Friday, 6 November 2015

Marshall SmartPhone Review by Max Peshkof

It seems strange that a renowned name of products truly soaked in all sweet glory of rock’n’roll throughout the peaks and troughs of time have gone this far as to making something truly out-of-the-blue. From legendary guitar amps through to quality headphones {no, beats, you will never get my approval}, here is the new Marshall ‘London’, a piece of technology truly in a class of its own. Alternatively with the model reference code KB-1501, this doesn’t pack a 15” cone within, but however it does pack plenty of other surprises that’ll overshadow an over-sized Celestion!

After nearly four weeks of owning it, let’s clarify something beforehand to make my opinion on this phone more credible: my last phone that I possessed until its near zombie-like slow-paced functionality for over 6 years was a Nokia N-8, a truly surprising phone in durability as I have broken more bones during that space of time than this phone has suffered at all! That isn’t to say it didn’t have problems: despite an awesome ahead-of-its-time 12MP camera, the sound was a tad sharp especially when played with music that has high gain guitars. This may prompt some of you as being picky, but when it comes to listening to everything for its production values, even cables and the functionality of a circuit board make whole lot of difference in the sound itself when you hear it!

Lastly to support my direction of opinion, know that I’m a tech-head who doesn’t need the newest and latest gadgets and/or a camera, portable player and/or something else small and techy to fill all my pockets. I’m perfectly happy with a single portable device than can manage it all fairly well, especially when it comes to music!

SO now we can dive into the outer crust of this new phone that’s gotten rock-heads like myself all curious and the first thing you’ll notice is the looks; Marshall have truly hit all design spots perfectly like a Harley Fatboy or Breakout, as from every angle, back and front this item’s a beaut to look at! But its beauty isn’t fragile, as the screen, unlike most expensive smartphones, doesn’t stretch all the way to the edges. The material around is a tougher rubber that provides grip and durability, making this a phone that shouldn’t crack on the first accidental drop {so far so good!}. Smaller details like the brassed-up volume push-roller on the side, the edges of the TWO {not one!} sockets for headphones and the M-button add a great familiar look to those familiar with the name and its signature looks! I’m absolutely LOVING the fact this phone opens up and the battery when used and abused can be swapped for another all caps ‘LONG LIVE ROCK’N’ROLL’ battery! The cover to shield the battery from all outer elements of evil has a faux-leather feel to it with the famous Marshall white logo to display itself gloriously.

The second layer down into this phone is what some of the first buttons do at a push so we’ll keep this short:
Black Button {left side of front above push roller}
Long push opens power down options; short pushes switch the screen on and off
Push Roller:
Rolls ringing volume up and down when no music playing, and sets to volume control when music is playing; push of the button switches the camera on.

M-Button {top central between mini-jack sockets}:

A long hold switches the surprisingly bright flash-sourced LED flashlight on: A short single push takes you directly to your music player’s initial menu, from which you choose your music’s source {LOCAL is for hard-drive based files and the rest speak for themselves}.

The handling of this phone is certainly not what I call problematic; it works very smoothly with its Lollypop Android software, and a few self-chosen apps on it function perfectly on it such as frequency detection thanks to an apparently very decent microphone! A couple of hiccups when some other apps were downloaded and turned on, like a popular community GPS that is used by a road dog such as myself when navigating through the streets of the city of London. The support, however, were very speedy in response and hope the developers of said program will make it work with the next upgrade. Other small issues do pop up if walking with a small bit of rain in the air {fish, chips, cop o’ tea, bad food, WORSE weather, Mary f*cking Poppins, LONDON!} as you’d expect in the UK’s capital (?). The only thing that cracks me about smart phones is the lack of buttons, as any teenager back in my days could speed-text without even looking at the phone, having memorized which buttons sport which letters of the alphabet. This may be the very reason people walk around with their eyes on their phones as one simply cannot write a simple text without having to see where the letters are positions across the screen.

Now we’re approaching the outer mantle under the crust and things are starting to get hot! As a musician when being told some rumors such as this device being the ‘loudest phone on Earth’ one would be curious enough to crank up the volume and see what it’s got, and to be fair Marshall weren’t lying. Music, sound clips and audio fire out clean and loud from this phone with very little signs of compression in audio when cranked up full!

A sweet little tester to check the phone’s reverse transducers to the speakers is by hitting the chunky Elvis microphone logo in the M-button menu, taking you to a recording app with a nice old-school VU meter. Even a shout into this microphone doesn’t return back as distortion, but rather a nice clear LOUD clip in playback. I’m starting to really like how this thing sounds so far, but that’s just the speakers for you. We’ll dive into the next layer deeper.

At the inner mantle you have the music player, which at first needs some orientation to play with, as it’s not exactly a very easy start for someone like me. Uploading all 40{ish} GB of my music onto a larger micro-SD card didn’t take very long thankfully and I see that the card needed mounting before sliding it into its new home within the phone. After a few minutes, a few updates {as that’s what is consistent with these kind of phones – updates, updates, updates (warned my girlfriend to me!)} and a restart all my songs showed up on the phone. There were a few little mix-ups, such as my AAC conversions of my Forrest Gump OST on 2 CDs being compilations, and rather than split all artists separately they tend to stick with the same artist, but the albums do organize themselves in their given section. I nowadays like a shuffle through all my tracks, which makes for one VERY interesting selection of music, from movie soundtracks through to seismic thrash metal, mellowing out with some warm groovy Nuevo Latino, washed away by some epic orchestrals, coloured out by funk etc.

Marshall’s music player has several interesting touches to it that makes it all the more interesting. The first is the bass booster, and I know many are betting that this will take everything to frequencies up to 200 Hz and knock it up harshly, causing everything to get muddy. To those who thought so, I may have to disagree with you, as this booster has a level that can be set to your own preference, so rather than pummel your ears with overly dark frequencies, you can adjust it to a nice subtle 13% to knock up the low end a little. And the way this is done sounds incredibly clever! If I compare my current Shure S535 in-ear monitors to the newer more advanced SE846 monitors {which sound as is subs were stuffed into such small earphones!} one would desire to hear that low end. The booster is a perfect substitute to crank up the low end a little, but I only recommend a little i.e. no more than 20%!

The equalizer is also very powerful on the low-end spectrum as well, but I usually keep my frequency settings flat as to hear out the production of an album in light of pursuing the dream career in the studio. The equalizer also remains untouched considering the fidelity of my earphones, but the {surprisingly decent sounding!} Marshall Mode earphones that come with the London could do with a tiny touch of EQ {off the top of my head a little less high end to soften the sound and a light pull down on the low end, with a few tweaks to get that mid-range back in balance}.
It’s a shame I didn’t manage to get the phone during pre-sale as it would’ve come with a pair of Marshall Monitor headphones, cited as their flagship cans. But moving on, it’s about to get interesting so keep on reading!

Now here is the most important part of the review and when it comes to studio cats like myself who’ve pushed for the masters’ degree I hope I’ll understand and help explain to you readers what I’m really on about! The core of this technological looker lies far from looks and operation; it’s when you plug your headphones in and press play. Unlike probably any other phone manufacturer, the last priority, usually it being the sound card, was Marshall’s first! It features a dedicated sound card, a Wolfson WM8281 Audio Hub to be more precise. This is an entirely separate processor when playing music, which already makes it hard not to have great expectations. To test this sound quality perfectly we’ll need something that really packs a complex set of sounds and phenomenal production to make all these sounds distinguishable. I switch away from the Marshall Mode earphones that came with the phone and rather use my Shure SE-535 plugged though my ADL upgrade cable and hope for some distinct change. 

The moment comes, and I hit play. The sound is instantly thicker, chunkier, clearer and far more pleasant that I thought! The low end has opened up providing a wider spectrum to focus on, and the top end is not only airier but far less sharp in sound. Everything sounds a lot more contained and with such quality one’s ears open to new little details that often get missed out by sabotaged audio quality. You may even hear things that you didn’t even know about previously!

This is where I stand and applaud to what has been created: Marshall has outdone any other manufacturer and has brought out a wonderful sounding portable music player that just happens to also be a decent working smartphone that calls, texts, allows other apps to expand its use and help anybody requiring that potable pocket computer for various errands. The quality that comes out during listening to the music is one to really enjoy, and the fact that the speakers don’t even really crack or distort during some showcases, like watching a good laugher off the Internet. The Father of Loud Jim himself would’ve been proud of this major achievement in such a small package format!

Review by Max Peshkof