Distinguishing oneself from the plethora of portable Bluetooth speakers available today is no mean feat, but Klipsch has managed to do it with its new GiG. A sleek design with a retro feel; some skeuomorphic touches; and a straight-ahead, tight rock 'n' roll personality make the GiG a standout, especially among the score of $200 portables currently vying for listeners' attention.
Klipsch has a rep for big, bodacious horn tweeters and the kind of stacks heavy metal bands appreciate. The GiG's not quite up to that kind of blistering performance, but it puts out enough volume to elicit complaints from the neighbors. A pair of one-inch drivers in the single speaker are complimented by a pair of two-inch passive radiators in order to deliver quick punches when the music demands it. Digital signal processing acts like a dynamic loudness button, keeping everything well balanced whether it's playing demure Debussy or fulminating Foo Fighters.
The GiG avoids cutesy motion- or touch-sensitive controls, opting instead for a homey retro hi-fi feel. There's a big volume knob on top reminiscent of a 1960s car stereo. A sequence of green LEDs lets you know how the power is going; a blue light means you're connected over Bluetooth (there's also a mini jack input for making a wired connection). A wide, U-shaped bar swings out from around the speaker cabinet, enabling it to stand up vertically if one so chooses. It also provides a way to hang it up on a hook, for example, inside a tent.
The speaker's lithium ion battery is rated to last up to 12 hours. For us, it lasted through more than eight hours of on and off playing (at top volume, it will need a recharge sooner). It has NFC or near field communication support so that you can pair it to a compatible device with a tap. And the GiG can act as a speaker phone, but it's really about playing music.
In hi-fi parlance, the GiG has a lot of presence so that David Bowie's vocals, for example, jump out at you on songs like "Soul Love." Yet the designers clearly put a lot of work into the speaker so mid-range instruments like Mick Ronson's guitar don't get mashed into the mix. Should you opt for something more laid-back, acoustic numbers with female vocals remain supple rather than strident.
Compared to the competition – and there is plenty of it – the GiG sound is more direct (even with those passive radiators). The comparably priced Ultimate Ears Boom, for example, sounds airier and more open, designed as it is to deliver a uniform audio experience to listeners who might be seated around a coffee table. But it lacks some of the Klipsch's forthright bass. Similarly, the smaller Beats Pill, in the same price range, sounds tinny by comparison and sorely lacking in the lower bass end.
Getting better sound here means toting a bigger package. The speaker is 7 inches long, more than 3 1/2 inches high and weighs nearly 1 1/2 pounds. But if you want to blast music in your hotel room or at a friend's beach house, it's worth the weight. [$200; klipsch.com]