Sometimes you just need some space. In this case, I’ve been using Beyerdynamic’s SPACE speakerphone to listen to music and handle call audio on Zoom meetings. But it has two neat tricks: It can pair with multiple phones/computers/iPads, and if you get two of them, they can pair for stereo music playback.
What it is
- 4 microphones for picking up participants on a call
- one speaker driver with two passive bass reflex units
- ability to pair to up to 8 phones/computers/tablets/whatever
- ability to pair two SPACE speakers to each other for stereo use
- touch capacitive-sense controls with LEDs to indicate pairing, call hangup/answer, mute, and volume level
- control to initiate Siri/Google Assistant
- charge over USB-C
- firmware update over USB-C with Mac and Windows application
- 20 hour battery life
- $179 USD MSRP
How does it work in practice
First, I paired both speakers to iPads and phones. This was simple, and switching between devices was easy handled with a tap of the “Y” button on the device.
Beyerdynamic has a few different modes for the SPACE speaker, multi-point mode, and business mode. Business mode pairs with just one device (phone or computer) at a time, and forgets the pairing list when powered off. You might want to do this if you were using it in a conference room, for example.
For my home office uses, multi-point mode was great. Being able to play music from the phone, while taking zoom calls on it from the computer was excellent.
Monitoring battery level is easy from the speaker, but also from an iOS device. It identifies as headphones and shows the battery level in the top row next to the iPhone or iPad battery, with a headphone indicator and percentage. Nice.
The 4 smart mic array meant I never had to worry about whether or not I was being heard, and didn’t have to think about which way the SPACE speaker was oriented.
What’s this about stereo?
I borrowed two units from Beyerdynamic, on loan just for this review. It turns out, when you press the Y and the Bluetooth button on one speaker, and then do it again on the other speaker, it creates a pairing relationship between the two. Beyerdynamic calls this Cascade.
Initially, this was super annoying, because it wasn’t in the manual I received with the pre-release product. Once I got an updated manual, it was easy to set up. But here’s the thing: Bluetooth pairing was, for years, really difficult. People would have to long-press a button, or press a button while powering on a device, or enter a passcode (0000 or 1234) – and nothing was consistent. If you knew how to pair one product, you knew that product; any other Bluetooth product could pair differently, and you just couldn’t know until you tried.
Pairing to a phone is now pretty consistent. Thank goodness, after 20 years of Bluetooth, you finally don’t need a manual to figure it out. Except, I guarantee you that you will for “Cascade” stereo mode. No one is going to discover how to do this without the manual, and the manual is not going to get saved.
How do they sound?
The good news is that stereo mode totally worked. I was able to place the units several feet apart (they could have gone longer) and get stereo separation. And honestly, the stereo separation is great. Even though they’re firing up, not at my ear-holes, they work really well at this.
The bad news is this: I didn’t love them at first. I wrote a whole separate review about how they were only OK at music and an excellent speakerphone. Then I woke up, realized I was completely wrong and deleted my 2000 word epic on the failings of products that try to be all things to all people.
Why? Why did I do this? Because I was wrong. I cleared my head, I cleared my ears, and I listened to them with the same set of music I used for the Beyerdynamic headphone review.
Norah Jones’s “Don’t Know Why”, Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”, Gary Clark Jr. & Junkie XL’s cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together” are my quick and easy songs of choice. I know them, I know their nuances.
Norah Jones, “Don’t know why” is a great track, with distinct bass notes, piano, and high-range voice. In the middle, there are some subtle guitar notes that are low in the mix. I’ve found that lesser headphones don’t really show the guitar notes.
Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an exhibition” is a whole work, not a specific piece. But the Gnomus as arranged by Vladimir Ashkenazy is a great one, and has dynamic range. Bombastic trumpets followed by flute, huge dynamic range, everything echoing the same motif, with woodwinds taking over the secondary phrase, and percussive hits. There’s bass, there’s treble, there’s soft, there’s loud. It’s got everything, and you none of it competes – much of the instruments are playing the same melody, so you can hear what the headphones are capable of.
Gary Clark Jr. & Junkie XL “Come Together” is a guilty pleasure. Take a great song, and open it with an airy alto line fading between left and right, then follow with a hot bass line doubled in octaves, and a guitar that imitates Jimi Hendrix. Add vocal harmonies. It blows my mind, early and often.
Devices used: The iPad Pro 4th generation, iPhone 12 (these two both should give the same results) and the MacBook Pro. In all cases, the Beyerdynamic SPACE appears to be defaulting to the lowly SBC audio codec.
In general, I want AAC codec, or possibly APT-X HD, if I were an Android user. SBC is ancient, and I turn my nose up at it. But if I hadn’t gone to the trouble to investigate the audio data stream, I don’t know that I would have suspected it. This sounds WAY better than the awful SBC BT speakers of old.
The actual sound
Remember how I wrote about the Beyerdynamic headphones, both open and closed back, and said they were… not great. Weak bass, whole instruments missing from the mix or sounding uninspiring?
These are the opposite of that. Yes, they’re 1.5 inch drivers, yes, they’re using 2 passive bass reflexes to make the volume of the enclosure act larger than it is. It works.
I hear the subtle guitar in “Don’t Know Why”. I love the stereo imaging in “Come Together”. The bombast of Pictures of an Exhibition is balanced, with good dynamics, and range. I never feel like I’m missing notes or timbre.
I initially wrote two thousand words about these were a great speakerphone and a weak audio device. How did I get it wrong?
I got it wrong because the power-on and power-off sounds have a very buzzy bass tone that sounds like they’re trying to make the driver and bass reflexes flap all over the place.
The first impression from powering on and hearing that flappy buzzy bass colored my initial listening to think, “Oh, these can’t be very good.”
I listened to songs that I know to have stereo separation, things like the intro to the Beatles “Back in the USSR” (which has become strangely timely all of a sudden). I listened to other music I’m not as familiar with but still enjoy. It was all fine, and I was sure it wasn’t great because I thought maybe it pushed a little hard on some songs.
But listening to my common set of music that I know showed that these tiny speakers can really sing. Absolutely, they’re not going to be as good as snooty audiophile-grade stuff. But they made the headphones look even worse – these actually play the songs correctly.
Seriously. Try out Karen O & Danger Mouse covering “Perfect Day”. One voice, one clean electric guitar picked finger style. One synth at the bridge. This song doesn’t have a lot of stereo separation, but the tone is so clear.
And, they’re 5 watts. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s plenty loud for casual listening.
Things that are nice about the Cascade stereo mode:
When you adjust volume from the source device or one speaker, both speakers volume light indicators match. When you tap battery status, they both light at the same time.
They’re a fine speakerphone. When you’re on a call, only one unit of the stereo pair plays call audio, and only the unit that’s playing call audio has active mics.
However, both units have the lights and ability to control the call. This is handy if you need someone sitting further away at a conference table to be able to mute or hang up, or adjust volumes.
This is the point. You buy the stereo pair only if your primary activity is calls and you also want to listen to music. You could use one alone for music, but you’d be missing out.
Value for money?
The Beyerdynamic SPACE (I think of them as little flying saucers) look excellent, and are available in Nordic Gray (light gray), Charcoal (dark gray/black), and Aquamarine (sea foam green). They look cheerful. They come with color matched USB-C cables, and USB-C to USB-A adapters that store in their base. They have 1/4″ screw threads to mount on tripods. The sound is as said, way better than expected, and only really let down by the power-on and power-off sounds.
The Beyerdynamic SPACE speakerphone is $179 USD. There are other Bluetooth speakerphones on the market that are $99 that are probably only barely ok for call audio, on up to ones that cost $325. But those other speakerphones don’t do stereo, and they all look depressing. Do you want a depressing thing to look and interact with? Really? No. Is $179 a lot? Not for a good speakerphone. Is nearly $360 for stereo a lot? Yes, it’s definitely real money – but if you want good speakerphones, you listen to music often, and you don’t want additional sets of speakers for each purpose, it seems a lot more reasonable. Are you on Zoom and Teams all the time? Maybe it makes sense for you. beyerdynamic.com