Outdoor Technology Turtle Shell 2.0

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From a visual design perspective, the Outdoor Technology Turtle Shell 2.0 might be one of my favorite portable Bluetooth speakers I’ve tested. I’m a sucker for geometric designs, I suppose. Unfortunately, the Turtle Shell doesn’t quite live up to its $129.95 (direct) price in terms of audio performance. On tracks with deep bass, there are significant distortion issues. If you don’t listen to music with deep low-end, you’re probably safe from the distortion, and the Turtle Shell can get quite loud for its modest size, delivering crisp audio that can fill a room. At the lower end of this price range, however, there are Bluetooth speakers that don’t suffer from distortion and therefore make the Turtle Shell seem pricier than need be.

The measurements for the Turtle Shell are 2.1 by 5.6 by 3.9 inches (HWD), but that doesn’t really help describe the intriguing contour of the 0.7-pound speaker. The angular top panel, all triangles jutting out in a pleasing geometric pattern, reminds me of the Batmobile in the Dark Knight movies. Our model was all black, with a rubberized surface that is IPX-65 dust-proof and water resistant; the speaker is also offered in seven other colors, including orange, white, and purple.

Two drivers are situated beneath the speaker grille, facing upward, and a passive bass radiator is situated on the bottom panel. Along the side panels are Play/Pause/Pairing controls, as well as track navigation buttons that double as volume controls depending on how long you hold them down for. There’s also a Power switch, a covered panel that houses a USB jack for charging via the included cable (there’s no dedicated power adapter, however), and a 3.5mm auxiliary input. A built-in mic is included for fielding calls from your mobile device wirelessly. The lower panel also has a loop for lanyards and carabiner. A white carrying pouch and a 3.5mm audio cable for the aux input are included. Outdoor Technology Turtle Shell 2.0 inline

The pairing process with an iPhone 5s was simple and quick, and Outdoor Technology claims you get a battery life of 16 hours, but results will vary on your usage—most specifically, how loud you play your audio back.

On tracks with serious sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Turtle Shell has some problems—even at fairly moderate levels, the bass distorts to a quite noticeable degree. At top volumes on both the speaker and the sound source—in this case, an iPhone 5s—things can get quite ugly. On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the distortion was not quite as intense, but it was noticeable enough to be an annoyance. That said, the Turtle Shell can also get quite loud for its size, and if you avoid tracks with deep bass, the results are much better.

Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” which doesn’t have too much in the way of powerful bass, sounds crisp and clear at moderate-to-high volumes, with the bass radiator adding a bit of richness to his baritone vocals. At maximum volume, his vocals even start to distort slightly, but it’s far less noticeable than the previous examples we discussed—and at just a hair below max volume, the distortion disappears and we get a bright response with decent presence in the lows and mids.

Classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” don’t come close to distorting, but also don’t get terribly loud—even when the volume on both sound source and speaker are maxed out. The general sound here is a bit thin—a focus on the high-mids and mids allows the higher register strings to take center-stage, but the lower register strings and percussion are more or less buried in the mix.

If you’re looking for a portable Bluetooth speaker that doesn’t distort in this price range, our favorite option, the Panasonic SC-NT10, may not look as cool, but costs significantly less. If you can spend a bit more money, not only will the Bose SoundLink Mini provide distortion-free audio, but you’ll get a heftier bass presence. Finally, if you’re just looking for a cheap, tiny, portable Bluetooth speaker, the Boom Movement Swimmer has some of the same water-resistant attributes of the Turtle Shell, while the 808 Audio Canz Wireless Speaker is one of the least expensive speakers we can recommend without cringing. At $130, the Outdoor Technology Turtle is primarily about its physical design—it looks very cool, it’s fairly rugged and easy to pack away. Its audio performance is not terribly strong, however, and the price feels a bit high for what you get.

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