There are heaps of Bluetooth speakers out there with more or less the same design. Sure, there’s a little tweak here and there – some of them might sound a bit better, and others have better battery life. The Bem Wireless Outlet Speaker takes a somewhat different approach. This unit has no battery because it plugs right into the wall like an AC adapter. In fact, it kind of is an AC adapter.
The concept is interesting, but how does it work in practice? I’m glad you asked.
How It Works
On the back of the Bem Outlet Speaker is a standard flip out power plug. Attach it to the wall or power strip, and press the button on top to power it up. The LED on the back will glow and flash to indicate the connection status. On the bottom side you’ll find three ports: USB, AUX in and AUX out. The presence of a USB port is much appreciated. Since it’s going to be taking up an outlet, you can plug in any USB-powered device to the speaker to charge it.
Unfortunately, the first the Bem Bluetooth Outlet Speaker speaker is big (at least for a wall plug). It takes up more than one spot on a power strip, and may even cover wall plugs in some cases. The USB port makes this a little less painful by at least giving you a place to charge your phone.
To pair your device, just turn on the speaker to go into pairing mode. Sync up your device, and you’re done. The only hitch here is the extremely loud beep confirming the connection. That’s not a huge issue, though. The next time you toggle on Bluetooth on your device while the speaker is active, they should pair instantly.
Audio can be routed in via the AUX line, but I can’t think of a realistic situation where I would want to pipe audio into this small speaker via a cable – Bluetooth would be a better option on any device that would benefit. The AUX out can actually be very handy as a way to get the Bluetooth audio feed into a non-Bluetooth device. It can basically be used as a Bluetooth adapter.
There are no other bells and whistles on this speaker like volume controls, speakerphone, or a remote control. Everything is controlled on your device. It’s understated and has a minimum of buttons.
The Bem Wireless Outlet Speaker is compact so it can be unplugged and hauled around. It’s a bit heavy at a little over 1lb and measures 7.5 x 2.5 x 6 inches. I don’t see it riding around in your bag. If you travel, it might find a place in your suitcase, though. The soft touch plastic finish is nice in theory, but if you are going to take it with you, it picks up fingerprints very fast.
The Bem speaker is on the small side, rated at 1.5w. That’s about what you’d expect from a speaker of this size. It puts out a reasonable amount of sound, but it starts distorting when you get toward the high end of the scale.
There is very little bass coming from the Bem Outlet Speaker, which isn’t really a surprise. Most speakers of this size have weak bass and unnecessarily strong treble. However, this Bem unit seems worse than most. Everything sounds tinny and low-fi. Adding more bass boost on your device EQ doesn’t fix anything. It actually makes the speaker distort more. Fans of dubstep, metal, hip-hop, or anything else that is heavy on the low end will be severely underwhelmed.
I’ve found that the Bem Outlet Speaker is actually okay for listening to podcasts. Spoken words come through fine, and fidelity isn’t as much of a concern when you’re talking about an audio file encoded at 92kbps. The high treble actually works to your advantage in this instance.
So... where can you really use the Bem speaker? There are power outlets all over your house, but most of them are down near the floor at foot level. Most humans have ears at the opposite end of their bodies. As such, it actually makes the below-average sound coming from this speaker sound worse. It’s just so far away from your ears. Bem must have realized at some point how odd this approach was. I mean, look at these promo images:
Hey, guys! Let's sit on the floor and listen to music!
There are a few places the Bem Outlet speaker might actually be of use. Most bathrooms have outlets up at chest level, which is better for the Outlet Speaker. You can leave it plugged in and groove to tunes while you’re getting ready for the day. You don’t have to stress about sound quality as much in this environment what with all the noisy flushing, brushing, and chiseling. The Bem also works at up to 90% relative humidity, so it should chug along just fine in there. Kitchens also tend to have outlets above the counter, which is prime location for the Bem Speaker.
Long story short: If you have the Bem plugged in at foot-level you’re going to be missing a lot of the intricacy in your music, and it’s not going to sound very good even at head height.
Should You Buy It?
The Bem speaker has below-average sound for a speaker of its size, and the design makes it not ideal for the majority of situations. With iffy sound in the first place, you definitely don’t want it blasting directly at your ankles.
I suppose if your main interest in having a Bluetooth speaker is to listen to podcasts, you might like the convenience and portability of this unit. Likewise, hooking it up in the bathroom or kitchen seems like a possibility thanks to the likelihood of higher outlets.
The Bem Wireless Outlet Speaker retails for $99, but several websites are selling it for about $20 less. I think in both cases that's too much. It doesn't sound great, and there are better options out there.