There are few names in the music world that carry such weight and history as Marshall. If you’ve listened to any rock and roll music from the last 40 years or so, you’ve heard what this guitar amplifier and cabinet maker is known for. Marshall amplifiers have shaped the sound of many people’s youth, and if my current trajectory holds, my impending mid-life crisis.
As if serving musicians and helping define the sound of entire genres isn’t enough for a company’s resume, Marshall has gotten into the home-audio game, and now makes a wide variety of home speakers and headphones geared toward the consumer. I got to spend some time with the Stanmore II Speaker in two flavors: one with Amazon’s Alexa assistant baked right in, and its Bluetooth-only little sibling.
Both models, as every other entry in the line, have the aesthetic of a miniaturized Marshall guitar amp, wrapped in the familiar Tolex vinyl, along with Marshall’s iconic logo across the speaker grille. The top gives you the same gold plate control panel you’ll find on the familiar guitar amplifiers, down to the same exact knobs for volume, bass, and treble controls. The overall presentation of these Baby Yoda-sized Marshalls is elegant, because the company managed to combine nostalgia for its guitar amps with a look that’s at home in bedroom or living room.
Bluetooth or Bust
Looks are nice, but these things are supposed to make noise, so let’s see how they performed beyond the shallowness of appearance. The Bluetooth-only version, being a bit more streamlined with its connectivity options, was easy to set up. You can connect one of three ways: Bluetooth, through a 3.5mm Aux input on the top, or through RCA inputs on the back, giving you the option to hook up your turntable.
Starting with Bluetooth, the sound quality of the speaker itself is evident. The system has a 5.25" woofer alongside dual tweeters, and provided crisp, detailed playback. The challenge with any smaller speaker is getting your bass to sit right, and here the Stanmore II delivered. Switching between the sub bass flavors of Squarepusher and the classic rock thump of Funkadelic, it delivered some great bass feel without losing any definition on the more attack-driven style of the funk.
Overall the speaker favors the midrange, which is not at all shocking for a home speaker, and does so with a pleasing EQ curve. Should the sound out of the box not be exactly what you’re looking for, you have EQ options right on the speaker itself, as well as in the easy-to-use companion app for further tweaking. I played around with them just to try the EQ out, but after some fiddling I found myself happy with the stock settings.
Stealing my Data with Amazing Sound
While the Bluetooth model is streamlined in regard to its connectivity options, the Alexa Voice model gives you the ability to use Spotify Connect (which plays back directly from Spotify through the speaker, no Bluetooth connection), Bluetooth, or the 3.5mm or RCA analog inputs. The device has Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant built right in, which allows you to control playback, as well as control smart home tasks—all with your voice.
I ran into a bit of a hiccup with getting the Stanmore II connected to my home wireless, with the TL;DR being: you need to be on the latest version of iOS to complete setup. After updating my iPhone, however, I was up and running in less than 5 minutes, with the speaker connected to my network and my Amazon Echo account.
I’ve owned an Amazon Echo almost since the company released the product, and I still have a first-generation Echo sitting in my bedroom. I have long had a fascination with building a smart home environment that would ultimately lead to my own demise when the AI decides the only way to keep me safe is to destroy humanity. So, since I was an early adapter, I have my lighting and various electronics set up with voice commands for it.
I have been looking at several options for Alexa-enabled control that also give me better sound than what that first-generation Echo does. Sonically, the Stanmore II delivers, and then some. Though the speakers are identical to the Bluetooth version, I found that playback was sonically improved using Spotify connect rather than Bluetooth, giving a more rounded and balanced playback. In a vacuum, I wouldn’t have noticed anything lacking with the Bluetooth version, but side by side with Spotify Connect, the Stanmore II with Alexa squeaks out a win.
For the full picture, the Stanmore II doesn’t completely replace the Echo (yet). As of the time of this review, Alexa multiroom speaker functionality will be coming via a future firmware update. This puts it a little behind some other multiroom speakers, at the moment, but the sound quality of the Marshall will be worth the tradeoff of being patient for many.
Which Do I Want?
So, the question you may have is, which model do I want? Well, the sonic performance is close enough that, if you aren’t really interested in getting Alexa into your home, there’s no reason you wouldn’t go for the more affordable Bluetooth model.
On the other hand, if you have (or want to start building) an Alexa smart home infrastructure, the Alexa model gives you all that on top of its sonic performance.
What’s your choice? Let us know in the Comments section.