Look, I love it when hi-fi leans towards anthropomorphism. Nature knows best and she hates straight lines, just look to Devialet’s Phantom lineup for reference.
I also love audio gear that unnerves me – see the foreboding, Dalek-like Wilson Audio Alexia V for starters. Give me theater! Give me odd eyeballs that hang from rails, strange clothes peg sonic structures, soundbars that mimic graceful sail ships or massive horns and subwoofers that look like actual cabinets (scroll to point five).
This is music! This is the shaping of our identities, and we can’t all be happy with an integrated amp plus two wooden boxes housing a small driver at the top and a bigger one at the bottom – not that there’s anything wrong with that; some of the best stereo speakers we’ve tested adopt this tried-and-tested shape.
But I’ve always felt that the alternative, the weird and the downright bizarre is where rock ‘n’ roll rests, when it isn’t off fighting the good fight. It is certainly what I love best.
So what better product for me than a yellow war-damaged eyeball space-rocket speaker that looks for all the world as if it’ll scuttle over my cold, dead body after killing me?
Meet the GravaStar Mars Pro, in ‘War Damaged Yellow’. My first thought upon unboxing it was BB-8, but as I extended its three pincer-like feet, I was reminded of Batteries Not Included (which is an older reference, but if you haven’t seen it you’re missing out).
Then, when I turned to face its driver-filled eyeball (there’s also a passive bass radiator on the back), the creature in Jordan Peele’s Nope came to mind – and I felt as if I shouldn’t be looking at it at all.
From whichever angle I looked at it, I decided that this is a design I can get behind.
Opinion: class-leading audio is not always paramount in design-led speakers – but the sound here is good
As a reticent audiophile (one who gets annoyed with herself for noticing the drawbacks in certain London venues acoustically rather than simply enjoying the gig, say) I struggle with the style-versus-substance debate. I assumed I’d dislike this speaker for being all talk and no trousers, but it turns out the sound is far better than average – and it’s just so fun.
Turn the Mars Pro on, for example, and it sounds like a door opening on the Death Star. I like that. Then, there’s the three beautifully styled, hand-painted and faux-weathered buttons on the back, which include power and playback, Bluetooth (which is 5.0 so you can stereo-pair two of them) and the light function, which can be pushed to scroll through six different color options across the speaker’s grille, legs, back and, er… gills. What I’m saying is that already I’m a big fan and I haven’t even heard it.
And there’s also a touch-sensitive, illuminated top-plate, so you can stroke its head gently to increase the volume of your music. At 5.55lbs it’s heavier than you’d expect too.
The GravaStar Mars Pro in War Damaged Yellow is beautifully made from cool zinc alloy and my favorite design of all of the Mars Pros – but feel free to check out the standard black, white or special edition Shark 14, Aurochs or Aquarius options.
I love it because it harks back to my Darth Vader childhood alarm clock (which yelled “You cannot resist the power of the Force!” ’til I bopped Darth on the head of a morning) but that was at a time when wirelessly pinging songs from a small internet-enabled device to your spherical speaker was simply unheard of.
And GravaStar tells us that the Mars Pro is created for audiophiles and not just mecha fans. This Bluetooth speaker has built-in exclusive DSP audio algorithms to promote deep bass, accurate mids, and crisp highs. It’s also a dual speaker design with a passive bass radiator to create a powerful all-around sound.
GravaStar proudly states that no two Mars Pros are alike thanks to the hand-painting, and that every speaker is the “born warrior of GravaStar plant” – compelling stuff. It’s no slouch for stamina either with a 15-hour battery life.
I let it play stuff at random from my Apple Music catalogue, and its 20W output is more than enough to rock me at my desk – although it distorts a little as you up the volume beyond 80%. At closer to 60% though, the Waterboys’ Rosalind (You Married the Wrong Guy) comes through with plenty of detail through the hyperactive wurlitzer, snappy drum section and bluesy tempo. Bruce Springsteen’s Because the Night features plenty of exuberance through the keys and The Boss’ inimitable voice too.
And for bass? It’s good. A speaker of such diminutive proportions can often struggle but here, it’s a sensible solution, providing depth, richness and snap that doesn’t muddy or bloat until you get to the higher volume increments – and if you love the aesthetic as much as I do, listening to music on it is still a joy.
John Mayer’s I Guess I Just Feel Like (don’t judge me, I swear I didn’t know it was on there) feels glorious through the strummed guitar and tender vocal. Yes, it’s a relatively pared-back, simple track, but it is expertly held in check and relayed here.
I’d like to hear two in stereo, to get that extra oomph of bass without upping the volume (and muddying it a touch) but for $330 (around £290 or AU$515) I’ve never seen a speaker I like the look of quite so much. And given that I test some of the best Bluetooth speakers for a living, that’s a big statement.