A Great Little Speaker for the Outdoors, The Avantree SP850

It’s hard to see the forest through the trees when it comes to the portable speakers, but despite it’s small size the Avantree SP850 has everything you need in a Bluetooth speaker, including FM radio and micro SD card.

(Updated May 1, 2021)

Labelled as a 3 in 1, the Avantree SP850 (also named BTSP-850) is more like a 4 in 1: a Bluetooth speaker, that also has an aux in, an FM radio and a TF card reader for audio files.

There are lots of Bluetooth speakers on the market with many that sound good at a decent price. However, they often lack very little imagination. They are usually big, booming, bulky boxes (sometimes with lights), that have either have Bluetooth or line in to connect devices, or a card reader to play music files. However, the Avantree SP850 is a little different. It’s more like a small lightweight radio, with all of these playing options plus.

First Impressions

My first impression, after picking up the Avantree SP850 from Canada Computers for a whopping $24.99 CAD, was how small and light it was at only 0.16 kgs and only 13 cm X 6.6 cm X 3.2 cm in dimension. I liked the inclusion of a volume knob on the side (that doubles as its ‘On’ switch), for quick adjustments to the volume. I hate non-responsive volume buttons on Bluetooth speakers, or worse, hyper sensitive ones. That being said, the volume on the SP850 is not that gradual and gets pretty loud from the onset. However, the sound quality itself is incredible. Big sound for such a small speaker, which has a combination of bass port on the back and tweeter port on the front giving you a more dynamic sound.

SP850’s Interface


On the front, you have most of your controls for selecting the playing mode (Bluetooth, aux, radio or micro SD card) with the play, rewind and fast forward buttons used to change the fm tuner in radio mode or navigating your micro SD card in that mode. The inclusion of a simple black and white illuminated digital screen is helpful for this and also includes all relevant info (e.g. battery life). However, there are some big caveats on organization and play modes (which i will get to later).

This knob likes volume knobs.

On the side of the SP850, it includes a 1/8″ (3.5mm) headphone out jack and a 1/8″ (3.5mm) aux in that you can connect to your media device (e.g. DAP/mp3 player) for a direct analog connection. I almost prefer using the aux in, if it’s available instead of using Bluetooth, that way you don’t burn through the battery on both devices. The micro usb port, used for charging the device, is also located on the side. Unfortunately, you cannot plug the unit to a computer via usb and add files (not a card reader) but it does come with a Micro USB to USB cord, plus a 1/8″ cord for the aux in which is plus.

On the Avantree SP850 there is no onboard media storage and all files must be stored on a micro SD card. The SP850’s Micro SD card reader is oddly located in the bottom and can use cards up to 32gb in storage. It reads MP3, WMA, WAV files and you can navigate folders on your micro SD card via the screen. However, there are some caveats with the different play modes, the UI and file management on Avantree SP850.

Menus



The inclusion of a screen is welcome as most bluetooth speakers don’t have screens). It takes the guess work out of which mode, station, song you are playing or which folder you are in. However, it lacks the depth of most DAPs/MP3 players. There is no genre sorting, no playlists (unless you make one in a folder ahead of time).

Also, navigating folders can be trying at times with a screen that is only 13 letters/characters wide. This is something to consider when naming files, by keeping them concise. Files are sorted on the Avantree numerically then alphabetically. The full name of the file will scroll when the song is playing, but if you are simply going through the folders you want to make the most of your file names.

Micro SD Play Modes

Next, the different playing modes for the SD card are not thoroughly explained in the manual but can be found in the menu under ‘Repeat‘. The different play modes are:

  • Repeat All: it will simply play through all the files on your micro SD card. Starting with the first folder it will play the first audio file by name (numerical, alphabetical) and work its way down. When the songs are finished in that folder it will move on to the first subfolder.
  • Repeat Folder: it will simply play the songs in whatever folder you are currently in but not any subfolders and will not move on to the next folder.
  • Repeat One: will play one song on repeat
  • Random: plays (at random) all of the files in every folder. Regardless of whatever folder you are in it will delve into any folder and play at random.
  • Return: stakes you out of the Repeat (playmodes) Menu.

So, the playback and the user interface is extremely limited. Everyone will have their own different approach to filling a card. I would start with a ‘music’ folder. Then beneath that add genre subfolders and basically make a ‘greatest hits’ for each genre (e.g. rock, disco, rock). That way you can play what style your feeling at the time. If you just want it random there is the random playmode.

It should be noted that there is no EQ on this unit but there are EQ presets:

  • Natural: a neutral sound
  • Rock: more dynamic sound with more punchy bass and highs
  • Pop: like ‘Rock’ with reduced mids and an emphasis on detail
  • Classic: boost in the mid to highs
  • Jazz: diminished bass with emphasis highs and mids.
  • Country: Emphasis on mids in the lower register

I found the best setting was the ‘natural’ which produced a well balanced sound but if you are craving a bit of a bass boost the ‘rock’ was a bit more dynamic.

REMEMBER RADIO? THE SP850 DOES

Finally, not many Bluetooth speakers feature an FM radio. I know, who needs radio especially when you have Cottage Mixtape Mixes, but radio can be especially useful when your out camping or cottaging. Its great for getting local weather and news, if you don’t have a wi-fi signal or a phone handy. Also, by the 3rd day when you’re sick of picking music. You never know what you will hear on local station.

The radio conveniently has a scan function to search for all the radio stations available in the vicinity. So, you get to camp, scan for signals and now the stations can be skipped through with the rewind / fast forward buttons. The SP850 has no protracting antenna unfortunately but to get an optimal signal, you can attach an aux cord in the input or connect a usb cord to its outlet and it will enhance your radio reception. Looking for a particular station? Just punch in the numbers at the top (eg. 93.5 type 9-3-5).

Not robust in size or price but in sound and features.

Another great feature of the SP850 is its rechargeable ION battery which is not only rechargeable but it is replaceable making the unit a little more future proof. Avantree lists the battery as having between 6 to 10 hours of battery life, and I think the truth lies somewhere in between depending on the play mode and the type of files you play (larger ones consuming more energy). For me it lasted for a period of 2 days of on/off use. When it ran out It charged very quickly off of a battery pack once it ran out.

Another, feature that can’t be underestimated is the rubberized strap that is convenient for wrapping the radio around your wrist for easy totting. If you are the type of person who likes to move around but bring their music with them. Going down to the dock or beach it frees up a hand so you can carry a beer in one hand… and beer in the other. It is so lightweight, that while I was wearing it around my wrist, I almost forgot it was there.

Conclusion

I have owned and used many Bluetooth speakers meant for the great outdoors (for the camp, cottage or bbq) but the Avantree SP850 is a little different than all of those. More like a easy tote radio that has most of the connections you need. It is simplistic but almost like a swiss army knife of portable speaker with FM radio, Bluetooth, aux in and a card slot for 32g micro SD cards.

The SP850 was released in 2016 and is a great concept that is maybe in need of a little update. If this had colour touch screen, better UI, was water resistant, more durable and took a bigger SD card it would be a homerun.

Avantree SP850 Bluetooth Speaker Conclusion

Pros

  • great sounding speaker with a surprising amount of volume.
  • features Bluetooth, micro SD card reader, aux in and programable FM radio.
  • light-weight: great for portages, picnics, great outdoors, etc.
  • rechargeable and replaceable ion battery
  • volume knob, for quick volume adjustment
  • strap that fits around your wrist (can’t be underestimated).

Cons

  • not terribly stable: narrow and light weight it tends to fall over.
  • volume could be more gradual as it gets pretty loud from the onset
  • Menu system is not great for navigating large music file collections, small screen and buttons cannot be held but must be clicked every time (no scroll).
  • not a battery bank (cannot be used to charge devices)
  • not water proof or water resistant.
  • not as rugged as some other bluetooth speakers.
  • For around $39.99 CAD (I got mine for $24.99) not too many cons.

Rating: Cartoon loon (full) equal to one star ratingCartoon loon (full) equal to one star ratingCartoon loon (full) equal to one star rating/ 5


Make sure to add the latest Cottage Mixtape to your speaker:

cottagemixtape.com

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