I’ve been a huge fan of JAM products since my original HMDX Jam speaker back I’m guessing in 2011/2012. When I heard they had the first, or one of the first third-party speakers with Amazon Alexa integration I jumped at testing it.
This was to be my first playing with a connected smart home operations assistant, and a chance to hear whether the audio has managed to get better from an already impressive lineup of speakers.
So we’ll start with how this setup went. I had some problems initially, which I believe were related to my Bluetooth pairing issues I mentioned earlier in the week. Not the speaker’s fault. After I figured out what was going on I attempted to join the JAM Voice to my network.
I’m currently running a 2.4/5gHz network off of the Amplifi HD I reviewed back here. It’s got band steering, so you join one network and if you’re capable of 5gHz you go there, 2.4 you go there. Shouldn’t be an issue but it is in this case.
The JAM Voice will only work on the 2.4gHz channels. The Bluetooth pairing and app doesn’t pass the SSID of what you want it to connect to, it passes what you’re connected to. In my case my phone always joined my network and got shunted onto the 5gHz channels.
As I saw no way to force a connection to 2.4gHz short of disabling 5gHz at the router, joining it, then re-enabling it, I connected to the ISP’s WiFi which was broadcasting on separate 2.4 and 5 channels.
In use (sound)
So we’ll start with the sound is better than it was in whatever last product I reviewed was. It’s solid, great at slightly higher than reasonable volume but not particularly great at loud. It’ll fill up a room, but that’s about it. It’s a solid and great one room speaker.
In use (Alexa)
It’s not always listening, unlike the ECHO device’s default. So you press a button and then it starts listening. Unfortunately as of the firmware revision I’ve got it doesn’t particularly sense when you’re done, however I don’t have to say “Alexa” before everything.
presses button: <badink>what’s the weather like?
JAM Voice “…………………..the weather in Nashville is <weather>”
presses button: <badink>Where am I?
JAM Voice “………………you are at” address I am not at but that’s 11 miles away from me which is cool
These delays tend to be 2-3 seconds and sort of throw off the flow of asking for and receiving information and I believe they’re caused by the JAM Voice simply not knowing when you’re done speaking.
It feels a little bit like the “OK Google” delay on my phone, but with the added benefit of having to press a button. I sort of wish they would have had it more like an intercom where you just held the button down so that you can let up when you’re done talking rather than attempting to guess when you’re done.
In use (power saving)
Generally power saving I consider useful. Generally. You’ll gather that I’m about to say something here.
Picture this. You turn on your JAM Voice, ask it a question about the weather… oh, Spring has sprung? I can go out in bare feet and soak up the day? OK – walks out to get mail, appreciates the beauty of nature, comes back inside to find out what the news is and oh… it’s turned off.
Flip it, hold power button for three seconds, about 20 seconds later the built in OS chimes that it’s active and another 10-15 seconds later you get a voice telling you that WiFi is active or connected. Every time you walk away from the speaker for 10 minutes or so.
I don’t know how most Alexa users use their speakers, but I’m guessing that it’s usually for a question that would take less than 40 seconds to type out. I had no question that I couldn’t garble out in less time than it takes the JAM Voice to power up and connect.
It doesn’t matter if it’s plugged in or not, and there appears to be no way to set it for always on when plugged in.
The power saving mode in my use scenario looks like it will save somewhere under a buck a year.
In use (volume, hiss?)
I asked another reviewer whether they noted a hiss, which I hear from the speaker constantly. I mean, I think most people aren’t going to notice it, but it’s that low electrical hiss of a powered up speaker. They should really have not put power to the amp until it’s doing something.
I’m also not entirely sure whether this is due to the firmware or due to me having a three year old who might be messing with it, but the volume is always too loud when I turn it on. Wife has said “holy shit that’s too loud” multiple times right after I power the thing up and ask it my first question.
Based on other people’s reviews
I generally try and stay away from other people’s reviews, mostly so I don’t tread the same path they did or enter into testing with any preconceived notions (yes, I head in to review like an idiot, I’m aware.) but here are some highlights from others
In November this was incompatible if you had the Echos or Dot hooked up (would sign them out). This would have been an Amazon issue, and something you should consider – Amazon will probably “accidentally” break third party compatibility right around Black Friday or whenever they want to sell more of their product. Not a reflection on the JAM Voice, just beware the Amazon.
Requires an app to set up and is useless if you’re not using a smartphone. This one is a pretty big deal if you’re getting one for your relatives who only have WiFi for a laptop (eg Jitterbug phones, laptop, gaming system). Lack of PC or Mac setup means you have a smartphone, and if you have a smartphone you can ask Alexa for things on it. Reading some reviews the app requires newer Android than some people had.
As I only have one of these I did not get to test out the paired WiFi speaker modes. Supposedly you can connect up to four speakers and play music over WiFi which would be a pretty sweet deal if you could keep the speakers all turned on and ready.
I’ve got a couple of emails in asking if any of this will be addressed in a firmware update, or perhaps even the ability to use OK Google or Cortana functionality, but for now I’m going to recommend … oy, I hate to say this… never before given a JAM a bad review…
Stay away from it until they get the issues fixed. I can see myself loving it as the hardware and the sound is extremely robust, but the 40 second power on, the 10-15 minute auto power off, the constant drain by powering the speaker, lack of ability to keep itself running when plugged in, it needs work.
I love it as a speaker, seriously JAM can do next to no wrong there. I can see myself loving it as an Alexa accessing device, but that’s going to require a firmware update, and I do not have any information of a timeframe or that they are going to do that.
I’ll update this if they do, I really want this thing to work.
The JAM Voice is available from Amazon for $49.99. It would make a lovely gift if they get the firmware updated.