Archive for December, 2012

The Damson Twist

December 7, 2012

It sounds like a great idea: a truly pocketable loudspeaker that will Bluetooth to your phone and give you great music wherever you go.

Many so-called “pocket speakers” have crossed my desk over the years, and some have even been good enough to be worth taking on trips. Not exactly audiophile quality, you understand, but just the job if you’re in a bath in a Munich hotel and fancy listening to the Archers over the Internet.

But I don’t bother with that any more. The astounding volume and quality of the tiny speakers built into today’s smartphones means that you don’t see much of an improvement unless you invest in a much bigger Bluetooth audio delivery device like the Gear4 Streetparty Wireless. It’ll take up no more room than a pair of shoes in your suitcase, but pocketable it certainly isn’t.


Samson Twist (left) with the Gear4 Streetparty

But now along comes the Damson Twist to confound me. The aim of the device (and in a moment I’ll come to how successfully it fulfills that aim) is to deliver the quality and volume of a Streetparty class speaker, but in a form-factor that can be packed inside a shoe, along with a pair of socks.

The small cylinder that makes up the Twist is in two articulated sections: rotate the top to the left to switch on Bluetooth and to the right if you’re going to connect the Twist to the music source through the audio cable provided. There’s also an arrangement that I didn’t check out for wiring two Twists together as a stereo pair. Charging is through a standard micro-USB socket.

The design trick that UK start-up Damson has come up with to get a big sound from this tiny unit isn’t exactly new. Just build the transducer, the part that turns changes in electrical current into vibrations, and leave out the bulky speaker cone and the structure needed to contain it.

The resulting device is effectively a pocket vibrator that is more-or-less inaudible. Until – and here’s the trick – you put it on top of a resonating surface like your hotel bedside table. The transducer drives the table surface as if it were the missing speaker cone, and if you turn your phone up to full volume (the Twist has no volume control of its own) you may soon have the guy in the next room banging on the wall and shouting at you to turn it down.

Yes, the tiny Damson Twist is astonishingly effective, truly one of those toys that will, as they say in the ads, “amaze your friends”. (And confound your enemies – when the guy next door bangs on the wall, nip out into the corridor and hold the Twist against his hotel room door. A door makes a really efficient resonator. It’s just a pity that Damson doesn’t supply a means of fixing the device to a vertical surface).

So much for the decibels, but how good is the audio quality? Here’s the rub. A well-designed speaker has a cone carefully engineered to be efficient and free of unpleasant harmonic resonances. Your average hotel bedside table was designed with no such considerations in mind. So you’ll probably find yourself wandering round the room trying out the Twist on every available flat surface questing for audio purity.

The good news is that provided your expectations aren’t set too high, it shouldn’t beĀ  hard to find an acceptable compromise. You’ll want to clear the surface of objects like keys near the Twist, and you might have to experiment by inching the device around to find the sweet spot on a particular surface.

My experiments suggest that you’ll never attain the sort of full bass you get from a speaker like the Streetparty, but considering its size the Twist can do a remarkably good job.

However, the fly in the ointment is the price. Damson’s currently asking a penny under 80 quid for the Twist. You can pick up the Gear4 Streetparty for around half that.