Summer’s coming! Parties, picnics, barbecues! Prancing about in stupid shorts! But you don’t want to scamper off to the park without a decent portable Bluetooth speaker in your non-beer-carrying hand… so might that speaker be the new Marshall Tufton? It quite possibly should be.
After half a century of making mostly guitar amplifiers, it seems Marshall is now handing an increasingly large slice of product pie to its ‘lifestyle’ division – and wireless speakers, most of them with a nod or two to the styling of those classic amps, are leading the way. This one isn’t as tech-packed as some – no Alexa or Google Assistant, no multiroom smarts – but it does have the modern equivalent of Nigel Tufnel’s favourite Marshall: by normal Bluetooth speaker standards, it goes up to 11 at least.
How loud are we talking, exactly? Well, you’re getting a woofer powered by one 40-Watt Class D amp, two full-range drivers (15W each) and a tweeter (10W), plus an extra rear-facing driver for 360° sound, all in a bass-ported cabinet that weighs almost 5kg. On paper, then, loud enough that you should probably give the cat five minutes’ warning.
By the way, why’s it called the Tufton? We don’t know. Other models have referred to key places in the life of company founder Jim Marshall – born in Acton, treated for childhood TB in Stanmore, sold his first amp in Hanwell – but if the late ‘Father of Loud’ has any link to the sleepy Hampshire village of Tufton, we’re yet to find it.
This speaker may not be a lightweight but it is genuinely portable: the leather strap makes it easy to swing around, and we’re promised at least 20 hours of mains-free music. And while the vertical format rules out any kind of stereo spread, at least you can pop it down on a picnic blanket knowing the sound isn’t going to be blocked by a pile of tuna sandwiches.
There’s not much else to say about the design, because it’s a pretty simple black box. The volume knob doubles as a power switch, clicking neatly on and off at zero, and you also get controls for bass and treble. On the left of the panel is the pairing button; on the right is an extremely handy ten-LED battery gauge.
An IPX2 rating means it won’t mind being caught in a shower but will mind being dropped in the sea. This makes sense because, while the charging port has a silicone flap to keep water out, there’s a big old bass-enhancing reflex port just a couple of inches off floor level – we hate to think what would happen if that flooded.
CONNECTIVITY: HAPPY HOLIDAYS
The Tufton is up to speed with Bluetooth 5.0, and has a stated range of 30 feet (about 9m). We paired it up with an Android phone and an iMac, and had no hassles connecting with either or switching from one to the other.
There’s also an aux input for those who still remember what a 3.5mm stereo jack plug looks like… and that’s about it for connectivity. This section’s a bit short, isn’t it?
SOUND: SOMETHING BIG
We should probably do this in serious hi-fi review language, using words like ‘engaging’ and ‘compelling’ and gushing over how well the Tufton copes with all different kinds of Simply Red record. But all you really need to know is that it’s good and it’s loud, with a more convincingly solid bottom end than we’ve ever heard from a portable Bluetooth speaker.
It isn’t all about that bass, though: while the kick drum thumps away with controlled power, there’s also plenty of space in the mid-range, and the tweeter will keep things fresh up top as long as it’s turned up past halfway. The sound from the single rear driver is understandably less lively, but it’s still perfectly adequate – the people sitting round the back aren’t missing out on much, except maybe tinnitus.
What’s perhaps most surprising is how much more refined this thing sounds than the similar-sized (and perfectly decent) Marshall Stanmore II Voice. The Tufton may lack that model’s enhanced connectivity options, but it easily makes up for that in tonal purity as well as portability.
BATTERY LIFE: THROUGH THE NIGHT SOFTLY
What of that claimed 20 hours of battery life, then? Well, it’s not really true. We got closer to 30.
Admittedly, our optimum stamina results came after streaming quite a lot of extra-quiet snooker commentary from iPlayer; but even when it’s pumping out music at neighbour-distressing levels, the battery LEDs on this thing just don’t want to go out.
Charging time is good too: we got from zero to full in less than the claimed 2.5 hours. And it’ll quick-charge for four hours of playing in just 20 minutes – a potential lifesaver if you’re called to an emergency beach barbecue at short notice.
MARSHALL TUFTON VERDICT
Do you sometimes think there are just too many Bluetooth speakers? So do we. But this is surely Marshall’s most worthwhile contribution yet, and offers something you won’t easily find elsewhere: a priceless combination of mains-free portability and properly thumping 360° audio power.
There are better (and cheaper) options if you’re looking for something to play low-level whalesong in the background at your Buddhist reading group; but if you want to party, indoors or out, this thing is Tuf to beat.