STEREO GUIDE verdict
+ Homogeneous sound, differentiated bass
+ Useful room compensation
+ High quality workmanship.
- no battery operation
Sound: Tonal Balance / transparency8.3
Sound: Bass / Dynamics8.2
Ease-of-use / Connectivity8.1
To distinguish the Marshall Acton 3 from its predecessor Acton 2 which we recently reviewed is not an easy task. But it is an important one as both generations are in the stores. In terms of dimensions, weight and performance specifications nothing has changed. Main colour options being black or brown, so no surprise in this regard either. The new Model III can only be recognized by the slimmer brass strip on the front and the somewhat more discreet color variant – such as cream instead of snow-white.
According to the manufacturer, however, a lot has improved in terms of technology and sound. This includes the control logic, but also arrangement and placement of drivers to achieve a wider stereo imaging. Because the Acton remains to be a true one-box stereo speaker for home use. Creating a spatial ambience means quite a challenge for every developer out of a cabinet just 10″ wide. The manufacturer also promises a few hertz lower bass, for which they sacrificed a few decibels in SPL.
Good ol´ feeling plus new transducers
The Acton 3 inherited the excellent impression of workmanship from its predecessor. Detailing of the cabinet is excellent, you get the feel of the legendary guitar amps even despite the very compact ´toy-like´ dimensions. The control knobs for volume as well as bass and treble support this truly analogue feel. They do not have a traditional ´5 o´clock limit´ anymore as they are now synchronized with the smartphone.
The most obvious change: The play/pause key is now actually a slider. In addition to playback and pause, it skips by pressing it slightly to the left or right. This is intuitive and works exemplary in practice. However, the fact that by holding the button you activate pairing mode is far from intuitive.
Such an attention to detail
A small button on the Marshall Acton 3 lets you choose between the analogue input and Bluetooth 5.2. Like the particularly lovingly executed toggle switch for On/Off, it is brass-coated giving the Acton 3 a truly posh touch. Despite the mechanical solution that snaps firmly into place, Marshall offers an electronic standby in order not to waste battery life.
The electronic circuit board inside this 2.1 system relies on a proven trio of three rather powerful amplifiers plus fully active crossover filters: 30 watts to empower a 4″ woofer and 15 watts for each of the 3/4 inch tweeters. The latter are equipped with waveguides pointing to the very left and right to achieve a more focussed directivity pattern plus wider spatial imaging.
A bass vent on the back serves as acoustic support in the low frequency region. We will have to double-check whether this really reaches low down to 45 Hz as promised. That seems hardly realistic for an all-in-one speaker offering a cabinet of just 2 litres.
Two ways to play music
The Marshall offer latest Bluetooth 5.2, therefore promising stable connection. Regarding codecs, the spec sheets remains vague, but we assume that it is limited to SBC. As an addition, it offers the aforementioned 3.5 mm jack input for analogue sources of any kind. Selecting one of either sources is easy as an LED indicates which one is currently active.
For the rest, we found the Acton III to be rather puristic. For further settings, you might want to download the Marshall Bluetooth app for iOS and Android. It does not offer a Sony-like variety of features either. What is promised to be an “equalizer” turns out to be two controls for bass and treble being synchronized with the knobs.
This app is minimalistic but useful
It should be noted that ´5´ translating into ´12 o´clock´ for experienced Marshall amp users meaning the neutral position in each case. We found OTA (over-the-air firmware updates) to be a useful thing as you might expect some updates both for app features and bluetooth in the future.
A really cool one implemented in the current app is called ´Placement Compensation´, i.e. a possibility to control the acoustic interaction between speaker and room. This is really helpful when dealing with boomy bass reproduction as a result of problematic speaker placement. And it is definitely more accurate than using the slightly coarse tone controls.
Lots of bass and fun
And the current Acton is really capable of producing more bass than you might need. Given its size, it not only gets surprisingly low, but also offers some differentiation. It’s clearly not one of those one-note-bass posers creating a lame illusion of low end. We would say it rather does a great job.
This pays off especially with acoustic drumkits. If you listen to Deep Purple – the band mainly used Marshall amps in the 1960s and 1970s – or 10cc Live, you will understand what we mean. Each drum offers authority and body and just sounds rich, as you might not expect from a speaker of this size.
The new drivers also offer a lot of improvement in terms of mids and treble. The new Acton III combines increased intensity with remarkable impulsivity and decent treble resolution. The latter, commendably, is not accompanied by sharpness or overemphasis.
Sounds more modern than it looks
To be sure, the Acton III lacks the snottiness that, to my amazement, some people actually appreciated in Marshall’s older Bluetooth speakers. But it has something elegant, silky and sounds more precise and clear than its predecessor. Let us be clear: a certain characteristic sound of an electric guitar, such as Richie Blackmore´s signature sound, is clearly achieved by a device forming it according to the taste of the guitar hero. In contrast, a home loudspeaker should be as neutral as possible so that it can cope with a wide variety of recordings and music genres.
That’s why we also played extensively modern recordings on Marshall´s Acton III. And – surprise, surprise, this nostalgic piece of a speaker managed to handle this perfectly well. Electronic beats such as “Sing It Back” by Moloko really showed depth and ability to differentiate. Here, above all, we really found it fun to experience this certain character of explosive punch and grippiness. Really excellent, especially given its decent dimensions. Hip-hop fans should also enjoy this modern Marshall if they do not expect club SPL.
Marshall Acton 3: Conclusion and alternatives
Those who love retro design will not bother with other Bluetooth speakers in this class anyway. At best with one of the larger Marshall models like the Stanmore III, which adds a whopping 50% premium to the budget and eats up significantly more space.
Only the non-existent battery could prove to be a knockout criterion for many, since most buyers are on the lookout for the best mobile Bluetooth speaker in the respective price range. If you are now tempted to buy the similarly-sized Marshall Kilburn II instead you might be disappointed as the Acton III is sonically the better speaker in any regard.
Specifications Marshall Acton 3
- Retail price: 270 dollars/pounds/euros
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 26 x 16 x 15 cm
- Weight: 2.85 kg
- Special features: Analogue input, analogue tone/volume controls, app control
- More at: www.marshallheadphones.com