Interchangeable grilles in different colors let you match your personality or playlist with your speaker, if that’s your thing. Nice deep bass compliments of an extra 3.5-inch driver on the top of the S3.
Sketchy Wi-Fi connection makes us nostalgic for the boombox. Sound quality can’t compete with wireless audio leader Sonos. Confusing setup and rough mobile apps. Pure Connect streaming service has not reached critical mass.
The promise of multi-room audio is a bit like what goes unsaid in a political stump speech. “I promise to improve your life, even if I have to gloss over occasional problems.” We all keep listening, though, because who doesn’t want a better life — not to mention multi-room audio? Whether you pledge allegiance to Alt-J or Mary J Blige, you just want to press a button and hear them in every room.
As in politics, sometimes an upstart comes along to challenge the status quo. Sonos has recently held office in multi-room audio because its speakers pump out rich sound and offer super-slick setup.
Enter the upstart: the Jongo S3 ($200) wireless speaker and Jongo A2 ($130) adapter from UK-based Pure.
Together, both let you connect to your existing Wi-Fi router without adding a secondary bridge (which is the Sonos method). They also let you connect directly over Bluetooth audio.
That flexibility sounds great in theory, but the overall experience killed our enthusiasm. Setting up the speakers required far too much hoop jumping (even for a dedicated audiophile), and both units tended to disconnect from the network without warning. To top it off, the S3′s sound quality falls flat.
The S3 resembles a network drive with speaker grilles, and the petite A2 looks like something you might kick around in a football match. You can purchase extra grilles and collars — $20 for the A2 and $30 for the S3 — in burnt orange, lime green, mango, or white, and snap them on and off to match your mood or playlist.
On the S3, you can also customize the sound — only playing music on the front speaker, say, or boosting sound for outdoor use. Just press the Audio button to change soundscapes. On the front, there are volume and mute buttons. If you connect using a 3.5mm cable to the AUX port, you can also use the Jongo S3 as a speakerphone. The utilitarian A2 adapter has an optical audio port, coaxial, and RCA stereo, so you connect it to your home stereo and stream music over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
When you connect over Wi-Fi, you can use your iOS or Android device to stream music. The free Pure Connect iOS or Android app lets you stream one of about 20,000 Internet radio stations, one of about 200,000 podcasts and talk shows, or a music channel that plays background tracks like ocean sounds or ambient rock. (You can also stream music from your device using the Bluetooth connection. The S3 lasts for about 10 hours per charge if you use it as a portable speaker.)
But the S3′s sound quality is not going to make you ditch your Sonos — and I certainly would not recommend you choose the Pure system over the Sonos in a head-to-head battle. The Jongo S3 has good bass response, thanks to an extra 3.5-inch driver on the top. There are four 2.5-watt drivers, but they sounded a bit muddy. Music by the dance-pop band Heaven sounded rich and smooth thanks to the extra subwoofer. Jimmy Eats World’s version of power-pop with a hint of emo had a lush quality our outdoor party guests enjoyed.
But the S3 is not designed for audiophiles. The dulcimer at the beginning of “Metaphor” by Born Cages sounded like a guitar. And most of the Iceage tracks I played sounded way too washed out.
The A2 has a 24-bit 192 KHz digital-to-analog converter (DAC) with a -106 dB signal to noise ratio. I connected it to a Harman-Kardon AVR3700 AV receiver capable of pumping out 125 watts of power in an 7.1-surround mix. I also used two high-end Anthony Gallo A’Diva SE speakers and an Anthony Gallo TR-3d subwoofer. The sound was amazing, but the A2 suffered from a few random dropouts, ruining the experience.
Setting up the Jongo speakers is much too painful for their price and sound quality. There are times when you press the Wi-Fi button once or long-press the same button — and you have to know which is which. Because Sonos gear uses a bridge to create its own Wi-Fi network, it’s less fiddly than the Jongo system. I’d rather pay a bit more for the Sonos’ high-quality sound and reliable performance.
I experienced flaky performance from the Jongo speakers testing them with two different routers. The iOS app crashed and, in a few cases, the stream would stop suddenly and I’d have to reboot the router to get it going again.
On an iPhone 5 using the Pure Connect app, the buttons you press to activate one of the speakers are way too small. When you swipe to the left to find your own music stored locally, and then play a track, you use a button that says “Hide” to go back to your collection. Huh? Even worse, the UI on the Sensia radio is different from that of the mobile apps, which are both different from the Web UI. To add additional insult, the Web UI doesn’t connect directly to the Jongo speakers. But it does connect to the Sensia radio (after you type in a syncing code).
The blinking lights on the Jongo S3 and A2 add to the muddle. What does the amber blinking light mean again? Or the red and green blinking lights? Icons printed on the back of the S3 help slightly. But with the A2, you’re on your own.
The Jongo system needs work. And neither the S3 nor A2 is worth its price. I’d rather pay 40 bucks for the Logitech Wireless Speaker Adapter, which lets you connect your iOS or Android device to your home stereo.
So much for upstarts — at least on their first run.