Style and sound in one small package

With the Marshall Middleton portable Bluetooth speaker, you can be a real dandy in the looks department while also being a connoisseur when it comes to the music

By Anirban Bagchi

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Published: Tue 24 Oct 2023, 4:17 PM

You wear a tweed jacket, worsted trousers, perhaps even a cap of tartan or checkered fabric, your feet are shod in tanned Oxfords or Brogues, and you tell the time by a hand-wound chronograph strapped to your wrist. You go on picnics with sandwiches, scones and lemonade packed into a wicker basket. And you take a turntable and 78rpm records with you for your portable music while on said picnic.

The Marshall Middleton is the speaker for you — albeit only design-wise — that you take to your picnic, swinging by its strap from your hand.


The Marshall Middleton is an anachronism in its design. In this time of the iPhone 15, its looks are like a rotary-dial, fixed land phone. But that is only a visual contrast, no more than skin deep. For under its rubberised faux leather covering, its vintage wire-mesh grill, equally vintage bronzed font for the Marshall logo, and its rubber-masquerading-as-leather strap for carrying, this portable Bluetooth speaker is as cutting edge as the best ones out there – perhaps even more so.

True to its naming convention of using traditional British sounding names for its speakers, Marshall has christened this middle-of-the-range offering in its stable as the Middleton, to go with such names as Emberton, Stanmore, Woburn and such others. But the word ‘middle’ in Middleton describes only this speaker’s position in the range – there is nothing else that is “middle” about it. Instead, it’s all “tops”.


Let’s take the build quality for starters: Marshall is a legendary name in the world of guitar speakers and amplifiers, and it carries its legacy through to its modern Bluetooth portable and home speaker range. From the moment you unbox the Middleton, its pedigree shows through – in fact, even before.

While this portable Bluetooth speaker is a small one, it still throws its weight around – quite literally. Pick up the box that the Middleton comes in and you are instantly struck by how heavy it is, even though you know that the product inside is a small portable speaker no more than 10 inches long, and less than half that in depth and height. In fact, it actually measures a compact 9.06 by 4.29 by 3.74 inches, but it weighs nearly 2kg.

While this might mean that lugging it around by its supplied rubber strap could be a bit cumbersome, the heft does have other very crucial and vital benefits – and that comes to the fore once the speaker starts playing.

But before we come to the music, let’s discuss the build in a bit more detail. Carrying forward Marshall’s retro inspired design language, the Middleton is a work of art. It combines a classic, vintage aesthetic with modern functionality. The grille is adorned with a pattern that pays homage to Marshall’s long and illustrious history in the world of guitars, and the control panel features a large brass-finished button for a touch of class. The speaker’s overall design is a nod to the classic Marshall guitar amps that have graced the world’s biggest stages.

The build quality is robust. It feels like it could survive a mosh pit, which is exactly what you want in a portable speaker. It’s made of a solid metal frame, with rubberised feet that keep it firmly in place.

In the words of Marshall’s marketing cohort, the “Middleton is equally at home in the festival mud, or on your polished sideboard thanks to its iconic yet durable design. And with a rugged IP67 dust and water-resistant build, a bit of rain and dirt won’t get under its skin”.

This marriage of ruggedness and design heritage, which pays homage to the brand’s history, also hides a very modern take in the execution of the Middleton. While holding true to the brand’s iconic design, it also delivers on a more sustainable approach, comprising 55 per cent post-consumer recycled plastic from used electronics, water bottles and automotive light covers, while also being 100 per cent PVC-free.

Sustainable build aside, the Middleton also offers sustained playing time, with its battery providing around 20 hours of portable playtime on a single charge. While this is impressive, given the sound output of the device, what is a tad underwhelming is the 4.5 hours the battery takes to tank up to full charge once it’s given you all that play time.

There is nothing underwhelming about the sound, though. With two 20-Watt and two 10-Watt Class D amplifier drivers and a maximum sound pressure level of 87dB, there is no dearth of loudness. In fact, Marshall’s marketing spiel terms this speaker as “optimised for loud” – a recurring theme in Marshall’s guitar amp history.

No matter how loud it is, though, the heart of the matter for a speaker is the sound quality, not just the volume. This is where Marshall has a storied history, when it comes to creating sound equipment - and the Middleton stays true to that. The Class D amplifier delivered powerful and dynamic sound over the variety of genres that we used to put this speaker through its paces, handling each one with finesse.

Mids and highs are both crystal clear, making vocals and instruments shine, while the device’s weight no doubt aids in its bass output, which has a punch that can fill any room – or picnic spot.

The Eagles’ Hotel California is one of our favourite test tracks, being a song that has a wide sound stage, with the famous guitar riffs, Don Henley’s iconic high-pitched voice and some slick, precision drumming. It’s a number that can test the mettle of many a speaker and is often used as a demo piece in high-end audio showrooms.

Played through the Marshall Middleton, the drums were taut and punchy, and the guitars sparklingly bright without being tinny or crackling in the highs, while the vocals came through to the forefront, not once getting lost or overwhelmed by the instruments as they often do when heard on lesser speakers. There was no distortion even at maximum volume. This speaker is not only loud but maintains its audio quality even when pushed to the limit.

One of the most impressive aspects of the Middleton – and where most similar single or mono speakers that are so much in fashion today fail – is its ability to create a stereophonic, three-dimensional soundstage. Marshall says it utilises True Stereophonic, a unique form of multidirectional stereo sound, in the Middleton to deliver the ultimate immersive experience wherever you wander.

And it seemed to work. Whether I was listening to an intimate acoustic performance or a full-blown rock concert, the speaker’s sound dispersion was nothing short of remarkable. It felt like I was in the middle of the action, and that’s something you don’t often experience with portable speakers. Of course, if you want a more customised sound, there are buttons to adjust the bass and treble on the top of the speaker. Or you can download the app to control the sound wirelessly and tailor it to your discerning ear the way you see fit, but I can wager that you won’t need to, as the speaker’s default sound quality is good enough to not require much fiddling.

Marshall claims a frequency response ranging from 50Hz to 20,000Hz on the Middleton. Being used to larger and more capable stereo speakers, I take that figure with a pinch of salt, especially the lower one – for it seems to be a stretch to imagine that such a small speaker could offer the low frequency response that much larger ones struggle to deliver. But the sound nearly backs that claim up. And if you feel it does not, then Marshall offers the Stack mode that allows you to connect multiple Middleton speakers and amplify the sound with a multi-speaker ‘Stack’ session. Stack them up or spread them out for a colossal sound that fits whatever space you’re in.

With all its features and impeccable sound quality, the Dh1,349 that the Marshall Middleton comes at may seem reasonable at first, but when you consider that it’s at the higher end of the market for a speaker of this size, then it may not seem the most budget-friendly portable speaker out there, especially when some competitors are level-pegging in terms of sound quality. But if you’re a music enthusiast who values both style and substance, as well as build quality, then the Marshall seems to be worth its premium price tag with its combination of all three.

In the final analysis, this is a speaker that, with its design, makes you feel like a real dandy as you lug it around, and also a music producer when you listen to its pure sound. The Marshall Middleton has the looks that make it seem like it wants to be taken for a picnic with cucumber and mint sandwiches, but once there, turns it into a party.

Marshall Middleton portable Bluetooth speaker

Hits:

- Great sound

- Stylish design

- Build quality

Misses:

- Heavy for a portable speaker

- A tad expensive

Price:

Dh1,349

Rating: 4 stars


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