AT A GLANCE Plus
Impressive build quality
Simple to set up and use
Spacious, full-bodied sound with a kick
No remote control
Not ideal for driving rock
Not practical for use as a soundbar
The little Theatre Box will surprise you with its bold, big sound.
Sinatra is crooning in the background. “I like New York in June, how about you? I like a Gershwin tune, how about you?”
Frankly (sorry, couldn’t resist), I like what I’m hearing from the small box sitting on the filing cabinet in my home office. Impressive how clear and present the Chairman is on this Capitol recording (“How About You?”) released 59 years ago (Songs for Swingin’ Lovers!). Even more impressive, his voice is coming from a speaker that’s about half the size of a shoebox.
Pandora segues to “Thinking Out Loud” from Ed Sheeran’s 2014 chartbuster, X. The bass is palpable; Ed’s soulful voice fills the 12 x 12-foot room. Not bad.
That little blue speaker (also available in black) is the Theatre Box from Silicon Valley startup Acemile, founded by Richard Yan to build “hardware products and software platforms that challenge conventional thinking and exceed expectations.”
My initial impressions certainly exceeded what I expected from such a small speaker—in terms of sound and build quality. Removing the Theatre Box from its gift-box-like white carton was similar to lifting a Belgian block. This thing is solid and well thought out.
Touch controls for phone, mute, track up/down, and volume up/down line its smooth plastic top, which is curved on the sides to meet a wraparound metal-mesh grille that conceals five speakers: a rear-firing 3-inch woofer and four 2-inch drivers, two of them firing forward and one on each side. Along the bottom edge of the back panel are buttons for power and Bluetooth pairing, a minijack input, and a power receptacle for charging its lithium-ion battery, which lasts for upwards of 20 hours.
The Theatre Box uses a proprietary Q3D Holophony algorithm to create a “360-degree 3D surround sound effect, no matter where the listener is in relation to the speaker.” Yan describes it this way: “The system smartly gauges the soundfield space around it and [plays] sound like continuous bubbles. Each layer of these bubbles [is] encoded with directional information.”
I’m not really sure what all that means, but I can tell you I listened to many different types of music in a variety of settings and consistently liked what I heard. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Setting up the Theatre Box couldn’t be easier. I put my Samsung Galaxy S5 phone on top of the NFC icon to the right of the touch controls, and in a matter of seconds, a female voice announced, “Connected.” When I pressed the Bluetooth button to pair the Box with my iPad, same thing.
Music Inside and Out
The Theatre Box is easy to pick up and move around, and it even has a rubberized pad on the bottom so you won’t have to worry about scratching furniture. The owner’s manual suggests using the Box in an indoor space that measures between 15 and 120 square meters (roughly 160 to 1,300 square feet), “without any major obstacles,” and listening from 2 to 7 meters away (6.5 to 23 feet).
I started my audition with Boston’s self-titled debut album, a classic-rock staple that seems to be played almost as much today as when it was occupying the airwaves back in 1976 and ’77. I was struck by how big and spacious the sound was in an open (and very live) 16 x 30-foot kitchen/family-room area. The vocals and acoustic guitar on “Hitch a Ride” were airy and clean, and the raucous guitar solos toward the end sounded just right. (God, I love that song.) Volume wasn’t screaming loud but respectable, and the bottom end had a surprising kick.
I moved the little speaker around both rooms and even brought it outside during a lunch break and was rarely disappointed. Dense, driving rock songs—like Paramore’s “Ignorance” (from 2009’s Brand New Eyes)—suffered from some degree of congestion, but I’ve found that to be the case with most small wireless speakers. Sound was most satisfying when I put the Box on a cabinet in a 12 x 19-foot living room and streamed the soothing, sometimes effervescent indie folk of the Milk Carton Kids from my iPad. The spunky acoustic guitar and tight harmonies on “Undress the World” (from the duo’s 2011 album, Prologue) stretched beyond the speaker with remarkable clarity, and the haunting vocals of “Michigan” summoned goose bumps. Astonishing for such a small speaker.
If you’re streaming music from your phone and a call comes in, no worries. The lady inside announces, “You have an incoming call,” which you can route to the speaker by touching the phone icon. She also announces when the battery is low—a great feature.
Ironically, the Theatre Box is not all that practical for use as a soundbar because there’s no way to remotely control the volume. Even so, I grabbed a stereo-RCA-to-minijack cable and connected it to my cable box to see what it could do. The sound was certainly better than that of the TV’s puny speakers, but it was nothing spectacular. Acemile says a control app is under consideration.
The Theatre Box is an amazing little speaker for casual music listening. It’s dead simple to use and easy to move around, and it delivers delightful sound—especially with acoustic music.