By Don Lindich
Week 41, 2017
Q. You recently reviewed a small speaker than can play FM, but without the ability to directly tune a specific station. I mostly want an FM radio so I can listen to NPR at home and when I travel. Is there anything similar with more of a radio focus?
-J.D., South Bend, IN
A. Check out the Avantree SP850 3-in-1, $29.99. The SP850 is a portable speaker that works with FM, Bluetooth, USB, auxiliary input, and MicroSD cards. (Perhaps it should be the 5-in-1.) It is small and lightweight, with a nice rubberized finish and an analog volume knob that also serves as the on-off switch.
The FM radio mode is what makes it stand out. Reception is very good and the SP850 has numbered buttons for direct tuning, so to tune 92.9 you just push 929. An LCD display shows the radio station and battery status, as well as track info in MicroSD card mode. It has a headphone jack (mono, not stereo) and user-replaceable rechargeable batteries, both a rarity in the class. The battery is a Nokia BL-5C compatible, available for under $5 online.
The sound quality could be better. Though it is not bad, the SP850 is not something I would buy as a dedicated music speaker. The bass is not very deep and the sound lacks that richness, depth and tone that draws you into the music. I recommend using the “Classic” equalizer setting to improve the sound quality.
Despite these sonic shortcomings, the excellent FM mode alone makes it worth the price of admission. If you are looking for a small radio that has some additional functionality built-in as a bonus, the Avantree SP850 3-in-1 is a good buy.
ZVOX AV205 update: Before I submitted the column about the ZVOX AV205 TV Speaker with Audiology Adjustments, I shared it with a family friend. Her husband is hard of hearing and even with their Bose 3-2-1 system, he still had trouble making out voices. It has been a vexing problem so she decided the AV205 was worth a try. I offered my services setting it up so I could see how the product performed in a real-world situation.
We ran the Mimi Hearing Test with headphones, and it showed his hearing to be 8% of normal. Realizing he had lost 92% of his hearing was rather sobering. The manual suggested we pretty much max out every single audiology adjustment to compensate for his hearing loss.
When the speaker started playing, he tilted his head a little and gave a slight nod of recognition. “I can hear it,” he said, and confirmed he could understand the voices better than before. He explained that while he could usually hear with the Bose 3-2-1 system, he understood voices better and more consistently with the ZVOX AV205. Dialogue was also understandable at a lower volume level. It wasn’t a jumping up-and-down miracle cure, but it was a definite improvement.
The sound was kind of shrill with all the adjustments maxed out, so I tweaked the settings a bit to see if I could make the sound more pleasant for everyone else. I was able to make the sound warmer and deeper without affecting the intelligibility of the speech, at which point his wife exclaimed “Now that is much better for me, too!” Her hearing is fine, but the low sound quality of modern televisions, combined with dialogue tracks that are softer than the background audio, sometimes made it hard for her to understand voices, too.
Typically the AV205 sells for $349.99, but ZVOX has a $130 savings coupon code AV205130 that is active until October 21, bringing the price down to $219.99. The code works at both zvoxaudio.com and Amazon.