Many ‘rugged’ Bluetooth speakers have passed through our portals in the past, but we recall only one other, a much smaller unit, that actively encouraged us to drop it into water and see how it floated. Most are merely “splashproof”, implying that anything much above a light drizzle might cause irreparable konkage. Even this unit comes with a warranty card which specifies coverage only “UNDER NORMAL USAGE” (their capitals)... but since they’ve called it the ‘Jacket H20’, and the snazzy packaging shouts “Waterproof”, “Floats in water”, “Sandproof” and “Everything proof” (this last clearly an exaggeration, though the PR company did tempt us by mailing a nice mallet with the review unit), we assume ‘NORMAL USAGE’ includes those specified environments. The online product page adds “snowproof” and “shockproof” to the list for good measure.
The Jacket H20 proved its survivor skills promptly too, because we left it playing away in a garden during a neighbourhood barbecue party, not wishing to stop the music when we left, and then neglected to collect it for several weeks, which it spent exposed in that garden facing the attentions of a small child and even smaller pug, yet returned apparently none the worse for wear, and still with a modicum of charge. This may not an official IP67 endurance test but we were impressed anyway.
The waterproofing includes a seal on the back covering an auxiliary input and micro-USB charging socket, sealed stereo 1.5-inch drivers behind a sturdy grille on the front, and what appears to be a passive radiator on the back. There are rubber controls for power and volume on the top, which operate through the rubberised jacket that surrounds the unit for shockproofing. This can be peeled off the unit if you desire, but since it provides most of the unit’s friendly styling, we left it on. The buttons can be held down for other functions, including call answering and stereo pairing of two Jacket H20s, while underneath is a tripod-style screw-thread, which would enable some kind of mounting, should you so require.
Altec Lansing has given it voice prompts, so it announces its awakening in a US female voice, and goes into pairing mode automatically first time you use it, and thereafter can be forced to do so by pressing power and volume down together.
Easy and intuitive enough, then, leaving its sound quality to be judged. Well those 38mm drivers don’t break any laws of physics — it delivers mainly mids and highs, with some small response from 70Hz and more useful output from 140Hz, so your best chance of a balanced sound is either to keep it close, and/or to give it a resonant surface or space, tucked close to a wall or corner. At the outdoor barbecue it had sounded thin and splashy until we tucked it into a brick corner balanced on a plastic tub, after which the background party tunes were supported sufficiently to become enjoyable. There certainly isn’t the ‘gosh’ quality of, say, a Bose SoundLink Mini, but then the Jacket H20’s list price is less than half that price (we’ve seen the Jacket selling far cheaper too), while of course it adds ruggedness to the equation.
Because can you do this with a Bose? [Splash.] No you can’t. We took the Jacket H20 for a hot frothy bath, enjoying its sound at its absolute best from the corner of the bathroom, where it gained from the favourable acoustics of such a space, while our iPhone stayed safely outside away from the steam. After an hour we dropped the Altec into the bath, and yes it floated, and more importantly emerged none the sonically worse, other than the holes in its speaker grilles filming over with water, much like the advertising grilles on the side of a bus on a rainy day. That temporarily reduced the treble output, which we fixed by banging it on the side of the bath (shockproof, innit). All rather fun.
It also got an outing in the Sydney hailstorm of February 2017 (see below). Again no permanent ill effects; in fact it came out very clean. So Altec Lansing can add ‘Hailproof’ to its proofing list.
Note that once you do deplete its charge (it’s quoted at eight hours battery life), it has to recharge again before it will play; we couldn’t persuade it to pair until it was juiced back up, at which point it rejoined the world of its own volition with its breezy voice announcement.
Altec Lansing is one of the oldest names in audio, and we reckon the proto-Altec team which developed the audio system for the first ‘talking picture’ The Jazz Singer in 1929 would gaze in wonder at transducers so small and efficient, while we hesitate to hazard what Mr JB Lansing (whose initials also define JBL) might make of dunking a speaker into water. But it’s good to see the name survive into modern times, several times revived and currently under New York’s Infinity Group. So if it’s light music for beach days and pool parties you’re after, you could do a lot worse for the money, and can be confident in the survival skills of the Jacket H20 3.
Altec Lansing Jacket H20 3 rugged Bluetooth speaker
+ Proofing proved impressive
+ Genuinely water-proof (IP67)
+ And dustproof. And...
- No natural depth to the sound; needs favourable positioning to sound balanced
Drivers: 2 x 38mm full-range
Inputs: Bluetooth, minijack auxiliary
Quoted battery life: 8-10 hours
Dimensions (whd): 165 x 64 x 54mm