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Reviewing the Marshall Acton means talking about how precisely gadgets companies are always buying a brands; and how most brands with any sort of recognition have been completely accredited to Chinese gadget-makers (a Porsche notebook or a KFC phone anyone?).
Knowing that, Zound’s decision to place not simply a Marshall logo on the Acton, but also the associated retro styling, makes a whole lot of sense.
Marshall’s rock-star heritage really works very well when put on the diminutive Acton. The usage of the same mottled matte black vinyl plastic covering entirely on Marshall guitar amps, filled with rounded corners and beautifully machined brass knobs, means we have a fantastic-looking device on our hands here.
The Marshall Acton is a radio Bluetooth speaker with the capacity of AirPlay, ChromeCast and Spotify Connect, and additionally, it may form part of a multi-room music network. Its size helps it be suitable to a bookshelf or bedroom, but at 40W it’ll out-perform anything it could possibly be replacing.
Be warned though: the Marshall Acton accocunts for for in volume what it lacks in stature, which can hit some serious volumes. Part of a trio of new wireless Bluetooth speakers which can be networked together using software (there’s no handy remote control included), the Marshall Acton – obtainable in black or cream – sells for $349 (£319 / AU$380).
Marshall Acton multi-room speaker: design
Despite its tiny size, stylistically the Marshall Acton looks just the sort of Marshall speaker you may be prepared to find on a stage. It’s small – just 265 x 160 x 150 mm – and weighs 2.8kg, but oddly there are no portability options; the Acton should be connected to the mains, and there is absolutely no carry handle. Nor will there be a handy remote control, with Marshalls’ Multi-Room iphone app (and Google Home) looking after set-up and configuration duties.
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However, on its top are four brass buttons for volume, bass, treble, and for toggling between resources of audio. Which includes WiFi, Bluetooth and an auxiliary 3.5 mm socket at the top of the Marshall Acton, alongside a button for moving between multi-room and single source modes. That source knob can even be pointed at seven separate presets, that may include Spotify playlists (if you are a premium subscriber).
Marshall Acton multi-room speaker: features
Versatility is always good, but there are perhaps way too many choices in terms of connecting to the Marshall Acton. While its Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity works extremely well by nearly every mobile device, Apple products can hook up over AirPlay whether they’re using the Acton as an individual speaker or networked to other speakers in Marshall’s multi-room collection.
You can also take the Chromecast route: Chromecast functionality is baked in to the Marshall Acton, and may be the default method of connecting it to a home network. Users of the Spotify Connect iphone app may also route music right to the Acton too.
In the Acton is some serious power; a 30W Class D amplifier for the woofer and two 10W Class D amplifiers for the tweeters. That’s 40W altogether, which is arguably overkill for a bedside table-style speaker.
Marshall Acton multi-room speaker: set-up
Although the free Marshall Multi-Room iphone app can be utilised to set-up and operate the Marshall Acton and its own peers, in practice it seems to have hived-off everything to the Google Home app. That is clearly a new development – it wasn’t that way on the Marshall Stanmore we reviewed recently.
Once switched-on, firing-up Marshall’s iphone app immediately brings about the Google Home app, which quickly recognises the occurrence of the Acton and requests a spot name – a ‘zone’. Once it’s labeled ‘bedroom’, ‘bathroom’ and even ‘shed’, Google’s iphone app attaches to a home WiFi network and gets busy downloading the most recent firmware.
The completion of most of these small stages of the set-up procedure are celebrated by audible guitar riffs, commensurate with the Marshall branding. Then comes a ‘casting’ tutorial, though it isn’t all good – it prompted me to open the BBC iPlayer Radio iphone app to stream to the Acton, but proceeded to play the music through my iPhone. It mostly works fine, but Marshall’s method of multi-room is all somewhat manual.
Marshall Acton multi-room speaker: performance
The make use of the Google Home did prove useful during set-up, but it’s otherwise a pointless additional app. Although it can be utilized to include new devices, you will have to open the Marshall iphone app to create any changes to volume, bass and treble, for instance. Using the software it’s easy enough to swap between other Marshall speakers on a single network, and set-up presets to Spotify playlists and web r / c via the app.
During our testing the Marshall Acton swapped between being tremendously impressive to downright irritating.
First, the nice stuff; music is superb, with plenty of depth and detail creating for having less much stereo separation out of this small speaker. The quantity goes incredibly high – pointlessly high, even – without distortion, and fans of bass with absolutely love the Acton.
However, there were way too many drop-outs during our review. Not just that, however when initiating streaming the Acton often stalled; a nudge of the quantity knob appeared to take it back to life.
It’s hard to argue with the Marshall Acton’s stunning styling and equally attractive sound quality, and the detail in the brass knobs and brushed gold-metallic panel provides Acton enviable wow factor. The myriad connectivity options are also impressive, specifically the decision to play music through either the Marshall Multi-Room hub app, or from a phone through Spotify or the native music software on Apple and Android devices.
However, the highlight is surely its deep and detailed sound quality, that will especially impress anyone after bass and volume.
Having used Marshall’s own iphone app to successfully set-up the Marshall Stanmore, having Google Home now so baked in to the process appears rather pointless. So do the unnecessarily high volumes.
However, that which was most disappointing were the frequent signal drop-outs that left the Acton seeming unreliable.
We experienced a good amount of drop-outs
A better-sized speaker for general use than its pricier sibling the Marshall Stanmore, the great-sounding, incredibly well-connected – and incredibly expensive – Marshall Acton is finally disappointed by its unreliability as a radio speaker. It’s a good try, but that is arguably style over substance.
We’re also not completely convinced by the idea of a Marshall multi-room system; you may buy one iconic-looking Marshall speaker, but wouldn’t two, three for four look just a little odd at home?