Archeer are rapidly becoming the next upcoming brand to offer budget friendly devices that don`t compromise on quality, or at least don`t compromise where it matters. While my impressions of the a106 were pretty lukewarm, my experiences with its larger and far more accomplished sibling, the a320, tell a different story entirely.
With a 2.1 active driver setup, the a320 is quite unorthodox for a portable speaker. Most mainstream portable speakers utilize small full range drivers with maybe one or two passive radiators to augment the low end. Few of these speakers boast an active bass driver, and I haven`t seen any equipped with one the size of that on the a320. As a result of such a similar setups and similar target demographics, most of these speakers pursue a similar thick, warm sound. The a320 is pretty much the opposite of the Edifier Rave I reviewed a while back, epitomizing the punchy sound you would hear in a club or karaoke lounge, not a HiFi or reference sound and certainly not a sound achieved by many portable speakers. That`s because the a320 is actually a home speaker, or at least that`s how Archeer is marketing it. A few design features do embody these intentions, but apart from that, the a320 still remains a portable speaker through and through. In fact, the a320 is actually a rather fantastic one, keep reading to find out why.
I would like to thank Archeer very much for sending me a review unit of the a320 in exchange for my honest opinion. There is no monetary incentive for a positive review, I will be as objective as possible and provide an honest evaluation of the product.
The a320 is packaged similarly to the a106 rugged speaker, but, to match the jump in price, everything is just a that little bit more sophisticated.
The plain cardboard box has a handle at the top along with the basic model number, the front face showcases a vector of the a320 and the right side lists Archeer`s website and service e-mail for warranty purposes.
The box opens in a standard fashion unveiling the speaker itself nestled between two spongy foam cutouts. The speaker is also packaged within a plastic bag to prevent scratching during shipping.
Sliding out the speaker reveals an inlet containing the manual and two cables; a micro-b charging cable and aux cable. Both of similar in quality to those included with the a106 but are a little thicker in gauge. The manual lists basic instructions for operation and controls along with the specs of the speaker.
Archeer also include a pouch of sorts. The material feels similar to a raincoat, from some brief testing it appears to add some water resistance, great for general portability. The drawstring bands double as handles for easy carrying.
The a320 both looks and feels far superior than its $99 USD price tag would suggest. Though devoid of any rugged features, the rigidity of the bamboo facade in addition to the weight of the body (1.4kg) create a very compelling experience that enhances the premium impression of the product. It is a larger speaker, roughly similar to the Edifier Rave without the handle, and the a320 is not something that you would want to carry during regular daily activities.
Whilst the bamboo employed in the front and rear faces lacks the lavish grain of timbers such as mahogany or walnut, the speaker possesses a very inviting look that will surely please a lot of buyers. It`s definitely a lot nicer than plastic and provides a more stylish alternative to the usual fabric or metal bodies of most speakers. Despite this intricate design, everything feels well matched and assembled.
Archeer list that the a320 is comprised of furniture grade bamboo. While the wood itself is of nice quality, I did notice a few rough edges around the tweeter driver cutouts and the rounded corners on the front face were slightly coarse; both far from splinter inflicting levels but imperfect nonetheless. Apart from these small niggles, the wood is smooth and well finished, edges are rounded and both the front and back are well matched in colour/grain.
This is well complimented by the fabric body that adds grip to the frame and contrast to the aesthetics of the device. It feels like a tough canvas, the kind you would find find in a laptop sleeve or camera bag.
Despite being a darker, more scuff prone colour, the fabric body has been generally hard wearing but the base has become a bit frayed due to a lack of any kind of feet. Due to the lack of feat, the speaker will wander when playing at high volumes on a solid surface, I also don`t recommend placing the speaker facing up since the rear wood panel will scratch. There`s also a visible seam on the bottom, fortunately it`s well joined and the speaker doesn`t rock or wobble.
The speaker controls and interfaces are well laid out. The front face houses the two tweeter/midrange drivers pushed right to the sides for stereo separation with the bass driver centered in-between. The Archeer brand is also embossed in the wood.
The rear face has a smaller bamboo facade with the fabric frame smoothly rolling in to create a clean look. This aspect houses the port for the bass driver along with the micro-b and aux ports. There`s a reset button if you experience issues with pairing and a charging indicator LED that glows red when charging and turns off when full. Archeer claim 11 hours of battery life form the a320`s 5200mah 7.4v battery. I`m not sure how the battery charges from a 5v output, perhaps two cells charge in parallel, but at least it doesn`t utilize a proprietary connector like the Edifier Rave. This does mean that the a320 has abnormally long charging times, it will usually take overnight to fill from empty (6-8hrs in my testing from a 2A output). This is somewhat offset by the long battery life that exceeds the claimed estimate (11hrs) and the 8hrs of playback provided by the Edifier Rave. In my uses, the speaker achieved in excess of 13 hours at medium volumes, enough for a full day of use or a few days of partial use. The speaker has an auto-off feature to save battery however it will not auto-off when connected via aux.
It`s worth noting that the ports are embedded within a rubber panel that adds a lot of grip to the speaker, it`s easy to grab the countersunk wood around the bass driver and rubber. Without a handle or strap and with its more bulky dimensions, these features really enhances the a320`s portability (though I am worried about accidentally poking the exposed drivers).
At the top users can find the main controls and indicators; volume down, up, a status LED, play/pause and power in that order. The buttons are very clicky, it`s also easily tell them apart from each other and the surrounding fabric through their defined shape and grippy texture. Generally the white coating will flake or wear off over time, but the a320 hasn`t shown any such signs of wear over my month and a half of testing. The status LED changes between green and blue to denote connection over a wired or Bluetooth connection respectively. The play/pause controls work perfectly over Bluetooth, but as expected, did not when connected via aux. Like most speakers, volume controls function in isolation of the source, adding 25 steps over those of the connected device. Holding the volume buttons also skips tracks, again only when connected over Bluetooth. These commands function on all platforms that I tested, windows 10, Android and IOS.
The power button, however, is a little more temperamental than these other features, I couldn`t quite decipher how the speaker functions even after reading through the manual. Holding the power button for 3 seconds powers on the speaker and the status LED flashes to denote power but there`s a few seconds lag before the speaker play the respective audio cue, making the power/pairing process a little awkward. Holding for 5 seconds when off puts the device in pairing mode and the LED rapidly flashes green. Otherwise the speaker pairs to the last device, efficient for single device usage but adds an extra step for those using multiple sources such as myself. Once paired, range was very good, stretching just past 2 double brick rooms before becoming intermittent, matching the Edifier Rave and well exceeding the Envaya Mini and a106. I experienced no cutouts or stuttering during general usage either.
Perhaps my biggest gripe with the functionality of the speaker is that you can`t have the a320 permanently connected over aux as it won`t auto power off and will run out of power over night. If you power off the speaker manually, it still won`t recognize whether an aux cable is plugged in unless you unplug and plug it back in. This is inconvenient since I often use the speaker with a radio, I have to plug/unplug the speaker to re-connect. Since the a320 is a home speaker, I would think that a lot of users would use a wired connection for their TV or monitor and as such, they would definitely appreciate auto-off here and the ability to recognize an aux cable when powered off.
So the a320 really impresses with its design and build. The bamboo is well machined with enough visual accent to balance class and style. The fabric frame is well integrated and relatively hard wearing. It`s great that the speaker can be charged through a conventional micro-b port and the top mounted buttons are will implemented. While hardly ineffective, Archeer still need to make small tweaks to their connection/power system to simplify the user experience. The speaker should enter pairing mode as soon as it`s powered on and should detect whether it is connected over aux whether on or off. Regardless, the a320 provides a nice home centred alternative to rugged portable speakers with a more refined, sculpted look whilst retaining an approachable price point.
Archeer really sculpt the sound of their speakers to their intended application. Such specific tuning is not wrong, but all too often do large trade offs occur with a sound that deviates too far from neutral. In that sense, it`s great that the tuning of the a320 possess plenty of versatility, not only tuned appropriately for home listening but also for outdoor and party use too.
The rich and ultra punchy sound of the a320 isn`t nearly as neutral as the near field orientated Envaya Mini but it does combat low frequency dissipation in large spaces. Due to the rear bass port, the a320 is just as location sensitive as speakers that employ passive radiators, but is nowhere near as volume dependent, sounding powerful at all levels without volume compensation. Placing the speaker in front of a solid surface produces a stronger bass response that, whilst overpowering in small spaces, sounds quite well judged in medium/large sized rooms. In such small spaces, simply moving the speaker further away from the wall creates a more natural sound. Such a quality can only be attained through a certain type of tuning, and the twin tweeter, single woofer a320, devoid of any kind of midrange driver, carries an ever popular v-shaped signature.
It`s a hyper excited, super engaging sound far from neutral but not overzealous. There`s still not too much sub-bass, roughly similar levels to the Bose Soundlink mini but there is a large mid-bass hump that can encroach upon boomy with certain tracks. That being said, in medium sized rooms and larger, the bass is certainly less boomy and much more neutral. Upper bass has a dip, its just south of neutral leaving the midrange clean and clear if pushed behind the bass and treble. Lower mids have decent presence but varying body (more in the mid section) with upper mids being more recessed. The upper midrange blends quite smoothly into the sparkly treble response that retains enough body to avoid sounding harsh or overly splashy.
It`s not neutral, far from it, but the a320 possesses a very fun sound that will impress the majority of listeners. For portable applications or usage in larger areas, the a320`s powerful sound delivers an engaging listening experience perfect for pop, movies and games but vocals are often too recessed for regular TV and online videos. I can mostly liken the sound to a karaoke speaker system, the sound is driven by mid-bass beat and shimmering highs with the midrange less pronounced, caught somewhere in between.
Soundstaging is decent, the two tweeters do output in stereo creating some separation. Imaging is average, as expected, sound mostly outputs from the centre and there`s no psychoacoustics to enhance the sense of space unlike the Edifier and Denon speakers. Separation is good on account of the very contrasted sound but the midrange is a bit too recessed to convey instruments with utmost precision.
Volume on the contrary is quite impressive, there`s plenty for TV use, a party and of course medium/medium-large room usage. The powerful low and and crisp high end create a very filling sound even if the Edifier Rave will best it in outright volume. Speech intelligibility is not the speakers strongest point due to the V-shaped signature, but a lack of an upper bass hump prevents clouding of the lower midrange and the upper mids are generally free from veil as well.
Utilizing a Bluetooth 4.0 connection, quality loss is minimal perhaps the mids are a little more crunchy and the bass slightly boomier. The a320 lacks apt-x creating notable audio lag, making a wired connection imperative for TV, movies and certain games. The internal amp is tuned for volume over a clean signal. The speaker gets warm, but not hot, over long sessions and emits a constant hiss. With a mediocre SNR of 75dB (tweeters are supposedly 85dB), it`s actually a little louder than the cheaper a106, but is quickly drowned out during playback. For low level applications, the hiss is noticeable but not distracting though the Envaya mini and Rave have no such amplification issues, both almost completely devoid of hiss.
Bass extension is very good, the a320 delivers a deep sounding response that will handily best most passive radiator based speakers with far less low roll-off and increased slam. This grants the speaker firmer sub-bass notes while the Envaya mini and Rave tend to sound softer and more rounded. Of course the 25W speaker lacks the extension provided by something like the Edifier E25`s (72W) or E30`s (90W) but for a portable speaker, you won`t find much more sub-bass, even the triple radiator Edifier Rave can`t match the a320`s low end reach. But what these nimbler speakers posses in return is increased definition to each note, the a320 on account of its larger driver and mid-bass boost loses a moderate amount of bass detail and texture in favour of kick and slam. This is perhaps the speaker`s greatest asset, the boosted, super punchy mid-bass response of the a320 sounds remarkably more visceral than the Envaya mini and Rave especially in larger spaces where these tones tend to get drowned out. So whilst the Envaya mini and Rave can sound neutral when close and mid forward when placed several metres away, the a320 rather sounds boosted when near and neutral/punchy when distanced as per its home speaker moniker. Altering the placement doesn`t much definition or detail to the bass of course, but the tonal balance is more enjoyable for genres outside of hip-hop and pop.
The upper bass is toned down by comparison, avoiding a thick or overly warmed sound. It`s just above neutral in quantity, the Rave has slightly less upper bass whilst the Envaya mini has slightly more. The bass has real slam and rhythm for a portable speaker, well suited towards pop, but genres such as jazz lack finesse and definition in general. Movies that require such a response benefit from the added rumble and punch generated by the a320 over competing models but listeners of faster musical genres such as rock and metal will miss the definition and tightness offered by leaner radiator based speakers. For the asking price of $99, the a320 offers a nice enough balance with just a little less detail and definition than class leading models such as the Envaya Mini in return for far more low end impact.
The tweeters on the a320 are the same size as the full range drivers on the envaya mini. Despite this, they struggle to portray an accurate sense of body for vocals and instruments residing within the midrange, instead sounding rather thin. The much larger bass driver does augment this response, and as such, lower mids can be granted with pleasing body. However there`s a small grey area not covered by either driver, I notice this with male vocals in particular which, depending on frequency, vary between the bass and high range drivers. This creates an inconsistent experience, sometimes vocals are spot on, blending well from both the woofer and tweeter units whilst other times they come through as either raspy from the tweeters or muffled from the woofer alone. It`s a strange phenomenon, the tweeter drivers should be tuned to reach further down in the frequency range.
In terms of tuning, the midrange takes a backseat to the bass with the slightly accentuated treble in better balance. Lower mids are slightly recessed, notes are perfectly discernible for the most part but male vocals can get overwhelmed on mid-bass heavy tracks. Lower mids have a slight boost in body except higher male vocals that don`t utilize the woofer. Instruments such as acoustic and piano well utilize the 2.1 driver setup and are delivered with nice timbre and warmth. Female vocals on the other hand are more accurate and consistent, lacking such crossover issues. They`re on the thinner side of neutral but retain pleasing clarity. The upper midrange does have the least presence in the entire sound, but notes are clear enough to retain intelligibility and the entire midrange permeates a nice sense of detail in general. There`s not nearly as much detail and texture to the sound as the more expensive, more neutral Edifier Rave, but it`s more aggressively detailed than the similarly priced Envaya Mini. The midrange also isn`t the smoothest out there, it takes the rawer approach of the Westone W30`s, trading general refinement for detail and clarity; despite the upper midrange dip the a320 lacks any sense of veil or muffle. While the mids are less even than either of the aforementioned speakers, for certain applications and certain genres of music, the a320 provides a more compelling experience. I found purely instrumental tracks to sound quite vivid and clear but the speaker tends to struggle a bit more with vocals, especially songs where voices are already pushed back in the mix.
As an extra note, during near field listening, I found that these crossover issues were exacerbated but the from distances greater than ~1-1.5m the sound blends together in a more natural manner. I have an eQ on my radio that adjusts the midrange balance and increasing the presence of the upper mids grants a more pleasing tonal balance in general.
The treble response, similar to the low end, has very good extension that matches the Envaya Mini but falls slightly short of the Edifier Rave. There`s a moderate roll off at the very top making high-hats recessed but otherwise accurate sounding. Treble has a nice sense of body, it`s reasonably accentuated but leans downwards as it ascends, lacking that splashy or harsh character. Despite this, the treble still sounds quite sparkly and even airy with the right material, attributing to a more open sound.
Like the VE Monk+, the a320 has an isolated and separated treble response on account of the recessed upper midrange. This allows treble notes to come through very clearly with plenty of detail somewhere in between the Envaya mini and Rave. The Denon does sound slightly more refined and perhaps smoother too, but again, the a320 has more detail and clarity. So the treble is pretty well tuned on a whole, it lacks the muddiness of the bass and crossover woes of the mids, making the treble a very strong performer in this price range.
The a320 definitely carries a more consumer sound than other speakers I`ve tested and it does have a few minor issues with controls and audio feedback, but for the price, it`s still a really compelling offering. Although a sound that deviates from neutral will inevitably limit genre versatility, buyers looking for a punchier, more vivid signature will appreciate the tuning of the a320 and the average listener will probably think it sounds pretty great. It`s well suited towards parties and games, mid-forward, mid-bass heavy music is perfectly complimented by the awesome kick of the large active driver and v-shaped sound whilst other genres can be a little more hit and miss.
In larger areas, the a320`s powerful sound combats dissipation of lower frequencies and the tonality becomes more balanced. The speaker can also be placed near a wall to generate even more low end according to preference. The stylish design and build of the speaker also get a notable mention. The speaker is impeccably finished and perfectly solid in the hand, the textured fabric makes it easy to handle and the bamboo wood grain really catching the eye.
Accessories – 10/10, Easy and protective packaging, manual is well written and Archeer includes a micro-b and aux cable. A carry bag is also provided, it`s water resistant and easy to hold but won`t protect from a drop. Comes with everything you could need except a wall adapter but that`s not expected at this price point.
Design – 8.5/10, The a320 feels premium and looks subjectively stylish. Both the wood and fabric are well finished, blending well together with rounded edges and perfect seams. The wood was a little spotty around the tweets and the lack of rubber feet does result in slight fraying of the bottom surface but otherwise the build is solid. The controls work nicely and the interfaces are simple, the aforementioned lag in audio cue and aux issues are annoyances but don`t detract too much from the overall experience. No rugged features are are built in and the speaker is quite heavy for portable use.
Bass – 6.25/10, More extended than both the Rave and Envaya Mini but lacking the poise and definition of these speakers. Great punch and impact to each note, mid-bass sounds more balanced in larger spaces.
Mids – 6/10, The midrange has a few crossover issues. Lower mids have nice presence and body most of the time, upper mids are slightly scooped and thin. More detailed than the Envaya Mini but also not as smooth. Nice sense of clarity to the mids in general.
Highs – 7/10, Well extended with a slight roll off at the very top. Nice body prevents a splashy character, detailing and resolution are great but still behind the exemplary Edifier Rave.
Value – 9.5/10, The a320, like most Archeer products carries immense value for the price. At $99 USD, the a320 offers brilliant audio performance similar in quality to the Envaya Mini but with much more punch at the cost of midrange coherency. Loses half a point as the wood/fabric build is not well suited towards outdoor usage nor does the speaker have any water resistance. It`s also not as portable as smaller speakers such as the Denon. Can be used inside the included sleeve for a bit of added protection when outdoors.
Overall – 8.25/10, From my previous comparisons, it might seem like the Envaya Mini or Edifier Rave might be the way to go, but that`s really not the case. Based on your intended uses and individual preferences, I think the majority of buyers will actually prefer the punchier, more trendy a320. The low end boost is great for the outdoors or activities, unlike the near field orientated Denon and the price is far lower than the similarly powerful Rave. Of course the speaker does lack any water resistance nor would it take kindly to a moderate drop, but for its intended uses, Archeer presents a strong offering with the a320. For the price of the Envaya Mini you arguably receive a lot more product but what comes with the low price is a set of tradeoffs, lose a little balance, gain a little impact, lose waterproofing, gain that suave fabric/wood design. Despite the midrange inconsistencies, sometimes it`s nice to take a break from a reference sound and enjoy such a hyped up response. The a320 is makes for a very fun listen that is better considered than most mainstream options but still lacks the refinement and definition of more audiophile orientated competitors.