Grace Digital GDI-BTSP201 Bluetooth Stereo Speakers Review

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01
of 05

Looks Like Minispeakers. Does It Sound Like Minispeakers?

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Brent Butterworth

When I say "Bluetooth speaker," you picture something like a Jawbone Jambox, right? Grace Digital's GDI-BTSP201 Bluetooth Stereo Speakers are entirely different. It's a Bluetooth speaker system for people who hate Bluetooth speakers.

Instead of packing two channels of audio into a single box that can't possibly give you a stereo image, the GDI-BTSP201 gives you two stereo speakers you can separate to get good stereo. Instead of letting a cute design dictate the driver arrangement, the GDI-BTSP201 uses the same tweeter-over-woofer array and ported enclosure found in most of the best minispeakers.

MSRP for the system is $249, but it's available now on Amazon for just $180.

So it looks like minispeakers. Does it sound like minispeakers?

02
of 05

Grace Digital Bluetooth Stereo Speakers: Features and Ergonomics

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Brent Butterworth

• Includes apt-X Bluetooth wireless
• Two 1-inch tweeters
• Two 3.5-inch midrange/woofers
• Leatherette cover available in white, black or red
• 2 x 18 watts rated power
• RCA stereo analog audio input
• metal five-way binding posts for speaker-to-speaker connection
• USB output for charging portable device
• Dimensions: 7.1 x 4.6 x 7.5 in / 18.0 x 11.7 x 19.1 cm
• System weight: 11 lb / 5 kg

The coolest thing about this system is that one of the speakers -- the one with the amps and the Bluetooth built in -- has a top-mounted control panel that lets you adjust volume, select between Bluetooth and the analog input, and do play/pause/track skip on the Bluetooth source device (i.e., your smartphone or tablet). This setup makes it a superb choice for a desktop computer audio system as well as just a nice little bedroom/den/dorm system.

03
of 05

Grace Digital Bluetooth Stereo Speakers: Sound Quality

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Brent Butterworth

It's usually a pretty good sign when the first word of my listening notes is "Wow!" Or maybe I've just gotten too used to typical all-in-one wireless audio systems.

On guitarist Emily Remler's version of "Daahoud" from East Meets Wes, the fidelity of Remler's guitar and the drums was especially great, with a more neutral and open sound than I'm used to hearing from $200 worth of audio gear. I loved the full yet undistorted sound of the guitar, in particular; a lot of cheap audio systems distort pretty badly when fed the big, round sound most jazz guitarists employ. I also loved that the drums spread out across the room in front of me, instead of being trapped in a single little box as with most Bluetooth systems.

"Daahoud" wasn't quite as swinging as I might have liked because the system didn't deliver a whole ton of bass. That's with the speakers on stands about 6 inches from the wall behind them. With the speakers on my kitchen table -- a simulated desktop, if you will -- the bass was kicked up a bit more and the sound was better-balanced. Still, though, it wouldn't bother me if the unit had a little deeper bass extension.

Heavier rock let me explore the system's dynamic limits. With The Cult's Electric cranked full-blast, I noticed that the treble sounded a little crisp and uneven, and slightly overemphasized, but still, the overall sound quality was better than with the majority of the all-in-one Bluetooth systems I've tested. A quick listen to Toto's "Rosanna" confirmed the mild treble push; it sounded good, with no "cupped hands" coloration (the result of a too-high crossover point between woofer and tweeter), no significant tweeter distortion, or any other of the usual nasty sounds that indicate the cheap, carelessly executed crossover found in most budget audio products.

I did notice, though, that when I cranked the system up full blast, I could hear a bit of noise coming through the system when no music was playing.

I wondered if I'd hear the treble push if I put on a more trebly jazz recording, so I played saxophonist Kenny Garrett's AWESOME LISTEN TO IT RIGHT NOW "Sing a Song of Song." Yep, Garrett's tenor sounded a tad edgy, and Jeff "Tain" Watts' cymbals were a little too crispy. Still, I love the overall sound; the stereo imaging and soundstaging were fantastic and the little system had plenty enough dynamics to handle the intense energy as the quartet built up its intensity during Garrett's solo.

Then I had a brainstorm. I'd been sourcing "Sing a Song of Song" from my Samsung Galaxy III S phone, which has numerous equalizer apps. Using just the simple EQ app included on the phone, I pulled the treble down -1.5 dB at 3.6 kHz. Perfection. Now the tonal balance sounded just right, the tweeter's flaws weren't readily apparent, yet the sound was still lively and spacious.

So while the Grace Digital system has some flaws, I basically dig it a lot. Others pretty much agree: Digital Trends gave it 4 stars and PCMag.com gave it 4 stars. Hankering for some extensive unboxing notes? Well, missingremote.com's got you covered.

04
of 05

Grace Digital Bluetooth Stereo Speakers: Measurements

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Brent Butterworth

Frequency response
on-axis: ±5.0 dB from 72 Hz to 20 kHz
average: ±4.8 dB from 72 Hz to 20 kHz

MCMäxxx maximum output level
97 dBC at 1 meter

The blue trace shows the frequency response for the GDI-BTSP201 on-axis. The green trace shows the averaged of seven frequency response measurements taken across a ±30° horizontal listening window. Generally speaking, the blue (on-axis) line should be as flat as possible, and the green (averaged) response should be close to flat, with a mild reduction in treble response.

Up to about 3 kHz, the GDI-BTSP201's measurements are quite smooth, both on- and off-axis. At higher frequencies, the response is a lot more ragged, with a big peak at 8.5 kHz. All the problems are well above the midrange, so voices should sound smooth even if some of the high-frequency instruments (percussion, acoustic guitar, etc.) sound a little rough.

Want to know how I did these tests? The right way. But seriously, folks, I used a CLIO 10 FW audio analyzer and CLIO MIC-01 at a distance of 1 meter, measuring the left speaker only. (I also measured the right speaker and found that its response matched the left within 1.5 dB.) Measurements above 200 Hz were made using quasi-anechoic technique to remove sound reflections from the surrounding environment. Response below 200 Hz was measured using ground plane technique, with the mic at a distance of 1 meter from the left speaker. Results above 200 Hz smoothed to 1/12th octave, results below 200 Hz smoothed to 1/6th octave. Measurements were taken at a level of 80 dB at 1 kHz/1 meter (what I usually do for relatively small audio products), then scaled to a reference level of 0 dB at 1 kHz for this chart.

This system doesn't pump out quite the volume I'd expect from, say, a cheap receiver and a halfway-decent pair of minimonitors, but it's basically competitive with most of the better Bluetooth speakers. On my my MCMäxxx test -- cranking Mötley Crüe's "Kickstart My Heart" as loud as the unit can play while still sounding fairly clean, then measuring the average level at 1 meter -- I got 97 dBC SPL.

05
of 05

Grace Digital Bluetooth Stereo Speakers: Final Take

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Brent Butterworth

I like the Grace Digital GDI-BTSP201 a lot. Very good sound quality (rising to pretty great quality with a few minor adjustments), great control setup, great form factor and it comes in red. A few flaws, sure, but I'm not sure you can get much better sound for under $200.