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Marshall Kilburn review: The kickass retro speaker that turns the style all the way up to 11

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
200
inc VAT

Stunning looks, plenty of power and a tempting price tag, but the Marshall Kilburn isn’t the most feature-packed speaker

Pros 
Looks fabulous
Plenty of power and bass
Integrated power supply
Cons 
No water proofing
Bluetooth only
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In the hunt for the wow factor, speaker manufacturers have a tendency to let their imaginations run riot. I’ve seen Bluetooth speakers take on the shape of skulls, Stormtroopers, and dogs with sunglasses, to name a few of the more wacky designs. Against this backdrop, the Marshall Kilburn comes as a sophisticated and subtle breath of fresh air.

READ NEXT: The best Bluetooth speakers you can buy

Marshall Kilburn review: What you need to know

Not that it’s understated. Designed to mimic the look and feel of a classic Marshall guitar amp, the Marshall Kilburn is a killer of a retro speaker that pushes all the right buttons. Every detail, from the “vintage style fret” detailing of the front grille and surrounding gold piping to the knurled and heavily damped volume, bass and treble knobs on top, exudes the sort of attention to detail guitar junkies have drooled pathetically over for decades.

And it if looks brilliant, it feels even better. The soft leather-effect vinyl cladding contrasts beautifully with the gold highlights and the classic Marshall logo attached to the front. Even the handle at the top is styled like a guitar strap: it’s wide, topped with black fake leather and has red velour covering the underside to make lugging the speaker around more comfy.

Other than that styling, gorgeous though it is, the Kilburn is as straightforward as Bluetooth speakers get. There’s no support here for fancy features such as Alexa or Google Assistant.

There’s no Wi-Fi capability, either, or advanced Bluetooth features such as AptX or stereo pairing. Just pair your phone over Bluetooth (or plug in via the equally beautifully detailed 3.5mm jack) and you’re ready to rock.

Despite the bling and the basic feature set, though, the Kilburn is satisfyingly effective. The controls, for starters, all beg to be prodded and tweaked.

The heavy-duty power toggle switch, which has a lovely clacky on/off action and the knobs for adjusting bass, treble and volume feel just as tactile – they’re silky smooth and are damped to just the right degree.

Other nice features include an integrated power supply – it plugs into the wall via a straightforward figure of eight mains cable – and a 2,200mAh battery that lasts up to 20 hours. What’s not so nice is that it weighs a fairly hefty 3kg and it isn’t waterproof, so it isn’t the perfect portable speaker.

Sound quality is a mixed bag, too. First, the positives. A total of 40W of power output means there’s plenty of volume and oodles of juicy bass and, if you turn up the treble enough, enough crisp detail to keep you toe-tapping to your favourite tunes.

The bass from this rear-ported bass reflex cabinet is pretty taut, too, and the mid-range is warm and forthright. The Marshall Kilburn is a great speaker for listening to simple pop tunes and jazz numbers.

As is typical of most small speakers, the bass rolls off quite steeply from around 80Hz, so it isn’t capable of producing those really low tones.

Where it starts to really struggle is when the instrument count starts to mount. Big, complex orchestral works and – weirdly, given Marshall’s heritage – heavy rock and metal confound the Kilburn with everything sounding congested and a touch flat. There’s little in the way of instrument separation and its soundstage is quite narrow, too, which doesn’t help.

Marshall Kilburn review: Price and competition

At the Marshall’s original price of £239 is a bit steep, but it’s now only £199 (and even cheaper on Marshall's own website) and at that price, it’s a much more tempting buy.

In fact its competitive with our favourites at around this price. The Dockin D Fine is slightly more powerful, has a bigger 6,600mAh battery and a cheaper £120 price. The Ultimate Ears Blast adds waterproofing, Wi-Fi connectivity and Alexa voice control and costs £100 but isn’t as beefy.

Then there’s the JBL Link 20, which is also waterproof and comes with Google Assistant built in, but again can’t quite match the power of the Marshall Kilburn.

Of course, if it’s the look and feel of the thing drawing you in, none of these rivals can hold a candle to the Kilburn. It’s simply gorgeous and it’s almost worth stumping up the price for those looks alone.

Marshall Kilburn review: Verdict

The Marshall Kilburn isn’t the most brilliant sounding speaker or the most feature-packed at this price. But it’s good enough to justify the new £159 price tag, packing with plenty of power and volume and, for its size, lots of bass and a nicely detailed top end.

Combine that with superb build quality and an absolutely incredible attention to detail and you have a real winner. It’s just a shame that Marshall couldn’t push the sound quality up to 11.

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