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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Energy Music Box 1+ Bluetooth Speaker Review: Bass That Sings Its Own Praise

We’ve come really far not only in terms of technology but also prices associated with Google’s smartphones – from the Nexus series to the Pixel lineup. This year’s Pixel 3 XL certainly qualifies for your attention if you’re looking for a high-end smartphone in terms of specifications and price. But with the plethora of phones offering the same specifications for less than half of the price of the Pixel 3, you are also right to question what Google’s flagship smartphones offers that others don’t.

The Pixel 3 duo uses Snapdragon 845 at its heart and Google has underclocked the CPU for some reason. Curiously enough, brands like OnePlus and Poco have polarized the market by launching much more affordable devices with the same supercharged processor, without underclocking it.

This stark price difference is intriguing – even if we consider the amazing camera, and it prompts us to compare the performance of the Pixel 3 XL with the likes of OnePlus 6 and Poco F1.

But, let us first start by talking about how the Pixel 3 XL holds up when compelled to put up with demanding tasks, especially with that underclocked processor and 4GB of RAM which feels short-handed.
Pixel 3 XL: Performance and Gaming

Beneath that elegant personality, the industrious processor takes care of all the hard work. As we saw in our full review, the Pixel 3 XL scores impressively on benchmarks although initially, I had concerns about the 4GB RAM. Despite those concerns, the smartphone has held up superbly in AnTuTu and Geekbench scores.
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Comparing it with the direct competitors which come with almost equally compelling hardware specifications, including the iPhone XS, Galaxy Note 9, Huawei P20 Pro, and OnePlus 6 (8GB), these are the results we have obtained from the mentioned benchmarking apps:
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Out of these, the OnePlus 6 is the only device with a Snapdragon 845. As you can see, the Pixel 3 XL scores better than the entire bunch of Android devices in AnTuTu but when it comes to Geekbench, the Google flagship can be seen lurking lower on the run, with bad scores when compared to other phones.

The only observable lag I noticed is while relaunching heavy apps from Recents menu after leaving it unattended for a short time, and that is perhaps because of the 4GB RAM, which might be a bit too meager for large games.

    Gaming

Given the high-grade hardware, the Pixel 3 XL performs admirably well. The Adreno 630 GPU aboard the Snapdragon 845 lets you play PUBG at Ultra graphics settings with no observable lag. The smooth gameplay without any noticeable heating issues on the Pixel 3 XL has allowed me to earn chicken dinners without stutters. While Asphalt 9 is not supported yet, I played Asphalt 8 without any hassle.

Fortnite for Android arrived well in time, too, while I was reviewing the Pixel 3 XL and its performance has not been at par with other games. The graphics have been terrible, the gameplay uneven and inconsistent, while there have been innumerable frame drops as well as instances of lag. Since we’ve seen a similar performance on many other devices, the issues do not seem to be device-dependent. It would help if you lower the settings to Medium for this game.

Overall, the Pixel 3 XL feels capable when tackling even the most power-hungry games and demanding tasks, and does not seem to heat up unusually either.

While these results are more-or-less predictable, I am curious to see how the device fares against other devices powered by Snapdragon 845 with more RAM. So, I decided to run a more elaborate benchmark and find out if the underclocked chipset and lower-than-expected RAM make any difference to the experience.
Pixel 3 XL vs OnePlus 6 vs Poco F1: Same Processor But Different Optimization

Before we compare different devices housing the same Snapdragon 845 chipset, it is vital to take a look at the different configurations put to test. For this comparison, we’re using Pixel 3 XL, OnePlus 6, and Poco F1 – all of which are in different price segments. This will give us a fair idea about whether companies take the extra pain of fine-tuning the performance of the hardware.

It is also noteworthy that despite the same Kryo 385 CPU cores, all three smartphones have different clock speeds. Take a look:

    Pixel 3 XL – 4 x 2.5GHz & 4 x 1.6GHz; 4GB RAM; Android Pie
    OnePlus 6 – 4 x 2.8GHz & 4 x 1.7GHz; 8GB RAM; Oxygen OS based on Android Pie
    Poco F1 – 4 x 2.8GHz & 4 x 1.8GHz; 6GB RAM; MIUI 9 based on Android Oreo

After running multiple instances of PassMark, the following are the scores obtained by the three devices. I’ll explain the logic behind the different tests parts of the benchmark at the end of this article. For your information, the higher the numbers per test, the better the performance – except in the case of “Memory Latency” for which the lowest value relates to the best performance.
    Poco F1 6GB    OnePlus 6    Pixel 3 XL
System     14666    15909    16631
CPU Test     225685    245050    226626
   Integer Math    2849    2875    2852
   Floating Point Math    4411    4447    4707
   Find Prime Numbers    1.68    1.86    2.2
   Random String Sorting    4.16    4.81    5.35
   Data Encryption    400    480    507
   Data Compression    4307    5663    4925
   Single Thread       839    1096    822
Disk tests    66979    75079    72553
2D Graphics test    9069    13203    10585
3D Graphics test    4257    4212    5061
Memory tests     12149    12316    12016
   Database Operation    101    105    91.1
   Memory Read Cached    1021    1356    968
   Memory Read Uncached    1023    1363    993
   Memory Write    961    1053    899
   Memory Latency    96.1    95.7    95.8
   Memory Threaded    6030    6562    6810
Legends at bottom1           

Note: See our explainer below to know what each of these tests mean

Clearly, the OnePlus 6 is miles better than the other two, despite the identical specs. Although the underclocked Snapdragon 845 on the Pixel 3 XL holds up well against the competition – in fact, better in certain arithmetic tests too – the RAM is a bottleneck. The lower RAM leads to an evident drop in memory-related scores, where the Pixel 3 XL finished last.

Surprisingly, the Pixel 3 XL takes the lead in terms of 3D Graphics test, and games look amazing on that gorgeous display on the Pixel 3 XL. Perhaps, Google seems to have prioritized graphics performance over faster processing speeds.
OnePlus 6 Outpaces Poco F1 and Pixel 3 XL

Taking a close look at the RAM specifications used in the three devices, we know all of them have the same LPDDR4X tech, with the same frequency i.e 1,866 MHz. The difference in performance is due to the varying levels of optimization from the three manufacturers, and the memory management kernels they use.

OnePlus has done a great job in making Oxygen OS more performance-oriented. Poco, on the other hand, might suffer poorer scores due to either heavily-skinned MIUI which is based on Android Oreo, and since it’s a brand new UI, there is still some optimization left to be done on this phone.

Meanwhile, OnePlus is already preparing for their next launch, which is scheduled for next week. Even without seeing the smartphone, I feel confident that it’ll be a stunner in terms of performance, considering the similar specs.

Evidently, the real battle is between OnePlus 6 and the Pixel 3 XL and the additional expenditure on the latter only makes sense if you want stunning performance from the cameras or the brilliant display. Besides that, there are some issues with the build quality of the Pixel 3 XL that made me question its ‘premium’ tag.
PassMark Tests

Here is what the different tests in the PassMark score mean:

    CPU Test
        Integer Math – This test determines how fast any device can perform arithmetic functions (add, subtract, multiply, and divide) with integers and is measured in MOps/s.
        Floating Point Math – The test measures the rate at which a device can do perform mathematical operations on floating point numbers i.e. fractions or numbers with decimal points. The results of this test are also measured in MOps/s.
        Find Prime Number – The test runs an applet which identifies numbers that are not divisible by any other number but themselves and calculates the rate at which a device can run this test – and find prime numbers per unit time.
        Random String Sorting – In this test, a device’s speed of sorting 500,000 different combinations of words and numbers with 25 characters each is tested, and the result is measured in million strings per second.
        Data Encryption – The test uses common encryption techniques like AES, Salso20, Two Fish etc. to encrypt data and then calculates the time taken by a device to find the unique key to decrypt the data. This is measured in MB/s.
        Data Compression – This test is used to calculate the megabytes (KB) of data which can be compressed per second without any loss of data using advanced encoding techniques.
        Single Thread – This test determines the performance of the CPU in the case of tasks that use a single core at once and measured in MOps/s.
    Memory Tests
        Database Operation – The test uses standard C++ container templates to verify how well the RAM can preserve these heavy database templates, and measures this in KOps/s.
        Reach Cached – Determines the rate at which a small block of memory cache is read.
        Read Uncached – Determines the rate, in MB/s, at which a 256MB block of the memory is read.
        Memory Write – This test judges the MB/s rate at which information is written to the memory.
        Memory Latency – This test determines the time in nanoseconds (ns) to transfer one byte of information from the RAM to the CPU. The lesser this value, the better.
        Memory Threaded – Just like the Read Uncached test, this one determines the time used for reading multiple blocks of memory at the same time. The information is displayed in MB/s. For most of us, music is an integral part of weal and woe. The ways in which music impacts different people are virtually countless but without smearing our sense of tallying, we can feel thankful for music that arouses not just the mind but also the heart – or amygdala (based on how you see life). Now that we’re talking about feelings associated with music, the Energy Music Box 1+ from Spain’s Energy Sistem plays a significant role by hitting you with a strong and tingling bass, even without a dedicated sub-woofer. Curious much?

Energy Music Box 1+, quite surprisingly for the well-suited price (Rs 1,599), features a big speaker on the front to take care of the sound while a “passive membrane” on the rear side tenders sufficient bass for good mornings, lazy afternoons, and party nights.

Irrespective of your choice of genre, bass is imperative to a great musical buffet – unless you dwell in the dark abyss of depressive suicidal black metal. So, we’re going to take a look at how the membrane-rattling bass on an affordable Bluetooth speaker can add a new dimension to your experience of listening to music.

Let’s start by peeking inside the box of the Energy Music Box 1+ and we’ll take a look at its performance later.
Box Contents

The Energy Music Box 1+ comes neatly packed in a box made of thin cardboard with essentials. Here’s what you’ll find inside:

    Energy Music Box 1+ Bluetooth speaker
    Micro USB cable for charging
    3.5mm AUX cable
    Lanyard
    Manuals and Energy Sistem stickers

The inclusion of a lanyard band and stickers make the average packaging more interesting. The encounter with stickers, especially, strikes the child in me but I won’t let that dictate my actual opinions about the performance of the Bluetooth speaker.

But first, let’s see how the Energy Music Box 1+ is when it comes to specification on paper.
Specifications
Speakers    40mm Mono + Rear Passive Radiator for Bass
Output    5W
Frequency Response    100 Hz ~ 18 KHz
Signal to Noise (SNR) Ratio    >90dB
Bluetooth    v4.1
Battery    800mAh Li-Polymer
Battery Backup    20 Hours
Wired Connection    3.5mm
FM Radio Frequency     87.5 MHz ~ 108 MHz
Charging Port    Micro USB
MRP    Rs 1,999
Current Price    Rs 1,599 (Amazon/Flipkart)

An older version of Bluetooth and lack of support for AptX could make the Energy Music Box a little less appealing but we’ll take a look at how these factors actually impact the playback.
Design & Build

We have the sky-colored version here at the office and on the very first glance, it reminded me of a soap bar. The smooth matte-ish texture affirms the feeling but despite that, the Energy Music Box 1+ feels solidly built. There is a big 40mm driver on the front, veiled by a grille of a slightly darker shade of sky blue.

Turning the speaker around, there’s a vibrating diaphragm to be found, which at first feels like a subwoofer. But in fact, this a passive membrane radiator meant to add a strong flavor of bass in your musical appetizer, and definitely boosts your appetite for more bass-heavy music from the Energy Music Box 1+.

Above the diaphragm, there are input jacks for power input, MicroSD cards up to 128GB, and a standard AUX input. The controls for music playback lie on the top of the speaker. From left to right, there are dedicated buttons for power, mode selection and pairing, volume down, play/pause, and volume up. Unlike other speakers, the volume buttons don’t let you forward or rewind tracks. Moreover, the mode button lets you shift between Bluetooth and FM Radio modes upon single press but if you hold it for long, you can enter pairing mode.

There’s a multi-colored LED indicator on the top which stays lit in Blue color as long you’re connected and pulses when the speaker is accepting pair requests. It turns green when you switch to the FM mode. Near the power button, lies a hole that houses a microphone to record voice or attend calls.

Lastly, when it comes to the durability, I can say that the speaker is built to bear gentle drops and even after dropping it from a height of four-ish feet, I did not experience any distortion or hissing, and the body didn’t have any signs of cracking or chipping off.
Performance

    Bluetooth Playback

The Energy Music Box 1+ is an interesting speaker, thanks to its large-sized 5W driver and the vibrating diaphragm at the back for the extra bass. The diaphragm is certainly striking because when the speaker is first turned on, it plays a quick arpeggio followed by a heartbeat that can be felt while your finger is still keeping the power button pressed. This leaves a tasteful first impression, compelling you to try the speaker for more.

Since “Music” is in the name, I decided to jump straight into testing the tonal qualities of the speaker. Listening to it, I’ve come to be very impressed by the range of sounds it can throw at me while the separate arrangement for bass that always enhances the lower frequencies played by the mono driver.

One can very clearly hear melodies played on the bass guitar or the thumps of drum beats. Since this is a passive membrane, the quality of the bass might not match up to that of a dedicated sub-woofer, but it’s honestly surprising and delighting on a speaker of this form and size, and not to forget – this price.

If you listen to music with chunky bass lines or more emphasis on the groove, the Energy Music Box 1+ should easily live up to expectations.

The dominant sound of the speaker, in itself, is very versatile and the speaker feels capable of nearly all kinds of music, and, it is reasonably loud for its size, which makes it suitable for get-togethers and house parties. The 40mm driver caters to a wide range of sounds and should treat you equally well in cases of both – electronic and analog instruments.

The only times it chokes is when there are a number of instruments layered over each other. Otherwise, there’s no scope for complain. Moreover, the speaker is also great at delivering dialogues when you’re watching movies, sitcoms, or videos. In most cases, the background scores don’t muffle the dialogues.

Some of the tracks used by me in the music test include:

    Lost For Words by Pink Floyd
    Society by Eddie Vedder
    Stressed Out by Twenty One Pilots
    Umran Langiyaan (Coke Studio) by Ali Sethi & Nabeel Shaukat
    Bitch Lasagna by PewDiePie

    FM Radio

During my testing of the Energy Music Box 1+, I was unable to use the FM Radio feature at all. There was no reception and white noises kept ringing for every channel I sought. This is because the speaker does not have any visible antenna or metal area to catch signals. I even tried to get reception by shoving a 3.5mm connector into the AUX jack but that did not make any improvement either.

    Recording

Energy Music Box 1+ has a pretty decent quality when it comes to audio recorded using the inbuilt mic. The amount of ambient noise is lesser than most other speakers in the range and there’s no distortion. The overall texture of the clip is rich and balanced.
Connectivity

With support for Bluetooth 4.1, the Energy Music Box 1+ is capable of connecting to most smartphones or other appliances such as smart TVs. There’s no Bluetooth 5.0 or AptX support but that is easily forgivable looking at the price. There is unhindered playback from up to a range of 30 feet and even if you do manage to exit the coverage area, the speaker connects automatically when you move back within range.

As per Energy Sistem, the speaker supports the standard FM frequency i.e. between 87.5 and 108MHz but as I mentioned, we weren’t able to test the feature. Lastly, the USB cable cannot be used for playback and is only useful for charging.
Battery

Solidly built and sounding well, the Energy Music Box 1+ has proved to be a compelling option so far and the battery is also in line with its performance. The 800mAh battery on the speaker easily lasted six to seven hours during my usage at full volume and this is more than what Energy Sistem claims it to last for.

In terms of recharging, the speaker takes somewhere around two hours to go from having low battery to full charge. Thanks to HFP protocol support, you can view the battery level on your Android and iOS devices which always comes in handy.
Energy Music Box 1+ Bluetooth Speaker: Pros & Cons

So far, my experience with the Energy Music Box 1+ has been delightful, with that bass pad enriching the overall playback quality. Let’s take a look at the pros and the cons of this speaker to make it easier for you to make a decision about buying it.
Pros

    Durable Build
    Loud and versatile sound
    Clearly discernible extra bass
    Noise-less recording
    Reliable battery
    Value for money
    Lanyard

Cons

    Sketchy FM Mode
    Clunky sound playing melodies with many instruments

SEE ALSO: Energy Sistem Music Box 5 Review: High on Clarity, Low on Bass
Energy Music Box 1+ Bluetooth Speaker: It’s All About That Bass

While the Energy Music Box 1+ is usually capable of great sound, the passive membrane improves the overall sound quality and cooks up a zesty platter full of bass, although falling slightly short of gourmet quality. Energy Sistem could work on the clarity a bit more but you still get a more than decent playback for this price.

    The membrane-rattling bass on an affordable Bluetooth speaker can add a new dimension to your musical experience.

Some other options in the price range that I’ve tried and can vouch for include the JBL GO (Rs 1,799), which has slightly richer sound, and the Logitech X50 (1,799), which seems to be a tad bit louder. But on both of these options, you’ll miss the added bass profile which the Energy Music Box 1+ offers.

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