Genius SP-960BT Portable Bluetooth Speaker Review @ ModSynergy.com
By: Michael Phrakaysone

The cell phone industry is a hot commodity, more so than ever with the booming popularity of Smartphone's in everyone's hand it seems. The continued rise is expected to grow even further within the next couple of years and shows no signs of slowing down.  Even the Chinese are helping the cause by bringing low cost Android Smartphone's that have surprisingly respectable and growing performance to the masses. 

I travelled to China about three years ago to visit some of my grandma's family who lived in the far rural areas (with beautiful lush rice patties and mountains) and was amazed that these people who are considered poor, and live simple farming lifestyles have cell phones.  I couldn't believe my eyes that literally everyone had at least one if not multiple candy-bar style phones, though no one had a landline as the infrastructure to get those in these rural areas are very hard to achieve.  When I ventured to the more populated areas I quickly found out that there was a abundance of prepaid SIM cards one can use.

Most if not all cell phones on the market today come with Bluetooth technology, even the cheap ones have it.  It's a wireless technology and feature we all love because it allows the convenience of hands-free calls for example, which has been an ongoing problem with distracted driving.  Bluetooth is also used for transmission and streaming of music wirelessly to a Bluetooth speaker, and everyone with a cell phone has come across the infamous issue with their phone speaker not giving them any depth and enjoyment. 

Let's face it, as with notebooks out there, listening to music through the phone speaker is the equivalent of listening through a tin-can because output is low, muddled, uninspiring, virtually no dynamics, no bass, piercing highs, and a list of more negatives.  You can never truly feel good and enjoy listening to music through any cell or Smartphone.

This is where Bluetooth accessory makers are clamoring for your hard earned money.  The iPhone and iPod were the first ones to really push the idea of a speaker dock with great success.  With these speaker docks you could finally enjoy music coming from the iPod because it's being outputted through a larger speaker designed for music. The drawbacks to these speaker docks are that they are simple stationary and are not portable, they become impractical for on-the-go use. 

The answer lies within portable wireless Bluetooth speakers which are now becoming ever increasingly popular, and Genius, whom is a veteran in the computer peripheral industry since 1983 is looking on making sure they can reach that growing audience.  They hope that their new Genius SP-960BT portable Bluetooth stereo speaker can bridge the gap at offering high-quality audio with the practicality of being portable so you can have it on-the-go at any time.  Introducing our Genius SP-960BT Portable Bluetooth Stereo Speaker Review!

About Genius

Since 1983, Genius has been a leading peripheral brand internationally recognized for offering a diversified product line that succinctly embodies our brand philosophy of accessibility, creativity, and innovation. Our unwavering commitment to these core values is evident in our wide range of peripheral offerings, including: computer mice, keyboards, web and security cameras, speakers, gaming peripherals, remote controls, headphones, digital cameras, digital camcorders and digital photo frames. Genius also holds the U.S. patent for mouse scroll-wheel technology. Genius has expanded from computer peripherals into consumer electronic products that include mobile phone accessories, Bluetooth headsets, digital cameras, digital photo frames, iPod speakers and EeePC mice.

Create Infinite Value With a Magic Touch

Our business model, the conglomeration of OBM and OEM is run very effectively, which not only created unprecedented sales revenue growth for five continuous years for KYE but also created tremendous profit to our customers and shareholders. KYE expects to continually grow in the coming future.

Competition is everywhere in the IT industry. To cope with this challenge, KYE will keep enhancing its core technology not only in Pointing Devices, Digital Imaging and Gaming products for PC, but also developing more accessories and components for mobile phones.

KYE has envisioned this trend, and will “Create Infinite Value with a Magic Touch”. We believe this can be accomplished through the Magic Touch of KYE products, which can bring convenience, efficiency, and entertainment to all of us. We expect this trend will enable us to reach double-digit sales growth in the next ten years.

Mission: Create a Totally Free Environment & Enjoyment

To envision and to fulfill our goal of creating an agile wireless world, KYE has dedicated its major resource in core wireless technology to design and innovate a totally free environment of personal interface products. Since the boundary between IT industry and consumer electronic field is not as clear as before, our target market is not only in the IT field but also in the mobile phone segment. Therefore, KYE stipulates “Create a Totally Free Enjoyment & Environment” as its mission.

Based on this mission, KYE has numerous product and marketing plans this year so you will see many new innovative products (wireless input device, digital camera, home theater, .etc). We expect these new products will bring more fun to the user, so all of us can benefit from it.

Genius SP-960BT Portable Bluetooth Stereo Speaker Overview

Genius introduces the SP-960BT, a stereo Bluetooth speaker designed to give you immense wireless convenience.

SP-960BT works with any Bluetooth-enabled device, so you can use your Bluetooth enabled Smartphone, iPad, iPhone, tablet PC with SP-960BT to wirelessly play music wherever you go. It supports A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile) for enjoying stereo music as well as AVRCP (Audio Video Remote Control Profile) so you can control media playback directly from your devices. With hi-efficient driver units, SP-960BT delivers rich and vivid sound quality. In addition, SP-960BT has a built-in a high capacity lithium battery so you can listen to your favorite music for hours. To charge SP-960BT is easy, just plug attached micro USB cable for power supplied.

With modern technology and contemporary styling, the SP-960 is a sleek speaker that anyone can enjoy indoors or out.

Genius SP-960BT Portable Bluetooth Stereo Speaker Features

Key Features

  • Stereo Bluetooth speakers
  • Wirelessly connects to any Bluetooth device: iPhone, iPad, Smartphone, Tablet PC
  • Bluetooth v3.0 compliant
  • Profiles Supported:
  • Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP)
  • Audio Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP)
  • AUX-in jack for stereo cable connection
  • Wireless Range: 10 meters or 33 feet
  • Up to 15 hours of continuous play (varies by audio content/volume)

Genius SP-960BT Portable Bluetooth Stereo Speaker Technical Specifications

  • Bluetooth Specification:  v3.0
  • Battery:  1800mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable
  • Frequency Response:  200 Hz ~ 20 KHz
  • Impedance:  4ohm +/-10%
  • Wireless Range:  10 meters
  • Battery Charge Time:  No more than 4 hours
  • RMS (Watts):  4
  • Driver unit-Satellite:  Two 2”. 4 ohm
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio:  82 dB
  • Color:  Black
  • Battery:  1800mAH
  • LCD/LED Display:  RED: Charge/Low battery -- BLUE:AUX/BT mode
  • Power ON/OFF:  YES
  • Volume Control:  YES

First Impressions

Genius SP-960BT Portable Bluetooth Speaker

This is my first Genius product review so I was pretty excited going into this review as I had no clue what to expect, so I was going into this review with an open-mind and unbiased viewpoint.  The SP-960BT marks the first Bluetooth speaker I've ever reviewed and therefore allows us to open our new Bluetooth review segment on ModSynergy, a first of hopefully many more to come in the future.

The Genius SP-960BT portable Bluetooth stereo speaker comes in a much larger box than I had anticipated, the box measures 10.6" x 4.9 x 3.9" and weighs 1.61lbs, and is sealed with a clear sticker that prevents people from opening and tampering with the product.

The SP-960BT comes in a very nice and elegant looking rectangular shaped corrugated box, it's well-designed with the real product shown in the foreground (front face of the box) while sitting on the background which resembles that of an abstract music volume equalizer design.  The product description is placed in a red color horizontal bar while the model number is focused just above in red font.  The Bluetooth logo is above the model number on the box and features such as A2DP, AVRCP (Audio Video Remote Control Profile), AUX-In, and the built-in battery are advertised.  

Looking directly at the top of the box shows that the SP-960BT can be used on any devices which make use of Bluetooth technology such as Smartphone's, MP3 players, iPod, iPad, Tablet PC, CD Player, and  Notebooks. 

Coming to the rear face of the box we see even more product information and features of the SP-960BT.  In multiple languages on the lower half of the box we find out that this is a Bluetooth speaker and the built-in battery is charged through USB.  More product shots demonstrate what the Bluetooth speaker could be used for and we have a visual layout of the AVRCP on the back of the SP-960BT where there are 5-buttons that control volume up/down, fast forward/rewind, and playback/pause/Bluetooth pair functions.  Towards the right corner of the box we find the Genius logo and Quick Response Code matrix barcode that Smartphone's can read and will direct them to product information o the Genius website.

Opening up the box will find the following package contents inside...

  • Genius SP-960BT portable Bluetooth speaker
  • 3.5mm-3.5mm audio cable
  • Micro-USB to USB charging cable
  • Multi-language user’s manual

Genius

The SP-960BT's bundle is pretty sparse for the MSRP of $69.99USD for the Bluetooth speaker.  Once you open the box you'll see inside that the product is protected inside a egg carton type insert and that there is more room an extra item or two to be bundled.  I would have loved that either Genius provide a carrying bag for on-the-go protection with the SP-960BT and/or include a USB wall charger to charge the unit's internal Lithium-Ion battery. 

You'll see extra space beside the speaker with just a short AUX-cable lying there.  Either include extras to fill in the gap or don't make that wide of a box, there's no need to make the product box look bigger.  I personally believe for $69.99 Genius should have provided both, especially an USB wall charger since who wants to turn on their computer in order to charge the speaker?

The user's manual comes in a small booklet and can be unfolded to see instructions that explain the controls of the unit, possible uses of the device, how to connect it to devices using the AUX-IN cable, how to charge the unit, basic playback and control instructions, and Bluetooth pairing and LED status break-down that is offered in 21 different languages.

The included AUX-IN cable is simple enough and has silver connectors, no gold plated contacts.  It's short but connecting to an iPod for an example doesn't require an overly long cable.  The AUX-IN cable is 53cm or 20.86" or 0.53 meters in length and should be sufficient for most applications.

The Genius SP-960BT supports Bluetooth 3.0 specification for greater high-speed data transmission and wireless range.  Genius rates the wireless range from your Bluetooth enabled device to the SP-960BT portable speaker at about 10 meters or 33 feet, though this number is the standard specification, so everyone states the same numbers.  This is all theory and in the real-world depends on so many variables.  However, one of great strengths of Bluetooth is the ability of its signal not needing line of sight between devices, so there's not too many things that can really affect or stop its signal from getting to its destination.

Visual Overview

The Genius SP-960BT is a triangular shaped portable Bluetooth speaker.  It measures 7.67 x 3.34 x 3.14" and is portable enough to carry to the skate park, the beach, or simply at the office.  The portable Bluetooth speaker is essentially the size of a normal television remote control.  Genius has chosen what they feel is a fair compromise between portability and being able to deliver in the audio quality department. 

This specific size has given Genius the ability to stuff two 2" drivers inside of the SP-960BT in order to deliver stereo sound with four watts of total continuous RMS output, meaning this should mean the SP-960BT should be able to belt out pretty loud considering the size.  The two 2" drivers inside are able to cover the frequency response of 200 Hz - 20 KHz.  If you connect the Genius SP-960BT to a device using the AUX connector, the Impedance is 4ohm.

The only thing that stuck out like a sore thumb to me was the SP-960BT's signal-to-noise ratio of 82dB.  The best way I can explain or illustrate what signal-to-noise ratio is would be that it is an indicator of how loud external noises are introduced (crackle, hum, hiss, etc) relative to how loud the volume of the music is.  Or you can look at it as how well the BT speaker manages to prevent background noises from entering into the music up until it reaches a specific decibel.  We'll see if this affects its sound quality.

Front

Bluetooth Speaker

The SP-960BT is constructed mostly out of hard plastic construction, with the only other material being metal which forms the speaker grille face plate protecting the drivers from dust and damage.  The grille is not removable.  A Genius logo sits on the lower right hand corner on the grille.  The portable speaker is quite sturdy and aside from the metal grille, it won't flex or break easily from the feeling it inspires with.  I don't think you'll have problems throwing this into the car, into the backpack, into the purse, I really feel it will travel and last a long time, that's the type of feeling it gives off, it doesn't feel frail or flimsy.  

The Genius SP-960BT weighs only 527g or 1.16lbs, and that is including the integrated 1800mAh Lithium-Ion battery.  The speaker is solid and shaking it reveals that nothing inside is loose or rattling, always a good sign.

You can see under certain lighting conditions through the grille in order to see the two 2" drivers.  A blue LED is also seen when the speaker is turned on, it sits top center in between the two drivers and provides indication through blinking and flashing to tell you that its working and or in the process of pairing.  You can also see a front bass port opening in between the two drivers that is used to provide extended low-frequency response meaning bass response should be improved. You often see these ports in larger bookshelf and floor-standing speakers, so it's nice to see it here similar fashion.  Bass with the SP-960BT, in theory, should be fuller and more enjoyable than anything you've heard coming from any Smartphone on the market.

Sides

Bluetooth Wireless

On opposite ends of the speaker are what looks like a side vents, however, these are just for decoration.  They definitely had me fooled, they aren't as functional as I had hoped. 

Bottom


To prevent the portable Bluetooth speaker from rattling or vibrating off materials when under operation, Genius attaches thick rubbery feet that raises the speaker off the ground (you can fit two credit cards underneath).  These thick rubber feet are one of the best I've seen, they are squishy to an extent and have lots of grip to them which also helps to prevent the BT speaker from sliding or falling off tables.

Rear

Coming to the rear of the Genius SP-960BT we find a simple rear panel which consists of an upper and lower portion.  The top portion has 5-buttons that follows the Audio Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP), where these buttons deal with such functions such as volume up/down, track fast forward/rewind, and playback/pause/Bluetooth pair functions.  When paired via Bluetooth to your Smartphone for example, these buttons can control everything from the speaker unit, you need not touch your Smartphone.  Therefore you can throw your Smartphone in your pocket and never have to touch it again, you control your music functions on the SP-960BT!  This feature alone makes the Genius SP-960BT stand out from the rest of the BT speaker crowd, it really works wonderfully on my Samsung Galaxy Smartphone.  Once you get used to the controls at the back of unit and remember the positions, you'll love the experience even more.


The lower portion of the SP-960BT contains the AUX-IN jack, micro-USB charge port, battery level LED status light, and the sliding ON/OFF switch.  Again as I stated earlier, I would have loved if Genius threw in an USB wall charger as that would have made charging easier, because who wants to turn on their computer in order to recharge? 

The internal Lithium-Ion battery comes with 1800mAh capacity and is rated to last up to 15 hours of continuous play, however, that rating varies depending on playback volume and audio content.  Despite the variation, 15 hours of continuous play is pretty impressive if you ask me!  The 1800mAh Lithium-Ion battery should take no more than 4 hours to recharge from flat to full using a normal USB port on a computer, which provides 5V @ 500mA.

When the battery is becomes low during playback, the speaker chirps to let you know that the battery should be charged soon.  Once plugged in and charging, the red LED at the back of the unit will illuminate solid once the speaker is fully recharged, to which the red LED will disappear.

Streaming Music Through Bluetooth...Some Background Info

First of all let me start off by saying that streaming music wirelessly through Bluetooth is very convenient.  However, music that is streamed wirelessly always ends up compressed to a certain extent.  This is more true if you have a FLAC music collection on your device, it's almost pointless in a sense as to expect the true FLAC bit-rate to be broadcasted in its entirety...it's not happening.  Therefore as to talk about sound quality through Bluetooth, that's a hard thing to point into words because at the end of the day sound will be degraded to an extent over Bluetooth.  I'm not sure how hardcore Audiophiles can cope with this as they are meticulously obsessed with sound quality! 

This is almost (but not quite) the same thing if you've ever used an FM transmitter, where signals can leak from one frequency to the next affecting the sound quality.  However, the biggest difference is that Bluetooth is digital while FM is analog, Bluetooth by nature of being digital can transmit more data.  Unlike leaking frequencies in FM transmissions affecting sound quality, none of that happens (very rare) with Bluetooth because of something called SSFH or Spread-Spectrum Frequency Hopping.  SSFH makes it very rare for any two Bluetooth devices to be transmitting on the same frequency channel at the same time and they are ever changing.

Don't get me wrong, music can sound excellent via Bluetooth, it's significantly and vastly improved over an FM transmitter solution in every regard.  Though all I'm saying is that it depends on so many variables, for example your Bluetooth device.  Cheap Smartphone's broadcasting music over Bluetooth versus good Smartphone's make a difference to the sound quality, loudness and clarity, believe it or not.   I've personally experienced this using a cheap Chinese Smartphone versus a decent Samsung Galaxy Smartphone, there was a clear and noticeable difference and it was not placebo effect.

Factors such as the quality of the Bluetooth speaker and its transmitter/receiver components, other Bluetooth devices transmitting nearby that may be interfering, distances between the two BT devices, signal-to-noise ratio, these all affect the sound quality.

How to pair Smartphone with Genius SP-960BT

Pairing to the SP-960BT with your Smartphone is very simple.  With my Android Smartphone I was able to pair with my Samsung Galaxy under 15 seconds, obviously your results will vary depending on the device used. 

With Bluetooth already enabled on your device, turn on the SP-960BT and wait until it chirps notifying you Bluetooth is turned on.  Hold the pairing button for 2 seconds until the speaker chirps with a tone and the front blue LED starts blinking.  Now search for BT devices on your Smartphone, the Genius SP-960BT is found immediately, press OK and the unit is now paired, a single chirp signifies the pairing process is complete.

Using the Genius SP-960BT

When the Genius SP-960BT is turned on for the first time, it chirps to notify that it's turned on and the BT is activated and actively searching for nearby devices.  A blue LED indicator light also confirms the speaker is turned on.  This blue LED light never disappears, it's always on until you shut off the speaker.  After a period of time of inactivity, the SP-960BT will automatically shut off its internal Bluetooth adapter.  I've noticed when the internal Bluetooth module is either searching or operational, the SP-960BT speaker emits a light audible white noise (hissing, etc), but it's only noticeable close up beside your ears.  At regular distance its virtually undetectable.  Once you play music, it doesn't leak into the music or detrimentally affect it.

How does it sound?

I was pleasantly surprised with the Genius SP-960BT because I could not believe how well it sounded considering the size.  It definitely solves the issue of uninspiring shrill sound quality of tiny speakers on all Smartphone's. 

The Genius SP-960BT has very good vibrancy to its sound that makes it feels alive and lively.  It has equally good dynamics, and details and nuisances in music can be heard meaning it's quite revealing.  I really like the vocal clarity it possesses.  Other cheap speakers lack these types of characteristics to its sound and it becomes evident very quickly as the sound is often muddy and detail is suppressed.  The SP-960BT does not have these problems, it has a number of positive characteristics that makes it pleasing to the ear and enjoyable.  Never did I feel like I wanted to shut off the Genius SP-960BT while listening to music! 

This enjoyment came all while listening to music through Bluetooth!  The quality actually surprised me, it felt like CD audio quality being broadcasted through the speakers.  Again I can't understate just how good the SP-960BT really performs!

While the SP-960BT does not have earth shattering bass, the unit is surprisingly taut in its bass delivery and you can definitely feel it's there with its quick punch.  The front bass port seem to have really helped in this regard.  The sound quality feels pleasing, the high's are good though could be turned down a little more, but it never is too shrill that it can pierce, the midrange adds in the fullness of the sound, the balance and blend between low, mid, and high's are good.  Not totally balanced but still rather pleasing, the high's feel more prominent over the low and midrange.  That is where the manual controls for bass and treble could have really helped.

Bass Rating (From 0-10, 10 being the best): 3/10

The Genius SP-960BT is also able to belt out loud thanks to its two 2" drivers and its four watt total RMS power, these help the unit feel like a small dog with big bark.  The only drawback is that when the volume is cranked up there is some distortion that can be heard.  But it has enough bark to fill a large room while retaining all of its goodness.

For those times when you don't want to wirelessly stream your music via Bluetooth, those times at the office when your Smartphone is beside the Smartphone and not going anywhere, or for those times when you're seeking to extract that extra bit of sound quality in a quiet environment away from friends, the Genius SP-960BT offers you it's own auxiliary input. 

An AUX-IN jack will give you a stronger signal as opposed to streaming via Bluetooth because it's a direct audio connection that can take full use of the full frequency response supported by the two 2" drivers.  Streaming via Bluetooth as I stated earlier compresses the music a bit so the music is already compressed a bit by the time it comes out of the speaker, as well as the other factors that can cause sound quality to change.  With a direct connection, there's none of the variability because its coming straight from the source without any interference or changes.   Listening through the AUX-IN jack with a high-quality player source such as the Sansa Clip with lossless FLAC files, the Genius SP-960BT sounds even better as the already very pleasing Bluetooth streaming mode.  With AUX-IN things are just more cleaner, a little bit more volume, pop, punch, more of the things that make this little portable speaker great.

In terms of portability, the SP-960BT is easy to hold, easy to toss in the backpack, easy to throw into the car when travelling, it can fit in large coat pockets

For some of you who wonder since there is no manual mode selector, can both modes play through the speaker at the same time?  The answer is no, as long as the AUX-IN cable is plugged it has priority over the Bluetooth mode.  So if you're playing music through AUX-IN, Bluetooth music cannot be played simultaneously, you simply won't hear it, only the music through AUX-IN will be heard.

What's Missing?

What I feel is missing from the Genius SP-960BT is a manual setting dedicated for adjusting bass and treble, it would have been great if these features were added, but that was not the case.  You'll just have to live with adjustments made to the sound in the software equalizer on your device.  As I stated the high's are not too shrill that they are piercing, though I would set it lower than it currently is.

About the only feature that could have set the SP-960BT over the top would have been an integrated microphone which would have allowed it to act as a speakerphone when picking up phone calls and being able to communicate with the person on the other line for a truly hands-free, no use for the Smartphone experience.  However, that is a secondary feature and the Genius is marketed as a portable Bluetooth speaker only. 

Any Minor Quirks?

A possible design hiccup is when turning off the Genius SP-960BT, it abruptly shuts off with a slight pop.  This same slight cut sound is heard when plugging in through the AUX-IN, the SP-960BT does not make use of a mode selector between so you're able to plug in to the AUX-IN at any time.

Bluetooth Range - How Far Can It Go?

The specifications advise customers that the SP-960BT has a wireless range of 10 meters or 33 feet.  This is a standard Bluetooth range rating you'll see with all Bluetooth speakers on the market, though some can do it better than others. 

With my Samsung Galaxy Smartphone playing music in my room wirelessly to the Genius SP-960BT, (in the second floor of a 2-story home) I left the phone there, shut the door and headed down past the first floor and then head straight into the basement.  The SP-960BT continued to play without any change to the volume, without any skipping, without any abnormalities. It was only until I opened the door to the cold room and stepped inside that the Genius SP-960BT portable Bluetooth speaker began to skip or cut intermittently music playback. 

Mind you the basement cold room is surrounded by super thick concrete that is essentially the foundation to a home.  I would estimate that from my room to the basement cold room was at least between 10-15 meters, which makes reception from the Genius SP-960BT excellent.  It can definitely meet its wireless range rating and I believe it surpasses it.  Considering that the signal travelled through wood, metal, a variety of materials, that's super impressive.  As always your mileage may vary depending on your Bluetooth device, I was using a Samsung Galaxy Discover Smartphone.

Where to buy

The Genius SP-960BT has an MSRP of $69.99USD.  For the time being it is on sale right now at Amazon.com for $66.98 with free shipping.  The product is sold and shipped directly by Amazon.

If you are thinking of purchasing the Genius SP-960BT portable Bluetooth speaker, please use our Amazon link below, it will help us out.


Conclusion

Genius

What a great little unit the Genius SP-960BT portable Bluetooth stereo speaker really turned out to be!  It's portable, it sounds very good considering the size, it has great Bluetooth range, it's very simple to operate and to pair with Bluetooth devices, it's tough enough to toss around with confidence, it gives an impressive 15-hours of battery life, I think the Genius SP-960BT is simply a no brainer.  It's also competitively priced at $69.99USD making it affordable.  I would loved if Genius included a carrying case and USB wall charger, but that was not the case.  The Genius SP-960BT portable Bluetooth speaker is easily recommended. 

If you are thinking of purchasing the Genius SP-960BT portable Bluetooth speaker, please use our Amazon link above, it will help us out.

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