By Harry McCracken | Friday, August 26, 2011 at 12:10 pm
Jambox–Jawbone’s nifty super-small, battery-powered Bluetooth speaker/speakerphone gadget–got even a little niftier this week. Jawbone released version 2.0 of the Jambox’s software. It’s available on new Jamboxes, and current owners can download the free upgrade via the MyTalk service. The big new feature is LiveAudio, a technology that’s designed to make sound more multidimensional, including support for binaural recordings–ones recorded using a special technique that only needs two speakers to create a 3D audio effect that can be spectacular. Jawbone provided me with a unit with the new software for review.
Binaural recordings have been around for decades, and are generally meant to be heard over headphones. In fact, the Wikipedia article on the technique specifically says that the 3D effect doesn’t work over speakers. But Jawbone has figured out how to make it work on the Jambox.
When the Jawbone folks demoed binaural audio for me using sound files they’d chosen, the effect was dazzling. My ears and brain thought that they heard different sounds coming at them from different directions in all 360 degrees. I also had fun using my iPhone 4 to stream audio I knew was recorded binaurally (such as Pearl Jam’s appropriately-named album and some demo tracks) to the Jambox.
As for random other music from my collection and streaming services, games, and movies, probably not recorded binaurally: some of them sounded meaningfully richer and more multidimensional with LiveAudio turned on; in other cases, it didn’t seem to make much of a difference. But even when LiveAudio isn’t a factor, the Jambox still sounds great for a speaker system you can hold in the palm of your hand.
With LiveAudio turned on, the maximum volume of the Jambox is much lower than when it’s off. (You can easily toggle the effect by pressing both the volume buttons at once.) I didn’t find this to be a crippling flaw. You want to be sitting within three to four feet of the Jambox to hear the binaural effect anyway, and it wouldn’t really work in a room with much other noise. It’s for personal listening, not for parties. You might have a bigger issue with low volume if you like to listen to music loud, though–some of the folks discussing the new software at Jawbone’s site aren’t pleased.
LiveAudio works only over Bluetooth, not over a cabled connection between the Jambox and an output device. (I get good results with music-over-Bluetooth from an iPhone, but tend to use a cable for my Mac–when I push music to the Jambox or any other wireless device over the Mac’s Bluetooth connection, it sometimes gets garbled.)
Jawbone says it’s going to work with artists and others in the recording industry to create binaural recordings. I wish it luck; I’d like more of them. And while I wouldn’t invest in a Jambox under the assumption that binaural will be everywhere, the Jambox is still a very cool smartphone accessory–especially if you use it for both music listening and speakerphone calls, which helps make its $199.99 pricetag sound a little less intimidating.