Many outdoor-friendly portable Bluetooth speakers seem to resemble each other nowadays—chunky, rubber-covered devices that look like they can withstand being run over by a truck. The Mpow Armor Plus, at $93.99, has a rugged build similar to several models we’ve tested, and its passive radiator delivers a decent sense of bass response. The speaker gets plenty of things right, but with so many similar options on the market, it doesn’t exactly stand out.
The Armor Plus earns its name with an IPX5-rated outer shell, ruggedized to withstand shock and exposure to moisture. Available in black, the speaker’s beveled, rubber side panels and its two speaker grilles (which make up the front and rear panels) add up to a rather bulky frame—it measures 3.1 by 8.3 by 2.3 inches (HWD).
The top panel houses controls for power, track navigation, volume, play/pause, and a dedicated Phone button for the speakerphone. The volume controls work independently of, not in conjunction with, your phone’s master volume levels. A snap-shut compartment on the right panel protects a 3.5mm aux input (a cable is included for wired listening), a USB port (for charging mobile devices using the battery), and a micro USB port for charging the speaker itself using the included cable. The left panel houses a lanyard that looks like it’s made from combat boot laces.
The Phone button also doubles as an EQ button if you tap it quickly—it switches between regular and outdoor modes. It should be noted that the difference between these modes is pretty subtle. What can be presumed to be outdoor mode (there’s no visual indicator) seems slightly louder, with a little more bass depth. Beneath the front-facing grille, dual 8-watt drivers deliver stereo audio while a passive radiator on the rear panel adds to the sense of bass depth.
Mpow estimates battery life to be an impressive 22 hours, but your results will vary in relation to your mix of wired versus wireless playback, volume levels, and whether you use the battery to charge mobile devices. In addition to the cables, the Armor Plus ships with a generously padded drawstring nylon protective pouch.
We tested the Armor Plus with the EQ set to outdoor mode (but again, the difference between modes is subtle). On tracks with powerful sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Armor Plus delivers a solid sense of deep bass considering its size and price, and at top volume levels, the speaker delivers clean, distortion-free audio without skimping on overall bass response. However, it sounds like there’s some digital signal processing (DSP) in place to prevent low frequency distortion at top volumes—we can hear the dynamics being limited at higher volumes, while more moderate volumes lessen the effect.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better idea of the overall sound signature. The DSP is far less noticeable, even at high volumes, on this track. The drums receive a touch of extra bass response, but they don’t sound thunderous or overly boosted they way they often can on bass-forward speakers. Callahan’s baritone vocals get a strong, warm low-mid richness balanced out with a high-mid presence that lends his voice and the guitar strumming a pleasant crispness.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop gets plenty of high-mid treble edge, which brings out the attack of the drums, while the sub-bass synth hits are more implied than delivered—we hear their raspy, higher frequency notes and less of their full-bodied, sub-bass frequencies. The vocals on this track can sound just slightly too sibilant at times, but not to the point that it’s distracting or harsh.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, receive a slightly boosted bass presence, but the spotlight definitely belongs to the higher register strings, brass, and vocals. Their prominence is never really matched by anything in the bass realm, and at times, the lower register instrumentation sounds slightly dialed back. It’s not a thin or tinny sound, but the lows and low-mids are less present than they are in other genres.
Generally speaking, the Mpow Armor Plus is a good portable Bluetooth speaker. The bass depth is solid when the mix calls for it, but it doesn’t invent lows that aren’t there. It can’t quite deliver sub-bass, but few speakers in this price range can. The sound signature is definitely sculpted, but provides a good balance of lows and highs, and it projects a high volume, ideal for outdoor usage. However, in this price range, there are several wireless winners worth checking out first. We’re fans of the Turcom AcoustoShock Tough and the Nyne Edge. The EcoXGear EcoCarbon is our Editors’ Choice for its even more powerful audio performance and truly waterproof design that allows it to float. If you’re looking to spend less, the JBL Clip 2 is a bargain, delivering impressive audio for its price and size.