Available from: Argos
Gear4 has been busy reinventing themselves recently and the Black line is a direct answer to this. Coming in two versions, the Gear4 Black Stream 1 is the portable variant of the range marketed as something you can take to a park or party.
Taking it out of the box, it immediately looks very familiar to us. If you’ve ever used the Libratone Zipp, there’s some obvious design homage going on here. With a cylindrical build and hardened rubber casing, it feels extremely well built and durable. The addition of a carry handle means that it’s relatively easy to move around without any fuss, making it great for parties. The size footprint is also pretty spot on, providing just enough weight to make it feel solid without adding unnecessary heft. The decision not to include waterproofing feels like a bit of a misstep, especially as this was designed to be a portable speaker. There’s really no excuse not to include such a beneficial feature. On the top, you’ll find various controls which are well arranged and easy to identify. The only confusing bit is the numbers… which we’ll get to later.
With smaller drivers than its bigger brother the Stream 3, sound quality takes a bit of a hit on the Gear4 Black Stream 1. Bass is noticeably lighter and the upper mids feel a little rougher round the edges. We’ve heard speakers smaller than this which can produce deeper bass tones, such as the JBL Pulse 2. There’s definitely some bass in there but the volume is very low and only ever becomes audible when cranking things up hard. We also felt that some songs seemed a little sterile, missing out on that ‘big room’ feel you get with other Bluetooth speakers. That said, sound quality is by no means terrible. Treble is well defined and hits through the mix well, even if it can be a little harsh at loud volumes. While the bass might not be perfect, it does at least feel controlled. The numbered controls on the top are actually used to modify the tone of the speaker, acting as equalizer presets. Differences between each one are subtle but they can make a difference depending on the conditions.
Gear4 Black Stream 1 packs in same connectivity as Stream 3
Connectivity is a big selling point on the Gear4 Black series and much like it’s brother, the Gear4 Black Stream 1 features a plethora of ports. On the back you’ll find 3.5 AUX, a USB output for charging your music device and even a screw fitting for attaching the speaker to a stand. Internal connectivity is equally impressive, with Bluetooth, WI-FI DirectStream and WI-FI HomeStream all included. When we asked why they chose to include both Bluetooth and WI-FI streaming support, a Gear4 representative stated that they didn’t alienate users with a new technology. It’s a fair point, though we’d advise you skip the Bluetooth if you want solid audio. It’s notorious for compressing audio and dumbing down the quality, so stick the WI-FI features for best sound.
DirectStream and HomeStream allow you to connect to the speaker using a WI-FI network, as all Stream models have a modem built into the device. The former requires a router and multiple speakers can be linked through your home network. The latter sets the speaker up as a WI-FI hotspot, so you can connect directly to it. Unfortunately, if you want to play music using these modes you’ll need to download the Gear4 Stream application, which is still a complete mess. The app has not gotten any better since we last used it, with the same awkward user interface and weird design bugs. Losing my album artwork and not even having the ability to alphabetize my songs is a bit of a joke.
With a rated battery life of 8 hours, we found the claim to be mostly true. It’s a reasonable figure that sits in the middle of most other speakers, providing just enough juice for a house party but nothing more. Cranking it out at full volume for an extended period will dip the result a bit, but on the most part you should be able to rely on this to last the night.
Sound quality is not as impressive as its bigger brother, the Stream 3, and there’s a lack of waterproofing. While this is still a perfectly good speaker at a very cheap price, it’s lacks the critical wow factor to really help it stand out.