Finding the best Bluetooth speaker is like choosing the right major in college. Unless you have an idea—brand preference in this case—there’s not enough time or money to try them all. So when Marshall – a premium audio brand coveted by musicians and music lovers alike – released the Emberton, a portable Bluetooth speaker, I couldn’t resist the temptation. The compact speaker was my faithful companion until a few weeks ago when Marshall sent me review units of its latest speakers, the Emberton II. I also got my hands on the Will, an even more portable newcomer.
I’ll compare the two models to help you decide which, if either, is right for your needs. What I’ll say from the get-go is that Marshall’s prowess in audio tuning is on full display here, as both speakers pack a serious punch for their size. You also get the iconic Marshall aesthetic, complete with brass accents and faux leather, and new to this pair is a handy multi-speaker feature for stereo sound.
While these may not be the most versatile or sonically powerful options for the money, the Willen and Emberton II are top speakers for those who want portable wireless sound.
Marshall Emberton II
WHAT IS IT?
A portable Bluetooth speaker
$US169 ($235.99 ($236)
Powerful, balanced audio; Elegant design, IP67 waterproof, Long battery life, Multi-speaker support
A bit pricey, no AAC or aptX, no 3.5mm jack, no mic for speaker
Marshall Willen and Emberton II Prize
Marshall’s twins are premium products and priced as such. The smaller Willen costs $119 ($165), while the larger, more powerful Emberton II costs $169 ($235). I should note that the letter is $20 ($28) more expensive than the previous version.
Iconic design, miniaturized
In a sea of bland, awkwardly shaped Bluetooth speakers, the Marshall Emberton II and Willen make a refreshingly stylish duo. Musicians who have used Marshall’s amps and cabinets will grin at the familiar design elements. A brass Marshall logo in the classic cursive font features prominently in the center of a black grille.
The new gold-on-black scheme looks luxurious, but I’d rather miss the contrasting white lettering and silver grille on the original Emberton. Anyway, these are some of the best looking Bluetooth speakers on the market. And that design is backed up by a new rubberised, leather-inspired exterior that looks and feels great.
Size should be an important factor when choosing between these two speakers. The cubic Emberton II is compact but quite hefty, measuring 6.3 x 3 x 2.7 inches and weighing 1 kg. In comparison, the little Willen is only 4 x 4 x 1.6 inches and weighs 19.28 g. Those are the numbers. In the hand, the Emberton II feels compact, while the Willen is something I could easily transport on a flight to listen to in a hotel room. Both speakers are IP67 water resistant, so don’t worry about accidental splashes or a little rain.
Shape aside, one difference in design between the Emberton and Willen is the size and location of their respective control knobs. On top of the Emberton II is a circular D-pad that allows you to change the controls by pressing the top, bottom or sides. The smaller Willen uses a forward-facing thumbstick that you push rather than press. Both are functional and provide great tactile feedback; however, the small button on the Will can be a little tricky to move, as it’s flush with the front of the speaker.
Using these controls to adjust volume and playback is intuitive. Holding the button for a few seconds turns the speakers on and off (I’d rather quickly hit a dedicated power button, but ok). Swipe up for louder, down for softer, left to replay the current song, left twice for the previous song, or right for the next song. A quick press plays and pauses tracks. On top of these speakers is a pleasing battery indicator with red LEDs and a circular Bluetooth pairing button.
Willing wins on features
For whatever reason, the Willen has a microphone, while the larger Emberton II doesn’t, meaning you only take calls on the smaller, cheaper model. This seems an unnecessary omission given the extra space in the Emberton II. Perhaps Marshall thinks the Will could act as a conference call system for use in the office or at a WeWork. Still, I’d say speaker functionality is just as important on the Emberton II, as this larger model makes a good computer speaker for remote workers.
Another great feature that can only be found on the Willen is a rubber mounting strap on the back. Pulling one end out and up will release it from the speaker, allowing you to slip the band through a backpack strap or bicycle handle. The strap is small and only so flexible, so you’ll struggle to mount the speaker on larger surfaces.
Emberton II takes the sound crown
The Emberton II and Willen deliver a powerful, room-filling sound for their respective sizes. Pumping sound through dual 2-inch full-range drivers and two passive radiators, the Emberton II has a rich, full soundstage with decent low-end and surprisingly clear highs.
As expected, the Emberton II is the sonic champion. It outperforms the Willen across the whole sound signature, digging deeper into the lows and delivering a smoother, more balanced midrange and highs. The Will is, to be clear, an impressive speaker for its size, but the compromised low end means certain genres lack punch.
On bass-heavy tracks like Jessie Reyez’s “FRAUD,” the Emberton II brought a heavy thud to the low end. By comparison, the bass on the Will sounded like the knock of a wooden block. While the bass is missing on the Willen, the Emberton II obscures the midrange slightly, resulting in a more bloated sound. It’s subtle and overall this song sounded great on the bigger model.
Switching to a toned-down tune predictably less emphasized the sonic differences between these two speakers. Listening to James Vincent McMorrow’s ‘Cavalier’, the Wills held their ground and effortlessly played this heavy indie track with precise clarity and sharpness. Without disturbing the bass, the Emberton II performed equally well, with more balance but less vocal emphasis than its smaller sibling.
Rock, EDM and hip-hop are just more fun on the Emberton II. The Willen rises above its size, but these genres reveal the limitations of its single 2-inch driver and dual passive radiators. The killers ‘Mr. Brightside” is a great test for any speaker, given the cacophony of electric tones overlapping Brandon Flowers’ flowing vocals. On the Will, the drum beats were sharp and splashy, while the cymbals were thin and weak.
That said, the vocals were clear and present and the guitar strumming didn’t turn into an overcrowded mess like on laptop speakers. Here’s where having an extra speaker helps the Emberton II deliver a more balanced, full-bodied soundstage. Again, the Emberton prefers a darker, thicker tone, but not to the point where the vocals and higher frequencies were drowned out.
Sound quality does not deteriorate at low volume levels on either speaker, making them suitable for close listening or playing more relaxed background music.
Stacking mode and battery life
When it’s time to dance, multiple Willen and Emberton II speakers can be linked together for a more immersive sound. Marshall calls this “Stack Mode” and it is initialized by pressing the Bluetooth button on the first speaker three times and the connecting speaker twice. I connected the Willen to the Emberton II on the first try and the twins joined forces for pleasant stereo sound.
The Emberton II and Willen support Bluetooth 5.1 and the SBC codec, but not the AAC or AptX found on modern iPhones and Android phones. Connectivity was strong – I didn’t encounter any dropouts even with the speakers facing the playback device in my 1,000-square-foot rental home.
The Marshall Bluetooth app (available on iOS and Android) is simple and easy to use. Pairing the speakers was a breeze: just turn them on, open the app and follow the on-screen prompts. Once paired, the speakers gain access to wireless updates, basic EQ presets (Marshall, Push, Voice), and a guide to using Stack mode.
The battery life of both models is excellent. The Willen lasts an estimated 15 hours on a charge, which is three hours longer than the JBL Flip 6. The Bose SoundLink Micro lasts only six hours, while the SoundLink Flex lasts 12 hours. However, these are only estimates and your mileage will vary based on the volume level. The Emberton II gets 30 hours of battery life, 10 more than the previous model and twice as long as the UE Boom 3.
Should you buy the Emberton II and Will?
Having enjoyed owning the original Emberton, I have no hesitation in recommending the upgraded model, which offers improved battery life, the ability to connect multiple speakers, and app support for adjusting settings. The Emberton II is a handsome, well-built Bluetooth speaker with a compact design and powerful, balanced sound quality.
I wish Marshall – of all companies – had added a 3.5mm jack for wired playback, and the lack of a mic on this model – but not the Will – is a head breaker. It also lacks some of the latest high-resolution file playback standards. And then there’s the price: At $169 ($235), the Willen II has some serious competition, like the Bose SoundLink Flex and Ultimate Ears Boom 3.
If you need an ultra-portable speaker to fly, attach to your backpack or mount on your bike, the little Willen is a great choice. But before you commit, if you can, I recommend comparing it to the Bose SoundLink Color II, even if that alternative doesn’t last as long on a charge.
Overall, the Emberton II and Willen are capable portable Bluetooth speakers with striking designs, powerful sound for their class, and several useful features, including the ability to pair multiple devices for stereo listening. Yes, they are more expensive than their closest competitors, but what you pay extra in cash, you get in class.
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