This Thing Rules

Ikea's Eneby Bluetooth speaker never listens, and I love that

After years of Echo-induced paranoia, Ikea's not-smart speaker is incredibly refreshing. And it sounds great, too.

A few months ago, as my winter-pandemic cabin fever hit staggering new heights, I became somewhat paranoid about my Amazon Echo speaker. Alexa, the voice assistant I had relied on for years to turn off my lights and start up my playlists, started to feel less like a companion and more like an unwelcome entry point for Amazon’s sprawling surveillance operations.

The problem I faced was simple, really; the Echo is very easy to unplug and pack away. But the implications of this unnerved me, too. Alexa could pick up my voice commands from the far side of the apartment; Alexa could tell me the weather without my having to locate the appropriate app on my smartphone. I had come to hate Alexa, but it — I struggle with referring to Alexa as her, even now — was also very, very useful.

So I began searching for an anti-Alexa — a speaker that, in my imagining of it, would be so perfect in its simplicity that I wouldn’t miss my ex-assistant even a little. I found my solution in a somewhat unlikely source: Ikea.

I knew Ikea had ventured into the realm of Bluetooth speakers (Input editor Evan Rodgers’ review of the pocket-sized Frekvens stuck out in my mind) but still didn’t think to look for a speaker there until my partner, browsing the aisles of the store aimlessly as one does, saw the ombre pink-red-orange swappable Eneby front. The Eneby speaker was on sale, at the time, and it met the precise criteria I’d set in my mind for this search, so we gave it a shot.

Now I use the Eneby every day. I don’t miss the Echo at all.

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Here’s a short list of what I love about the Eneby: it’s nice to look at; it sounds great; it doesn’t spy on me; it’s made with both home and travel use in mind; it doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars; it’s and it has a name that’s fun to say out loud. Alexa who?

The Eneby is, first and foremost, a sit-on-the-couch-and-listen Bluetooth speaker. It is larger than most wireless speakers, available in both 8x8 and 12x12 models. Unlike its competition, the Eneby is not rechargeable out of the box, instead operating on AC power at all times. This is actually a huge plus for me — I didn’t want to buy yet another product I’d forget to charge. There are surprisingly few budget-level speakers meant to be left plugged in all the time. I love that the Eneby’s ready for me whenever I need it.

Ikea’s made this speaker very versatile, though. For $20 more you can cop a removable battery pack that charges inside the speaker itself, providing up to 10 hours of portable speaker time. The Eneby may not be “smart” (more on that in a sec) but it’s certainly not a one-trick pony, either. Did I mention it’s nice to look at?

The Eneby also sounds really great. Not just great for $50 — great in general. It’s more dynamic than the listening experience I had with the Echo and fuller, too, with rich bass and far-reaching treble. It gets pretty loud — enough that I can listen to it from the living room when I’m hanging out on the balcony. I’m entirely comfortable with how large the Eneby is (compared to my Echo, at least) because it delivers the kind of sound you can only get by making your speaker that size.

The Eneby’s option battery pack.

Another of my (maybe too-specific) criteria for a new speaker: I wanted it to be stupid. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but I knew I didn’t want it to be a smart speaker. I wanted Alexa as far away from me as possible; I didn’t even want my new speaker to be thinking about Amazon.

Since it’s 2021, it’s apparently a lot to ask for a not-smart speaker that isn’t made for audiophiles with huge wallets — the Eneby is pretty remarkable in that respect. I love that it’s not always listening to me. I love that I can turn it off without unplugging it. I love that it’s never going to receive a phone call or remind me about a meeting.

It’s increasingly difficult to find peace from my electronics, these days. If I set my iPhone to Do Not Disturb, all my notifications still come through on my MacBook; the Eneby’s inability to even consider interrupting me is admirable. But it’s there when I need it, ready at all times to blast something catchy and sweet. I don’t miss Alexa even a little.