Editor's note: Since we posted this review Cambridge SoundWorks has raised the price of the Oontz XL to $119. As a result, we have lowered our rating to 3.5 stars (it was 4 stars).
Cambridge SoundWorks has been making some inroads into the ultracompetitive wireless Bluetooth speaker market with its value-priced, weirdly named Oontz line, which has now grown to three products with the addition of the larger Oontz XL.
For a lack of a better description, the 1.85-pound Oontz XL is essentially a poor man's Jawbone Big Jambox. It's around the same size as the Big Jambox and includes an integrated microphone for speakerphone capabilities and offers decent battery life (it's rated for 10 hours, but you can do better than that).
No, it doesn't have the build quality of the Big Jambox. Nor does it sound as good.
But it does sound better than other smaller speakers that sell for around the same price (at launch, anyway, the Oontz XL costs $99.99; hopefully that price will stick). For example, we put the XL up against the highly rated $99.99 JBL Flip and the Oontz delivered significantly more bass and simply sounded like a bigger speaker. It also was significant step up from the company's own smaller Oontz ($49.99) and Oontz Angle ($39.99) speakers.
Performance-wise, what holds the Oontz XL back is its level of clarity and it just doesn't have the widest soundstage. Products like the Big Jambox and the Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II sound richer and more dynamic -- but they cost three times as much. (Cambridge SoundWorks is advertising it as "The $300 Portable, Wireless, Bluetooth Speaker on sale now for only $99.99," but it is not in the same league as most $300 speakers or even $200 speakers, for that matter).
Volume on the speaker is pretty good, but this doesn't offer huge sound for its size. The engineers seem to have restrained the top volume a bit because of potential distortion problems at higher volumes, particularly when running a lot of bass through the speaker. An earlier unit I tested had some distortion issues at higher volumes -- it couldn't handle R. Kelly's "My Story" track, for example -- but the final shipping model I tested didn't have this problem (the "My Story" track didn't sound great, but at least it didn't break up).
Still, when you listen to this side-by-side with many other mini Bluetooth speakers, the Oontz is going to come out the clear winner. I liked it's straightforward styling and soft-to-touch finish (it does attract some fingerprints) and despite its simple design it manages to have enough style to avoid looking generic.