The Vamp Review: Is The Best Bluetooth Speaker The Stereo System You Already Own?

Key Features:

  • 3.5mm audio jack
  • 10m Bluetooth range
  • USB charging
  • 4W peak single channel amp
  • Attractive rubber design

The Pitch:Q. What's the best Bluetooth speaker? A. Maybe the dusty old crate your dad bought 30 years ago.

The Verdict:

At this time of Holiday gift guides, Bluetooth speakers are pretty much a default recommendation.

For gift buyers they're (generally, not always) pretty inexpensive and versatile. For gadget brands they're fairly easy to make and profitable to sell. For you the consumer they're obvious companions to smartphones and tablets, even if you don't actually use them very much. And for marketing managers the pitch - the opportunity to reconnect with your music in new places (which in ads usually involves holding an impromptu jazz-classic dance off on a street corner or rocking out while rock climbing) - writes itself.

The problems are obvious though. Not only do they often sound bad, or have poor battery life, or cost too much, they also involve owning another speaker.

Speakers accumulate. If you're 14 years old you might not own a pair. If you're 18 you probably own a stereo and a pair of computer monitors. And if you're 30 or older, you probably have rooms full of the things - wireless setups, guitar amps, soundbars, HiFis and a dozen other combinations of wood, metal and vibrating rubber that Stuff magazine can convince you to buy.

This is a waste. Not least because old speakers are generally better speakers. They've either aged well - something audiophiles insist is a real thing - or they're by definition built really well, because they've survived this long. If only you could find a way to use your old speakers, with your modern devices.

Enter the Vamp.

The Vamp is a small, attractive, USB battery-powered Bluetooth amp into which you plug old, non-Bluetooth speakers.

The idea is that you can 'wake up' your old HiFi by giving it an easy Bluetooth connection, without even using a separate amp if you don't want to.

It's a simple idea - which explains why it was such a hit on Kickstarter. It's also a nice-looking, attractive gadget. Oh, and pretty cheap too at £50.

Plus for a limited time you can order one and get a free, recycled vintage speaker. They'll even pay for the postage!

And in practice it's really good - provided you know how to use it, and know its limitations. Vamp provided us with an ancient-looking, dusty speaker and it took no time at all to connect the Vamp, stick it to a provided magnet and play some tunes from an iOS device through a speaker that did indeed resonate in a vaguely nostalgic, warm manner compared to most modern Bluetooth equivalents. It's easy to get used to and incorporate into your life, it looks really neat, and it's a friendly presence in the home.

The problems though are equally apparent when you actually use it. The Vamp doesn't use apt-X, the new Bluetooth high-end audio standard available for high class wireless speakers like the Bowers & Wilkins T7, and the sound is a little thin with some distortion on the low end. With a wired connection it's better - and there are handy cables included, but that comes at the cost of convenience.

There are also limits to the power the Vamp can output (5W) - and as a result, how loud it can go. It's not terrible, but it's not going to rock a house party. Compared to even the cheaper Bluetooth speakers, like the UE Boom, it's a bit weak.

There's also the battery - we got about 9 to 10 hours. That's okay, but it's not the 15 hours other Bluetooth speakers get depending on price (and volume, obviously).

Of course what you're getting here is not a full-scale Sonos system for £50. What you're getting is a cheap, simple way to get more life and use out of speakers you love. You're not necessarily going to switch from your existing amp setup to this little box, but you might use it to listen to Spotify, podcasts or other day-to-day audio through your current kit, rather than buying another speaker that will eventually sit around the house not doing much.

For that alone, it's worth considering.

Just don't expect it to power your entire audio life. It's a neat, specific and thoughtful gadget - but like all audio products really, it can't do everything.

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