Review: Bayan Audio Soundbook Bluetooth dock

The Bayan Audio Soundbook is a portable wireless speaker system for your smartphone, MP3 player, tablet or laptop. Oh yes, and an FM radio too.

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It measures 160 x 88 x 38 mm –  chunky for a portable unit, and at 530g not that light, though heavy is often good when it comes to audio. Not something for a pocket or small handbag, but fine to tuck in your case.

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The unit feels solid and has an unusual design. The front flaps down and folds back to make a stand, and the action of opening it also switches the device on. Hence the Soundbook name: open and play.

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This is a Bluetooth 4.0 device, and supports A2DP and aptX for high quality audio. Pairing your smartphone is a snap, with no codes involved. It also supports NFC (Near Field Communications), which worked well using a couple of Android devices I tried, a Nexus 7 tablet and a Sony Xperia phone. Just tap against the NFC logo on the underside of the flap, and a dialog appears to confirm the connection.

The Soundbook, in combination with your mobile, is also a speakerphone. There is a built-in microphone, and it behaves like a Bluetooth headset, pausing the music to let you take a call and resuming afterwards.

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You can also connect without Bluetooth, using an input on the rear. Finally, there is an output jack socket so you can use the Soundbook as a wireless input to your hi-fi.

Battery life is up to 10 hours for radio or wired connections, shorter if you are using Bluetooth.

The USB power connector is the Mini-B type. A shame that Bayan did not choose the Micro-B standard which is now more common.

So how is it? It seems a lot of thought has gone into the design and the flexibility is impressive. The actual sound quality though is only so-so, thanks to the small 1″ internal speakers, and lacking in bass despite a 2″ passive bass radiator. It is stereo, though you will not notice unless you are very close and I wonder if Bayan should have borrowed an idea from Logitech’s excellent Squeezebox or UE Radio, and gone for mono. At maximum volume it is pretty loud though rather strident.

Still, this is all a matter of expectations. It is miles better than the tinny speaker built into your smartphone or tablet, and the speakerphone feature is useful.

The FM radio is not too good unless, perhaps, you are particularly close to the transmitter. Bayan says there is “an advanced integrated FM antenna” but in practice I found it difficult to get decent reception other than for a couple of local stations, and even then only after careful placement. There are no presets; you have to press and hold tune up and tune down buttons to scan for channels, which is inconvenient.

You cannot switch between Bluetooth sources other than by disconnecting the current source in order to connect another. However, it will remember up to 4 pairings at a time.

Pros and cons

The Bayan Soundbook is nicely designed and supremely flexible. I particularly like the speakerphone capability, which means you can stick this on your desk, enjoy the music, but still take hands-free calls.

That said, if this is a device for a desk, Bayan should have made it a bit larger and bumped up the sound quality.

This is best for portable use then, for which it is not bad, though a little bulky and heavy. I could more easily forgive that if the sound quality were just a bit better.

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