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Insert Coin: Beacon Audio Blazar Bluetooth speaker brings back Play 360 memories (hands-on)

Joe Pollicino

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In Insert Coin, we look at an exciting new tech project that requires funding before it can hit production. If you'd like to pitch a project, please send us a tip with "Insert Coin" as the subject line.

We called Beacon Audio's Phoenix "our new favorite portable speaker" just over a year ago. Today, the company's taking to Kickstarter to fund the production of its followup: the Blazar. The speaker features a grown-up design wrapped in aluminum (the Phoenix was plastic), with a softball-sized, cube-esque design. The slightly bulky shape allows for 12 hours of battery life, aside from promising big and clean multi-directional sound thanks to two 50mm drivers and a 65mm bass radiator. Beacon's also loaded the speaker with a microphone, NFC and a dual pairing mode for completely wire-free stereo sound between two units -- like Nokia's Play 360.

On top you'll find rubber playback controls, while one side of the unit houses a microUSB input, 3.5mm input and output jacks, power switch and a pairing / mode button. Early-bird pledges of $99 dollars will be available for the first 198 units (split between silver and graphite), followed by an additional 600 priced at $124. Beacon's counting on its artist collaboration editions, however, offering three more colors (500 pieces each) at $134 with Neon Trees, AWOLNATION and Halestorm. If you're up for the risk, Beacon plans to ship all orders by December 1st. Join us past the break for some impressions with pre-release units.

Gallery: Beacon Audio Blazar (hands-on) | 8 Photos

There's no way around it, the Blazar seems much like an unofficial followup to Nokia's Play360 speakers -- and it's not necessarily a bad thing. Volume is plentiful and clear, however, the loudness-focused voicing leaves mids sounding thin. Its bottom-loaded bass port is great for loads of sub-bass, but the sound simply isn't even across the full range. Our initial concern here is that much smaller speakers, like the Beats Pill, put out a similar quality of audio, making us expect noticeably thicker results from the Blazar. Beacon has the speaker priced for $149 when it hits retail, meaning wire-free stereo sound (which worked without much fuss) will run you $300 -- a price point loaded with many other viable options, from Jawbone, Braven, JBL and others. All said, we can't fuss as much at the $99 early-bird special, so perhaps the early-bird audio connoisseur will indeed get the worm.

Previous project update: Canary, a one-stop shop for securing your home, has surpassed its $100,000 goal, raking in $346,573 with 35 days remaining.

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