else.
The one weak aspect of the Woburn is the Bluetooth wireless and lack of range. I’ve had some smaller, portable speakers best the Woburn’s distance twofold. Other than that, there really isn’t much to complain about. Although the speaker’s overall audio quality is fantastic, my favorite aspects are the vibrant vocals and level of detail, even when pushing the volume. Especially when pushing the volume. If you like to rock it loud, you need to own Marshall’s Woburn speaker.