- Clean and transparent design
- Excellent audio quality
- Extensible with new features
- Designed with sustainability and recycling in mind
- Replacement parts are not readily available
- Handling requires wearing gloves to avoid smudges
Let’s face it. Unless you’re an audiophile or a connoisseur, audio often takes a backseat in our lives, even when it comes to entertainment. We only become acutely aware of the critical role that sound plays in life when it’s gone or when we meet face-to-face, or ear-to-ear rather, with cringe-worthy soundscapes. Over the past years, especially with the rise of Bluetooth audio products, there has been a renewed emphasis and interest in the art of sound. For Stockholm-based Transparent, however, delivering high-quality audio isn’t enough anymore, even when it comes in a uniquely designed speaker. Its Small Transparent Speaker, generic as the name may sound (no pun intended), is one of the expressions of the company’s vision of a timeless product, both in terms of design and as well as in use.
Nothing says Scandinavian design than minimalist looks, clean lines, and no extraneous visual elements. The Transparent Speakers embody that aesthetic perfectly, and the Small model in white almost takes that to perfection. Combining a white-coated aluminum frame and a clear tempered glass enclosure, the Small Transparent Speaker is both designed to almost disappear into the background while ironically putting audio front and center.
Also available in a black finish, the see-through speaker can match almost every home design, at least if you want to really put it on display. While it is primarily designed to be placed on a flat surface, it also comes with wall mounts to let you hoist it up in the air, giving the illusion of a floating soundbox. The beauty of the Small Transparent Speaker’s design and smaller size is that it can figuratively and literally fit anywhere, and it wouldn’t look out of place.
Of course, there are parts of the speaker that are completely opaque, but those, too, are tastefully executed with a Scandinavian touch. Aside from the two large 3-inch drivers, the only other noticeable items on its face is the 3.5mm audio input, the volume knob, an old-school flip switch for power, and an LED indicator made to match the appearance of the audio jack. Everything else, such as the cables and ports that drive the speaker, is conveniently hidden from view, accessed through a bottom compartment.
While many dig the clean, minimalist look most often associated with Scandinavian designs, others will also point out how they sometimes give off a cold and harsh vibe. You probably can’t get colder and harsher than aluminum with sharp edges, and that might be the impressions your hands get when first touching the speaker. Fortunately, you probably won’t be doing that often with your bare hands, even when setting it up for the first time.
While the Small Transparent Speaker’s size makes it more conducive to be carried around wherever its services are needed, the design doesn’t exactly make it convenient to do so. Not only does it lack any handles or carrying mechanism, the glass enclosure pretty much makes it sure that touching the surfaces is a huge no-no, unless you want to spend a lot of time wiping smudges off the glass. As if anticipating that problem, Transparent actually ships its Transparent speakers with white gloves for handling the product.
Using the speaker couldn’t be easier, as we’ll soon see, especially if you’re the type to rely on wireless audio sources most of the time. You do have the traditional 3.5mm input jack on the front, but any other audio source has to go through the Small Transparent Speaker’s bottom. This is something to keep in mind if you regularly add new sources of content or expansion modules, as it will require handling the speaker’s frame every single time.
Some audio experts and speaker manufacturers might think Transparent has gone insane for choosing glass as its primary surface material. While it’s definitely mesmerizing to watch the speakers vibrate while they are seemingly suspended in the air, there will be concerns about speaker quality being compromised because of the glass. Fortunately, that is definitely not the case, and the Small Transparent Speaker can get very loud without showing any problems from either the speaker or its glass enclosure.
Audio quality is also excellent, although not exactly the faithful studio reproduction that Transparent advertises. Vocals and high tones are clear and crisp, but while the bass is solid and full, it lacks a bit of punch. That’s probably to be expected in a speaker of this size, and its focus on vocals and higher tone ranges seems almost fitting for its design roots.
The Small Transparent Speaker is primarily a wireless audio sink, and it supports quite a number of sources, including Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay, Google Cast, and Amazon Echo. It also has a “True Wireless” feature that lets you pair two Small Transparent Speakers to better fill up the room if needed. For everything else, the 3.5mm jack and USB port beneath the speaker provides expansion options, and Transparent even sells its own Wi-Fi module to create a multi-room audio system with other Transparent speakers.
The Small Transparent Speaker is more than just a design or audio statement. It’s also a lifestyle statement that makes sustainability the very reason for its existence. Although it hasn’t reached a point where it can use recycled materials to build its products, everything else about the speaker is designed for maximum longevity. In fact, the choice of aluminum and glass isn’t just to give it a timeless look but also to give it an almost timeless life.
Transparent’s speakers are designed to be repaired, and the company even provides instructions on how to take apart the speaker if necessary. Granted, you probably won’t be replacing those parts yourself unless you’re an expert, and even then, you’ll probably need access to replacement parts that fit the speaker’s design and specs. The company, unfortunately, doesn’t provide those.
If there is one hitch to Transparent’s sustainability efforts is that it doesn’t make it easy for owners to do the repairs on their own. In a nutshell, repairing or replacing a broken speaker involves contacting the company and sending the item back to them. While it does ensure that parts are properly disposed of and recycled, it might also discourage all but the strongest believers in the company’s mission to provide long-lasting products.
The Small Transparent Speaker currently costs 500 EUR, and you’ll find US retailers like B&H Photo and Video selling it for $550. For a Bluetooth speaker with very basic functionality, that might sound a tad overpriced. For a designer product as beautiful as this, it’s almost worth every cent. Still, it’s quite a hefty investment that might give some people pause.
In the end, however, you are paying for more than just the product and the design. You are also investing in Transparent’s vision for the future of consumer products. More than just something beautiful and functional, the company is pushing for a new model of business where everything is transparent, including the processes involved in making a product.
The Small Transparent Speaker might be smaller than the original, but it is also better in its own ways. The more compact design hides all but the essentials, including the components that actually drive the speakers. Despite its diminutive size, it delivers high-quality audio for almost every type of music, although you might forgive it for lacking a bit of oomph on the lower range. Its ability to expand its features makes sure that it will be useful even as new technologies come and go, as long as they work with a 3.5mm audio jack and a USB-A port.
The speaker’s value, however, goes beyond its utility and its looks. It may even go beyond its lifetime. Although it’s still a few steps short of its sustainability goals, Transparent is definitely making a bold change in the right direction, making the Small Transparent Speaker a truly one-of-a-kind product that bares its soul for everyone to see, literally and figuratively.