Marshall Emberton – A brand Extension Gone Right

There is something about the Marshall logo that makes me happy. Perhaps it’s the familiarity of that iconic cursive font that’s appeared on countless album covers just casually in the backdrop like an afterthought, to some of my favourite artists.  Maybe it’s the joy of seeing a stack of Marshall amps on stage like the 1962 JTM-45 tube amp or the Marshall Super 100; amps that have been used by every axman under the stars at some point, including Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. I am almost positive that some bands have these vintage Marshall amps on stage just for the look. Seeing the Marshall logo at a live performance is as synonymous as the smell of weed in the audience, to knowing that you’re about to have a good time. Man, how I miss live shows in this madness of Covid and even more so now that my favourite bands are touring again in the States.  Here I am stuck in Ontario; if we are really good and follow all the rules, we might just get lucky enough to sit on a patio this summer.

The rubber exterior offers great grip

When Marshall sent me their new Emberton portable Bluetooth speaker to take for a spin, I was less than thrilled.  I didn’t even open it, thinking that some crap marketing team probably just slapped that beautiful logo on a box hoping that nostalgic saps like me would take the bait and buy it.  Oh, how many times we have seen legacy brands like Altec Lancing and Victrola sabotaged from some bad licensing deal where the product capitalizes on the brand, without respecting it.

I didn’t want the disappointment of being let down and my lifetime of concerts brought to life by Marshall being eroded by some brand extension gone wrong.  Embarrassingly, Marshall’s product manager had to put through a bunch of calls to me asking what I thought of the speaker, knowing full well it was still in the box.  “Will you just F&^$%g listen to it?”  Fine.  So, a couple days ago I opened the box.

This is now a story of why preconceived judgements should not turn you into a close-minded jerk.  “Be open to new ideas, try new things John….” Now I’m going to have to grovel and beg Marshall for forgiveness.  This little speaker is a gem.

First things first:  Taking the Marshall Emberton out of the box, you will find no excessive plastic – no plastic bags, no accessories in mini Ziplock bags ready for the garbage.  90% of the packaging is recyclable cardboard.  Oh how the oceans would sing if all consumer tech companies got rid of superfluous plastic.  If you believe in first impressions, then the Emberton is a charmer in the way he dresses, and no plastic tells me this is a company that cares!  

Second thing:  I really have no idea how this is accomplished, but as soon as I pulled the Marshall Emberton out of its box, the speaker did a two second guitar riff and then went directly into pairing mode with a red LED battery indicator and power light coming on.  You know when the lights go off and the concert is about to start and all you can see before the band takes the stage are the red power lights of the gear?  It’s that kind of excitement!  Talk about playing to your history. Open up Bluetooth and there, confidently in all caps no less, is the word EMBERTON.  From out-of-the-box to playing tunes in under 45 seconds.  

A grab from John Mayer’s Instagram.

Third thing:  I have been searching Google for Marshall amp images for the good portion of a morning and the Emberton is a beautifully proportioned scaled-down replica.  A big bold Marshall logo in white over a stainless fenced grill, rounded edges and a gold accent toggle and of course those lights, all play to the legacy of the Marshall look.  The company has rubberized the exterior which came in handy to anchor the speaker to the dash of a golf cart, where I did a four-hour test on a 33 degree Celsius day.  Let me back up for a second;  never in a million years have I thought of listening to music on a golf course before  but that seems what the kids are doing and my daughters were my golf partners. So, etiquette be damned, our Marshall speaker took front and center at Granite Ridge GC and my game was better for it!

Fourth Thing:  The sound.  I have to say, when legacy brands like JBL, Klipsch, Cambridge Audio and of course Marshall, get into the Bluetooth speaker game, I feel a little worried for them as the bar is set so high that the sound stage has to be great.  Mess up a Bluetooth speaker and you mess up your history.  Marshall must feel the same way as the Emberton utilizes Marshall’s multi-directional true stereo sound stage, to create a bass rich, 360 degree listening experience.  Marshall calls this ‘True Stereophonic’ with the intention that the sweet spot is wherever you find yourself vs. directly in front of the speaker.  The Emberton is less than a kilogram in weight, but it feels solid with heft.  Unlike some of the other portables we have reviewed, this speaker is backpack ready and fits easily into the palm of your hand.  For such a small footprint she’s loud!  While I certainly would never do this on a golf course, I did play the Emberton at full volume on a four-minute song and experienced no distortion or muddy bass crackles.  My guess is that this speaker will be purchased mostly as a near field listening device, joining you next to your Muskoka chair on the dock or on your desk and it will most likely spend most of its happy life at mid-volume delivering clear detailed sound.

It’s gotta be tough being in the Bluetooth speaker business.  How do you possibly stand apart in a crowded market and give yourself a unique identifier?  Well, Marshall manages that by playing on a company legacy that spans six decades.  In the same way that Marshall amps being on a live stage provide authenticity and credibility to the touring artists, that Marshall logo on the Emberton speaker also gives legacy cred and it feels authentic .  If you’re going to bring out a Bluetooth speaker and badge it with one of the biggest names in music, you had better deliver and Marshall does.  What a turn of fate: Marshall’s product manager bugging me to open the box and give the Emberton a try and now she’s going to have to bug me all summer to remember to return it!  This little speaker is a gem and a keeper.  $219 MSRP. 20 hours battery life. Four colours.  Distributed in Canada by Erikson Consumer.