Archeer A106 Review – Loud and Rugged on a Budget

Introduction –

The Archeer a106 is a very budget friendly Bluetooth speaker that boasts a ruggardized build, Bluetooth 4.0 support, impressive batterylife and to top it all off, speakerphone capabilities. We`ve seen quite a few of these hyper portable rugged speakers before, many of them targeting similar buyers and offering similar features, but none (or very few) of them even come close to the a106`s RRP of just $35 AUD (~$25 USD). At this price, the a106 is just half the asking price of the much older UE Mini Boom and still far less expensive than the JBL Micro as well, a very budget friendly speaker in its own right. Outfitted with a pretty extensive set of features, Archeer present a coherent offering for much less than their competitors, but does its real world performance deliver? Let`s find out.

 

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Archeer very much for providing me with a review sample of the a106 in exchange for my honest opinion. I`m not affiliated with Archeer and will provide an unbiased evaluation of the product.

 

About Me – Some background, Gear of choice, Preferences and Biases

I generally prefer a slight v-shape to my sound, but still closer to neutral. I like a lot of detail and clarity, but can appreciate a smooth, laid back sound such as that on the X10`s. I prefer a more neutral midrange within a relatively tight tolerance, but I`m probably more forgiving of brightness over darkness. I`m not particularly treble sensitive and can tolerate large amounts without fatigue, though too much ruins the enjoyment. If I use a different eartip/pad/cover during the review I will note that and describe the sound changes.

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Accessories –

Archeer`s simple packaging is thoroughly refreshing coming from my Beats Studio 2.0 review.

Unboxing A106 Crop

A simple flip style box displays just the Archeer branding on the front and houses the speaker protected within a foam inlet. The a106 itself comes within a matte bag that feels far nicer than the plasticy norm, a small but appreciable consideration. Underneath the speaker is a compartment housing the manuals  with warranty information, bag strap and cables.

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Archeer were kind enough to include both a micro-b charging cable and aux cable, something rarely seen from such a cheap product. The included accessories are of decent quality, fine enough for the price, and enable the a106 to be easily used out of the box.

 

Design –

As a more rugged, outdoor orientated speaker, Archeer have outfit the a106 with a similarly beefy look to match. It`s angular design comprises of a central speaker grill surrounded by almost 2cm of shock absorbent casing.

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The square shaped body is constructed from a tough plastic, the usual variety you would find in something like a toolbox. This frame is encased by rubber that feels high in quality, smooth to the touch and, evident after a couple of drop tests, soaks up impact with ease.

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The corners are especially reinforced, flattened slightly to disperse the force of impact with an extra ridge of padding on top. In between the ridges, Archeer have ribbed the rubber making the speaker easier to grip and handle when wet. In terms of basic design, the a106 is well fortified and the rubber is perfectly molded, I didn`t find any rough edges or malformed parts on my unit.

The front and real grills are constructed from metal and are similarly solid with very minimal flex under high pressure. There`s no mention of the a106 model name on the device itself but the front and rear grills are both painted with the Archeer brand with “waterproof” imprinted into the rubber just beneath. Not too much to complain about here, perhaps the symmetrical build can be disorientating at times.

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Moving onto the features found along the speaker`s perimeter, up top users will find the four main control buttons: volume down, up, play/pause and power. Of note, the play/pause button is imprinted with a phone icon as it also functions as a call/hangup button. Just beneath the buttons is the microphone allowing for speakerphone functionality. From a few brief calls, the quality at least matched that of my HTC M8`s internal microphone and recording a few sample clips revealed some nice quality recordings. That being said, microphone is not particularly sensitive, and if the speaker is further away from the user, the volume may be too soft for recipients. I did appreciate how the buttons were molded into the rubber, providing a clicky feel and additional waterproofing.

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The right face hosts the interfaces and status LED beneath a sealing flap. A micro-b charging port and aux port. The a106 is easily operated, simply power on the device by holding the power button for a few seconds until it plays an ascending note tone, the status LED flashes quickly and the speaker enters pairing mode. Once paired with a player, the speaker plays a confirmation chime and the LED blinks slower, once every 5 seconds. The speaker`s volume control works separate to that of the source granting finer control with 25 volume steps in addition to that of the source. I find this to be a perfect amount, speakers with 100 volume steps can be difficult to operate. Of note, holding down the volume buttons skips to the next/previous track, it`s a simple method of operation that`s perfectly practical and intuitive. The audio feedback isn`t obtrusive like some speakers but lacks the option to turn on or off as Archeer have no app based GUI like UE.

On the top left is a slot used for attaching the included strap. It`s an interesting design, instead of looping the strap around like usual, Archeer includes a screw that secures the band. This means that the speaker can be confidently hung on a bag without too much fear of theft, the thicker band also feels remarkably more solid than any nylon band would. It`s extremely convenient to simply hang up in the shower, kitchen or anywhere really, you can always have the speaker on standby for instantaneous use.

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In terms of actual usage, the speaker coped well with use in the shower, pool and beach, getting doused in water wasn`t really an issue given it`s ipx5 water resistance rating. You can not, however, fully submerge the speaker like some UE and JBL models.

DSC05978.JPGBatterylife from the internal 2200mah lithium cell is rated to exceed 20Hrs at 80% volume and, in my testing that seemed to be pretty accurate. You won`t get much more than 20 Hrs at high volumes but lowering the volume of the speaker can stretch that figure to some extent. Given the very loud max volume of the a106, batterylife shouldn`t an issue during regular usage.

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While I`m not the biggest fan of the yellow/green colour scheme, Archeer also offer the speaker in full black which subjectively looks nicer, through black rubber does tend to pick up scuffs easier. Regardless of colour, the design of the a106 will be appealing to many and the controls are both functional and intuitive. The a106 is a thoughtfully designed speaker overall.

 

Sound –

When evaluating the sound produced by the a106, one must take into account its intended uses. With a clear emphasis on outdoor and speakerphone usage, it`s no surprise that the Archeer a106 offers a very high maximum volume output for a speaker of its size (and price) combined with a sound that has a more mid-high frequency dominance. With such a small size, the large amounts of bass required to combat ambient noise are likely not economically viable and this emphasis does grant the a106 impressive clarity.

With a single 5W driver, the speaker projects sound in mono from it`s front face, the rear face sounding considerably more muffled. The combination of a small enclosure and a lack of an active bass driver mean that the single full-range driver tends to sound anemic in the low frequency range. It does sound like there`s a passive radiator at the rear but no specification sheet lists this feature. Regardless, high frequencies have the most prevalence with decreasing emphasis as you head down the frequency range.

Bass is punchy but recessed, rolling off below mid-bass tones and upper bass is similarly south of neutral if to a lesser degree. This might sound negative, but considering the speaker`s small size, it provides more low end than these types of speakers tend to deliver, easily outclassing the X-mini II for example. The level of bass is actually quite similar to that produced by the UE Mini Boom except devoid of all the excess bloat. This enables the midrange to come through very clearly with plenty of clarity, great for youtube, speakerphone and some music. It`s a big step up from the best mobile phones have to offer, with far more volume and body to the sound than my HTC M8. I won`t mention too much about soundstage because the speaker is mono and there`s not really too much space to speak of, but the midrange retains considerable separation between individual instruments and vocals.

As previously stated, maximum volume output is very high, enough to fill a medium sized room. Whilst the sound does degrade at top volume, the speaker is comfortable sitting around 80% but can get a bit harsh above that. It`s worth noting that the internal amplifier is slightly hissy, audible in a quiet room even during playback but not so loud that it becomes obtrusive. The hiss is inaudible in most environments with some ambient noise and the amp turns off when no audio is playing through the speakers.

Bass –

Bass is punchy rather than boomy or impactful. There no real sub-bass and little mid-bass, not too much is going on beneath 250Hz. Upper bass is slightly behind neutral, taking a backseat to the higher frequencies. This can make the speaker sound thin and hollow with low quality songs and still a little thin with everything else. For my preferences, there`s just enough upper bass to avoid sounding tinny. Apart from that, what bass notes are there are taught and decently tight, bass is not a focus for this speaker but there is a lot more extension and low end than almost any mobile device. It will be a big improvement over inbuilt speakers and the midrange is very clear as a result.

Mids –

The mids are pretty good on a whole with just a few minor gripes. Lower mids are pleasing in tonality with a slightly thin body but plenty of definition. Male vocals sound just thick enough, completely avoiding that muffled sound that plagues such speakers. Instruments such as acoustic sound very clean and clear but the lack of body can sap that pleasing timbre and prat from some songs. There`s not too much detail but intelligibility is great for a portable speaker. The upper midrange tells a similar story, female vocals sound generally fine but again have a thinner body to them. Pop songs tend to sound a little raspy and even bright at times. This actually works to the favour of rock which sounds a little rawer and clearer as a result, but of course, the brightness can cause that wall of sound phenomenon.

So while the midrange has a few niggles, I actually found it to be the strongest aspect of the speaker`s audio performance. While the sound does err on the thinner side, otherwise the midrange is perfectly well tuned. There`s no peaks or veil and both upper and lower mids are in balance with one another. That`s not something I can say about a lot of portable speakers which tend to have a lower midrange dominance. The a106 is perfect for youtube, podcasts and speakerphone, it`s musical performance isn`t bad either but I still wouldn`t say it flatters many genres in particular.

Highs –

The treble performance of the a106 is actually the most troubling part of the speaker`s sound. The highs are the most prevalent frequency range of the a106`s sound, the clashing of cymbals, the hissing of vocals and the fizzing of electronic effects all are brought to the fore. Whilst some might consider the sound detailed or clear, to me it`s simply overbearing, and I generally prefer a brighter, v-shaped sound so I would say that this emphasis will likely be to the dismay of most buyers.

With so much quantity, it`s a great thing that the quality of the treble isn`t terrible. The treble is reasonably detailed, body isn`t bad if a little splashy and there`s some enjoyable tinges of texture to the sound. It`s just that there`s too much quantity. At medium volumes, the treble is sounds a little overbearing and such problems are only exacerbated at higher volumes where the speaker becomes even more treble dominant and begins to clip (not my source). Perhaps the a106 would have benefited from apt-x or maybe even a higher quality amp circuit, regardless, it`s still disappointing that the high frequencies are so out of balance.

 

Verdict –

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People don`t analyse cheap speakers like I have here. Usually you get what you pay for and most buyers go in with similar expectations. The a106 is ridiculously cheap for what you get, many far more expensive speakers fail to match it`s extensive feature set. But a portable speaker`s prime quality will always be sound quality, of course that`s the main reason why buyers will get one in the first place. As an upgrade to a laptop or smartphone, the a106 is far superior if only for the volume boost alone. But that`s the thing, the a106 is a great device but only a mediocre speaker. While I would personally save up a few more dollars to purchase a more expensive model, for just $35, average sound quality suddenly becomes much more appealing. The a106 doesn`t make for a great computer speaker, nor will it improve upon your TV`s inbuilt speakers, but as an “on the go” companion, the a106`s price/performance is pretty hard to beat. 

 

Accessories – 10/10, Simple packaging and a considerate amount of accessories make the a106 a great purchase for younger or first time users of portable speakers. The included aux cable is a great addition for those owning a few devices without wireless capabilities and the strap is especially secure.

Design – 9/10, The design is well styled and thoughtful. The strap mechanism is sturdy and convenient, the body is solid and moderate water resistance make the speaker all the more versatile. The speaker is easy to operate and the inclusion of a built in mic is very thoughtful. Batterylife is also exemplary which I`m sure outdoor users will appreciate. My only qualms is that rubber will inevitably get a bit tacky and the speaker can`t be fully submerged, otherwise the a106 is perfectly suited towards any active user.

Bass – 3.5/10, Lacking big time in extension with no sub-bass and rolled off mid-bass. Drums in particular have the snap just without the subsequent slam. Upper bass has decent presence granting the speakers some low end punch but bass lacks impact and texture overall.

Mids – 4.75/10, Very clear but lacking a little body. Decent detailing with great vocal presence and intelligibility. Will be bright for some and can sound hollow with poorly mastered recordings or low quality files.

Highs – 3.5/10, Decent quality with too much emphasis. Sounds harsh with most songs and harsh at all times when playing at high volumes. Stays out of the way during podcasts for the most part but can be grating on the ear when wind noise is present.

Value – 9.5/10, Despite the average audio performance, the a106 is still great value by virtue of it`s fantastic build and feature set alone. Again, it`s a great upgrade for smartphone or laptop users seeking more volume and will surely sound less harsh than these much smaller drivers. The a106 is especially versatile on account of its clear midrange.

Overall – 6/10, Personally, I`m disappointed, because the a106 could have been a fantastic product; it`s a brilliantly designed and thoughtfully constructed speaker that`s unfortunately let down by harsh musical performance. Note musical performance, because for all else, the speaker absolutely hits its mark, anything vocal related especially, given the clarity of the a106`s midrange. For it`s intended uses, the speaker will impress with plenty of volume and a very clear sound, but for musical playback, the quality of that sound will likely leave you wanting. While the a106 is a convenience and value champ, it`ll still fail to best more expensive models in musical performance.

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