gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Otone Aporto USB/Battery Powered 2.0 Speaker Review

I’ve never been a huge fan of portable speakers, this is probably because they’re traditionally quite awful. The Otone Aporto, however, combines reasonably decent sound with a quirky transforming trick. Its creator, Otone Audio, is a home-grown rising star in the audio world, headquartered in Manchester. They’re a relatively new and largely unknown company who are already offering a fairly comprehensive range of speaker systems from the portable, to the desktop 2.0, 2.1 and full-on 5.1.

Their almost total adherence to lime green and black really gives their products a great look, and things like the STILO 2.1 PRO look fantastic. WIth their highest end 5.1 system priced at only £170 and the 5 2.1 systems ranging from £35 to £90, affordability is the name of the game… yet they’re clearly not in the business of compromising on looks or quality.

Yes, this sounds like a marketing pitch; it should! Good quality audio products designed at home should be a matter of pride. Where Britain is rapidly losing ground as a manufacturer, we can gain ground in innovation. Yes, I know, blah blah! On with the review:

The Aporto’s quirk is simple; pulling the speakers off the central part of the Aporto and standing them up turns it into an extremely cute mini-system. A folding out stand for the central part seals the deal, and makes a fetching little setup that’s reminiscent of a mini CD-player and its speakers. Each speaker has a little notch you can feed its cable through so they stand level, and the net result is a great little flexible setup.

When combined with my Pandora console (which the Aporto is actually really useful for) it makes for a sort of bizarre miniature laptop arrangement which is endearing in a weird sort of way. What makes it better is that the Aporto can be powered over USB, and the Pandora USB port provides enough voltage to get the speakers up and running on the go.

When removing the speakers to set up the mini system, the cables unfurl easily from their spring-loaded storage within the base of each speaker. You can stretch them a good few feet, and thus they make an excellent setup for a laptop with somewhat less than stellar speakers, or a propped-up iPad. In sound-bar mode, with the speakers firmly attached to the sides of the central part, it’s great with a mobile phone or iPod as a low-budget bedroom entertainment system.

With the speakers separated you’ll obviously get both better stereo separation and, in theory, better room coverage. We found the Otone Aporto more than good enough to supply the office ambient music, and certainly didn’t run them at full volume. At home I jacked the volume up and easily filled a room with listenable audio.

Replacing the speakers is similarly easy, if you’re familiar with those spring-loaded extending cables then you’ll know the deal. Give them a slight tug to unlatch the mechanism and then, as you move the speakers back into position, the cable will disappear safely inside.

My only complaint is that these mechanism are sometimes prone to failure if you don’t treat them with a great deal of care, but it’s well worth the risk for something that stows away so elegantly.

With both a USB connection, using the supplied extending cable, and 4xAAA batteries to choose from as your power source, it’s also pretty flexible. Hook it up to a laptop and you don’t have to waste battery power and if you’re using it at home with a portable device then one of those handy mains-power to USB adaptors that most mobile phones require to charge these days will do in a pinch for powering it from the mains.

A 3.5mm audio cable is also supplied and is, you guessed it, of the extending nature. You’ll probably find that this one fails quickly as it’s the one you will be extending and contracting often. That said I’ve kept these things going for months before- it’s all about care. Both the USB and audio cable are easily replaced with their normal, non-extending counterparts should they wear out, so it’s no big deal.

Finally, the Aporto has a built-in USB audio device, so you can hook it up via USB only to laptops or computers and play audio in top-notch quality with the tidiness of just one cable.

Sound quality, the all important test of a speaker system, is top notch. The little things dial up surprisingly loud on both USB power and batteries. Don’t expect room shaking audio from a portable speaker and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. What you do get is good enough for all but outright partying, and certainly great for most of the reasons you’d be picking up portable speakers for.

At £35 they’re not unreasonably priced for what they are, and my only criticism is the use of AAA batteries, which I tend to dislike.

I couldn’t recommend these enough, and suggest you keep an eye on Otone, they look set for a promising future.

Follow @otoneaudio on Twitter or pay them a visit on Facebook. And keep an eye out for competitions!

Monday, January 30th, 2012, Home Entertainment, Personal Audio.