Best answer: While the original Marshall Acton was really good, it's worth going for the latest model for the latest in sound quality, technology, and features.
Amazon: Marshall Acton II Voice w/ Alexa ($300)
Acton II Voice is everything the original should have been
Marshall is one of the music industry's most enduring brands, providing rock bands and pop stars with quality guitar amps and other music equipment. The Marshall of today still likes doing that stuff, but it's also trying to tap into the consumer electronics market.
The most approachable device in that lineup is the Marshall Acton Bluetooth Speaker. It's the smallest in the group at 10 inches wide, 6 inches deep, and towering out at just 5.91 inches. It'll fit on a desk or other entertainment center just fine. It's also light enough to take just about anywhere, coming in at just under five pounds, although this isn't a truly portable speaker since it doesn't use battery power. Don't let its size fool you: the Marshall Acton II can fill a moderate-sized room with quality sound.
Although it hit the market to a warm critical reception, the Marshall Acton was always a bit expensive to be considered an entry-level product. At $250, it approached — and, in some ways, eclipsed — Sonos levels of cost, while at the same time not really being able to match the latest smart speakers on utility and functionality.
Luckily, the Marshall Acton II has enough improvements to warrant a recommendation to increase your budget. While the audio drivers inside the sequel are the same as the original, Marshall hooked this thing up with an upgraded DSP — digital signal processor — for improved sound quality at more extreme levels of the audio spectrum. What this means is that your music should sound better at both lower and higher volumes. Those tunes will go out over a lone 30-watt Class D amp for the woofer and two different 15-watt amps for the tweeter.
More than just audio improvements, however, the Acton II Voice is a lot smarter and more readily-equipped for the assistant-driven world we live in today. This thing comes with Alexa baked in, offering voice control via the same far-field voice recognition technology that you'll find in Amazon Echo devices.
That enables all of the things any other Alexa device can do: use your voice to play your music and use Alexa's thousands of skills to do things like control your smart home or check the weather. Plus, you can use the Marshall Acton II with any other Alexa-enabled smart speaker for a seamless multi-room audio setup.
It all happens over an upgraded Bluetooth 5.0 connection with aptX technology, which gives you up to 30 feet in range and a more reliable and fast connection. It's not just faster in pairing, but also in actual data transfer, which means audio can travel across the air with nary a loss in sound quality.
It's comfortingly familiar
There are more reasons to like the Marshall Acton II. It stays faithful to that old-timey classic design inspired by the serious hardware used in venues across the world. It's aesthetically pleasing and appropriate in that regard, and Marshall pulls its signature look off masterfully.
It goes deeper than aesthetics, though. Marshall includes hardware knobs for treble, bass, and volume. These things can be easily managed through Marshall's excellent EQ app, mind you, but it's nice to have something that adds to the authenticity of it all. In the true spirit of a portable guitar amp, you can forego the fancy wireless connection for a good ol' fashioned 3.5mm input.
A perfect blend of old and new
For just $50 more than the original Acton, you get a very versatile Bluetooth speaker that can play your tunes loud and respond to your every command.
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