We all know that judging a book by its cover is wrong, but we do it anyway, right? I know I do. That’s why, when I saw Koss’s miniature BTS1, I didn’t think much of it nor did I expect to be impressed by its sound quality. After all, it’s not much bigger than a deck of cards.
For $59 (about £103, AU$105 with international shipping costs from Koss’ online shop included), this little speaker surprises with sound delivery full of warmth uncharacteristic of its size and a smooth, understated design. It’s lacking some major features, but what Koss did pack inside this compact form factor performs remarkably well.
The Koss BTS1 is just as serious about its looks as it is about its sound. The minimalist design here works wonders to help it blend into just about any household environment. But when looked at under the microscope, each of its design touches stick out as being masterfully implemented and make using the speaker a joy wherever you listen.
The rectangular-shaped speaker has rounded edges and is surrounded all around by a uniform ring of smooth, white plastic. A large grille spans the entirety of the BTS1’s front-facing speaker cabinet, embossed with a Koss logo that does well not to stand out much. The grille is perforated with a circular pattern, allowing sound to flow freely. Also tucked just behind the grille are LEDs that help to communicate with subtle beams of blue light when the speaker is on or searching for a device. A mellow orange shines through when it’s charging.
Moving up to the top of the Bluetooth speaker, there’s a set of buttons that controls the speaker’s basic functionality. From left to right, there’s a volume decrease button, a button to tether to a Bluetooth capable device to its right, which also turns the speaker on and off. Finally, a volume increase button rounds out the offering. I have to note how charming the system indicator sounds are that come from this speaker. When you power it on and off, it sounds like a cute robot greeting you. The chimes are a little loud, but it’s a nice, personable addition that I find myself wishing more speakers had.
One of the speaker’s sides is bare, but the other hosts a few ports. There’s one labeled "In" and this is where you can plug in a device with the included 3.5mm cable, should it not be Bluetooth capable or if you’re just trying to conserve some battery by sticking with the wired route. Next to it is "Out", which supports daisy-chaining two speakers together for a fuller sound, if you just so happen to have another Bluetooth speaker sporting a 3.5mm input laying around. Lastly, there’s a micro USB port for charging this mini music maker.
Running around the back of the BTS1, Koss installed a grey rubber pad, so that the speaker can be laid on its back for omni-directional listening without sliding around. If you’d rather have the sound facing you, you’ll appreciate the hidden kickstand, that can be concealed or kicked out to stand the speaker at about a 120-degree angle.
The looks of the Koss BTS1 might not impress everyone, but most could agree that it surely gets the job done. However, it makes a surprising impression when it comes to sound performance.
Koss is renowned for its decades-long dedication to packing its headphones with quality drivers. But when it comes to Bluetooth speakers, this is the Milwaukee, Wis.-based company’s first attempt. And it’s really onto something here.
The small speaker can reach incredible volume without distortion, which is an area where many options, particularly the smaller ones, commonly fall flat. Not only that, the sound delivery here is full, with careful attention given to mids and highs. Warm sound delivery is the BTS1’s greatest strength, backing all sorts of music genres with a natural sound.
However, bass is one area where, unlike most of the Koss BTS1’s features, the performance doesn’t defy its size. Still, despite missing some "oomph" in the low-end delivery, hip-hop and jazz tracks were faithfully churned out with bass that simply does the job.
Churning out music is what the BTS1 does best. Actually, that’s about all that it does. This speaker doesn’t offer support for NFC, it doesn’t contain an internal microphone and the battery life is decent, coming in at just over five hours.
For the low asking price, it’s excusable for the device to be a little one-dimensional. But on the other hand, the Creative Muvo Mini offers all of those features, stacked on top with weatherproofing and battery life that lasts twice as long for roughly the same price.
At the $59 price point, Creative’s Muvo Mini puts the BTS1 to shame in terms of features, which include a mic for calling, weatherproofing and a bigger, 10-hour battery.
Even with its faults, you can’t go wrong with the BTS1 if you’re looking for a natural, warm-bodied sound in a small form factor. The confident design also impresses, but whether you dig Koss’ debut budget speaker will ultimately hinge on whether a sheer amount of features are more important to you than sound output, the latter of which the BTS1 does very well for its miniature size and price point.