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To call the Electrohome Birmingham a Bluetooth speaker isn’t misleading, but it might miss the point—this is more of a mini practice amp first, and a Bluetooth speaker second. It handles its Bluetooth duties just fine, but the Birmingham is built to look and sound like an old-school guitar amp. And at $149.99, it isn’t a vintage tweed Fender Champ in terms of price or performance. If you’re looking to kill two birds with one stone, the Birmingham might suffice, though there are far better dedicated speakers out there for a similar price.

Design

Measuring 9.5 by 13.4 by 7.1 inches (HWD) and weighing 11.9 pounds, the look here is classic guitar amp, with faux-leather grain paneling and a built-in leatherette handle. The front face is all cloth grille, emblazoned with the Electrohome logo and home to a series of knobs and switches. 

From left to right, there’s a quarter-inch guitar input and knobs for guitar gain, guitar volume,  treble, bass, and main volume. The bass and treble knobs have detents at the midpoint setting, but oddly, they don’t line up with the visual markers for zero—the knobs are installed slightly off the mark and line up closer to +1.

There’s also a Bluetooth pairing button, a 3.5mm aux input (a cable is included), a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a USB port for charging mobile devices with the amp’s power. On the right end of the control strip, there’s a red power light and an on/off switch. There are no playback or track navigation controls, and there is no speakerphone functionality. Electrohome includes a cable for the 3.5mm aux input and a guitar pick, but no guitar cable for the quarter-inch input.

The Birmingham sits on four rubberized feet, so we were a bit surprised when the model we tested had some wobble to it, like a table with uneven legs. The back panel houses a ported area to improve air flow and driver efficiency.

Behind the grille, the 30-watt, class-D amplified Birmingham employs dual 4-inch full-range drivers, delivering a frequency range of 60Hz-20kHz. So this is actually a stereo speaker when playing music, and a mono amp when plugging in a guitar. It supports AptX and SBC Bluetooth codecs.

Performance 

We tested music playback with the bass and treble knobs at the default midpoint setting. On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Birmingham delivers solid low-frequency depth for its price. The volume on the speaker works independently of your sound source—in our case, an iPhone 8—and when both sound source and speaker are maxed out, this can lead to distortion on tracks with intense bass like this one. At more moderate levels, the distortion disappears and the lows sound robust.

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Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Birmingham’s general sound signature. The drums on this track can sound thunderous on bass-forward systems, but here they sound fairly modest. Callahan’s baritone vocals, on the other hand, get quite a bit of bass presence, and things sound muddy in the default bass and treble knob positions. Adding treble helps tremendously, as does dialing back the bass a bit. This is a strange sound signature without any help from the EQ knobs, and a sculpted but more balanced one when you adjust the treble up and the bass down a bit.

On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop receives enough high-mid presence to retain its punchiness, but only when treble is boosted and the bass is cut. With the knobs at default settings, the audio is again muddy and lacking in high-frequency detail. The sub-bass synth hits are too low for these drivers—even with the bass dialed up, they are lost in the mix to the thump of the drum loop. It’s hard to dial in a sound signature that is accurate—drastic settings on the EQ knobs deliver the best results, but even then, it’s not ideal.

Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, suffer from the muddiness as well. The bass can sound tubby and undefined, and the highs really need to be boosted in order to come close to how they should normally sound.

As an amp, this is not pro-level gear, obviously, but it can be a useful option for relatively low-volume rehearsals. The gain knob offers a nice bit of extra boost (and eventual fuzz at high levels), but the bass and treble knobs inexplicably have no effect on the amp section. Furthermore, Electrohome warns against using the amp with any guitar pedals—or bass guitars or mics, for that matter. We had no trouble running a small synth’s output through the amp, but only guitars, plugged directly into the amp, are recommended by the manufacturer.

Conclusions

The Electrohome Birmingham is a niche product for sure. If you’re in the market for a small practice amp that can double as a Bluetooth speaker, this could be just the ticket. But as noted, we’re not in love with the sound signature, and are surprised by the amp’s limitations in the EQ department. If you’re more into a Bluetooth speaker that looks like an amp but is really just a speaker, the $180 Marshall Stockwell II costs a bit more, but delivers much better audio, as does the significantly pricier Marshall Kilburn II ($300). If you’re just looking for powerful audio in the $150 price range and don’t need the amp design flourishes or the guitar input, the JBL Charge 4 delivers serious power in a portable, waterproof design.

Electrohome Birmingham Specs

Channels Stereo
Bluetooth Yes
Wi-Fi No
Multi-Room No
Physical Connections USB, 1/4-inch
Portable No
Water-Resistant No
Speakerphone No
Voice Assistant None

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