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Marshall Middleton review: Certainly not middle of the road

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : 270
inc. VAT

The Marshall Middleton is an excellent medium-sized Bluetooth speaker that’s only held back by its price and battery life

Pros

  • Crisp, bassy sound
  • Attractive design
  • Durable, waterproof build

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Average battery life

The Marshall Middleton might be larger than your average portable Bluetooth speaker but in return for that heft, you get impactful audio the majority of its rivals can’t muster. Packed into a stylish and durable design, there’s not much to dislike about the Middleton so long as you can stomach its price.

Marshall Middleton review: What do you get for the money?

The Marshall Middleton will set you back a decent chunk of cash – £270 at the time of writing – and is the bigger, more powerful sibling of the Emberton II, which costs £150.

Like the rest of Marshall’s speaker lineup, the Middleton draws inspiration from the brand’s illustrious guitar amp manufacturing heritage. The speaker, which is available in Black and Brass or Cream colourways, comprises an attractive rubberised casing and rock-solid grille with gold accents to add a touch of visual flair. An IP67 rating certifies it dustproof and able to withstand up to 30 minutes immersed in water, while 55% of the housing is made from post-consumer recycled plastic, which is commendable.

Inside the Middleton are two 3in 15W woofers and two 3/5in 10W tweeters; a big step up from the two 10W full-range drivers found in the Emberton II. It’s further aided by a pair of passive radiators, with the whole setup powered by four class-D amplifiers. Marshall states the frequency response as 50Hz–20KHz, while wireless and wired connection options are covered by Bluetooth 5.1 and a 3.5mm auxiliary input. Bluetooth codec support is limited to SBC, which means Apple users miss out on AAC.

You can customise the default sound of the Middleton using the bass and treble buttons located on top of the speaker or via the same options in the Marshall Bluetooth app. Sitting beside those physical controls is a multidirectional knob to control playback, volume and power, as well as a Bluetooth pairing button and a multipurpose indicator bar. On the back of the speaker, you’ll find the 3.5mm aux input as well as an input/output USB-C port so you can charge up your other devices using the speaker’s battery if necessary.

With dimensions of 230 x 95 x 109mm (WDH) and weighing 1.8kg, the Marshall Middleton isn’t the most portable Bluetooth speaker around. There is a carrying strap included, which makes transporting it a little easier, but for longer trips you’ll probably want to stick it in a bag.

Also included is a USB-A to USB-C charging cable. One full charge will take four-and-a-half hours and bank you a reported 20 hours of listening time at moderate volume. That’s ten hours less than the Emberton II, but fast-charging capabilities that bag you two hours of playback from just 20 minutes connected to the mains go some way to alleviating any serious battery life concerns.

The Middleton doesn’t have a built-in microphone, so you won’t be able to hail a voice assistant or take calls via the speaker, but you do get access to Marshall’s “Stack Mode”, which allows you to sync audio across compatible Marshall speakers.

Marshall Middleton review: What do we like?

The benefit of the Middleton’s size is that it’s able to deliver big sound, and I was thoroughly impressed by its crisp sonic output.

Most notable was its low-frequency reproduction. Bass proved some of the most beguiling I’ve experienced from a portable Bluetooth speaker, eliciting strong vibrations across my lounge as the warbling sub bass frequencies of Zoë Mc Pherson’s “Potentials” rang out. There’s of course a limit to low-frequency depth but the Middleton was still able to produce tub-thumping sound that filled both indoor and outdoor spaces very effectively. And while some speakers suffer a loss of bass power and clarity at lower volumes, the Middleton delivered a punchy low-frequency response at just 20% volume.

Despite the bass being the star of the show, it doesn’t completely steal the limelight. Mid-range and treble frequencies were distinctive and defined, allowing vocals and instruments to hold their own across a gamut of genres including jazz and rock. There was next to no distortion at moderate volumes, and the speaker goes so loud that I rarely needed to push it beyond 60% volume. The Middleton also benefits from Marshall’s “True Stereophonic” technology, a proprietary form of multi-directional sound. Though the presentation could be cleaner when you’re positioned to the far left or right of the speaker, it’s an admirable attempt at creating a 360-degree soundstage.

Should you want to alter the sound to your tastes, you’ll find the Middleton’s EQ controls to be simple yet highly effective. At low to moderate volumes, the difference in bass response between the lowest bass level (1) and the highest (10) was dramatic, moving from barely discernible to room-shaking. The same can be said of the treble control, with each level making a noticeable difference to the impact frequencies further up the spectrum have on the soundstage.

The bass-heavy default tuning won’t be for everyone, but you’re given the tools to ensure that you can create a well-balanced sound no matter what genre of music you’re listening to. The most energetic moments of “East Hastings” by drone rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor, for instance, sounded best with bass dialled down below five and treble boosted to help give the electric guitars greater prominence.

If you already own a compatible Marshall speaker or are willing to splash some extra cash, the Stack Mode will definitely come in handy. This allows you to pair the Middleton with other Marshall speakers and enjoy a bigger, more enveloping sonic experience with devices positioned up to 10m apart. Marshall says the technology supports the use of up to 30 speakers simultaneously, though sadly this wasn’t a claim I was able to test as I was only sent one.

Marshall Middleton review: What could be improved?

It speaks to the quality of the Marshall Middleton that I’ve not got many complaints to talk about here.

Total battery life is probably its most underwhelming aspect. The stated 20 hours is reasonable, but I’m not convinced many people will get close to that, as I ran out of charge around the 12-hour mark. That was at fairly loud volumes, however, so your mileage in this regard will vary.

The implementation of Bluetooth multipoint could be smoother, too. The Middleton connected to two devices without issue but won’t switch sources automatically based on which one is playing audio; you have to pause audio on one device before it will start playing on the other.

Given how much the Middleton costs, you might expect a few extra bells and whistles, too. Wi-Fi connectivity is found on cheaper speakers such as the Sonos Roam, a microphone would be handy for speakerphone or voice assistant usage, while a fully customisable EQ would be preferable to the bass and treble options available. Higher-resolution codec support wouldn’t go amiss, either.

Marshall Middleton review: Should you buy it?

Marshall isn’t breaking new ground with the Middleton, but this is a Bluetooth speaker that covers familiar terrain very adeptly. Audio is weighty, precise and fills rooms with ease, while the build is eye-catching and well protected against the elements. Those qualities make it an impressive performer I’m happy to recommend.

The Middleton does occupy a slightly awkward place in the market, however. Its size means it’s not likely to be many people’s take-anywhere pick, and the absence of a microphone leaves it with less functionality than some of its competitors. It’s also quite expensive, but if it falls within your budget, you’ll be very taken by both its audio and aesthetic charms.

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