Voice-activated speakers with smarts have been mainstreamed thanks to Amazon, becoming more attractive with the arrival of HomePod. But HomePod leaves a lot to be desired. It’s too pricey for the average consumer and only works with Apple Music. HomePod also doesn’t act as a regular Bluetooth speaker nor is it portable. But I know something that is!

Maverick from Cavalier is $100 cheaper than the Apple speaker, can be carried around anywhere you go, has a nine-hour battery, supports a bunch of popular music services and tops all that off with a stylish design, sturdy build quality and great use of materials.

Alexa in a far more premium package

I don’t know why we haven’t featured any Cavalier products earlier because this USA-based premium audio brand builds some fine products with character and style that definitely set you apart from the ordinary. They have a bunch of voice speakers, like the design-driven Maverick.

In addition to the Maverick speaker itself, inside the beautifully designed box you’ll also find the USB-C power cable, the USB wall charger, the charge base, the protective case and some manuals and printed materials. The glossy finish of the box, the way it opens to display a three-page banner and the visual motives printed on the box all ooze refinement and luxury.

This is reassuring, but now let’s take a look at the speaker itself.

The craftsmanship you’ll appreciate

The design is inspired by unique materials and Cavalier’s passion for craftsmanship, authentic materials and immersive sound. We’ll get to the sound later, but first let me expand a little bit on industrial design. When you first pick up this speaker, you will immediately notice its reassuring build quality and a general premium feel to it.

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The device is housed in a cylindrically-shaped chassis made out of the premium aluminum alloy with a flat side allowing the speaker to be used in horizontal mode. I especially like the machined edge that gives the enclosure a beautiful design accent.

The metal enclosure is wrapped in high quality hand-knitted acoustic fabric with a nice texture that adds warmth to the tactile sensation to it which brings human touch to the experience. This thing definitely looks better in person that the somewhat dull HomePod design or the typical cheap look of the Echo devices.

Setup: two apps, one speaker

Setting up the Maverick isn’t as straightforward as you might expect, but it’s not overly complex either. The device is configured through the free Cavalier Audio app, but because it doubles an an Echo-enabled speaker you also need to download the Alexa app from App Store. When you first connect the speaker, it will start up in the pairing mode.

I first went to adjust settings, but couldn’t connect to the speaker from my iPhone. It took a few minutes before I realized that my phone was on the 5GHz network whereas the Maverick only works with the slower 2.4GHz standard. Luckily, I have a dual-band router (the underrated Time Capsule from Apple) so all I needed to do was connect to the Maverick’s Wi-Fi.

Now I could fire up the app and finish setting up the speaker. The app itself won’t win any usability contests—it uses small type, isn’t even optimized for larger-screened devices and lacks a native iPad interface.

That said, it gets the job done.

Some of the things I adjusted include connecting the speaker to my home Wi-Fi (remember, it only works on the 2.4GHz band), customizing its name and more. Next, I tapped an option to sign into Amazon with my credentials to enable Alexa on the speaker, which went without a hiccup. While you can do without the Alexa app, you’ll need it to change your location (for weather and other local information), adjust languages and link compatible music services.

You will also need the Alexa app to adjust some features

Most importantly, you’ll need the Alexa app to install skills, which are basically voice apps that extend the smart assistant’s functionality. There are thousands of Alexa skills available, but you’ll most likely need just a handful of skills to tackle the things that matter to you the most. I have some smart home products so I’ve installed skills to manage those and some skills for quizzes, trivia, hyperlocal weather and things of that nature.

The hardware

The Maverick combines two stereo drivers with a pair of dual passive radiators, with both pairs firing in opposite directions to achieve a “room-filling experience” at 20 wats (can you think of another brand describing its smart speaker as having a “room-filling” sound?).

Like with HomePod, the speaker’s top is touch-sensitive: tap once to play/pause, twice for the next track, three times to get to the previous track or press and hold for Alexa.

Unlike HomePod, the Maverick allows you to assign custom functions to the 2x and 3x actions, like playlist shortcuts for Spotify and iHeartRadio. As if that weren’t enough, the button also acts like an analog rotary volume control knob for those times when you prefer not to use your voice to increase or decrease the volume (I wish HomePod had that).

Near the top of the speaker are five LED lights indicating volume, Alexa’s listening mode and the remaining battery charge. On the rear side, aligned vertically, are plastic buttons for turning the speaker on and off, enabling private mode (shuts down the mics), Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

The Wi-Fi and Bluetooth buttons in particular offer seamless switching back and forth between these two modes. At the bottom is your USB-C port for charging mobile devices on the go, another extremely useful feature.

Next to USB-C are LED lights indicating the status of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and power.

“Alexa, play Queen on Apple Music”

Alexa supports a bunch of music services: Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Tunein, SiriusXM, Audible, Amazon Music and Amazon Music Unlimited. Thanks to Spotify Connect integration, you can directly control music playback on the Maverick via the Spotify app.

For Alexa supported services, you can use your voice to pause a song, turn up the volume and other basic playback controls. I have Amazon Music, Spotify and Apple Music so the fact I couldn’t enjoy Apple’s service on the Maverick was definitely a disappointment for me.

Some people may even deem it a deal-breaker, but I wouldn’t.

Amazon has confirmed that third-party Alexa speakers like the Maverick will pick up support for Apple Music soon via software updates. To dispel any notion that this speaker might be secretly listening all the time, there’s a dedicated microphone mute button along with the illuminated status LED lights to ensure you are aware when in privacy mode.

Also, a Bluetooth speaker

Unlike HomePod, the Maverick is a true Bluetooth speaker. And because it’s so easy to carry around, you’ll appreciate the fact that you can venture off into the wilds away from Wi-Fi. I’ve always hated that I couldn’t connect my HomePod to a Bluetooth device. Using Bluetooth pairing, you can connect to the Maverick and stream audio from another device.

The Maverick ships with the included carrying pouch

If sound quality is your top priority, you’ll always default to Wi-Fi streaming because Bluetooth’s audio compression, as I’m sure you know, leaves something to be desired. Thanks to Bluetooth, the Maverick also acts as a hands-free speakerphone with echo-noise cancellation that makes it possible to answer and end phone calls on the speaker. This works great on Android and iPhone as long as you’re connected to the speaker via Bluetooth.

Multi-room sound? Check!

I was surprised learning the Maverick supports multi-room audio out of the box because in my world it took Apple a few months to deliver multi-room audio support to HomePod. While I haven’t had a chance to test this feature, Cavalier ensures me that it’s pretty seamless as the device automatically connects to other Cavalier speakers in additional rooms.

This lets you expand your music system when you’re ready, boost the sound by adding another speaker and even create stereo right/left configuration in a single room.

My favorite use cases

At 223 mm tall, 75 mm wide and weighing in at 800 grams (1.76 lbs), this speaker is light and practical enough to be carried around whenever you need some portable sound. The battery is rated with up to nine hours playtime and in most cases I could squeeze about 8 hours of continuous Amazon Music playback out of it.

When I’m at home, I keep the device on the charging base which is 3.7 inches around and 1 inch tall. This handsome dock connects to power via a custom stitched USB-C charging cable and you even hear distinct sounds when you put and remove the speaker from the base.

The charge base uses two pins to align the speaker

I still use my HomePod more often than the Cavalier because Apple’s far-field microphone array is superior to the Maverick’s. For instance, Alexa couldn’t hear my voice properly when streaming music through the Cavalier at 100 percent volume until I was shouting at her.

No such issues with Siri on HomePod.

The charge base uses standard USB for power

Another sound issue: at top volumes some of the louder songs tend to distort a bit, which isn’t that surprising giving the speaker’s small size. The same goes for sound quality. Even though the Maverick sounds surprisingly loud for a speaker of this size with crisp highs and nice mid tones, it couldn’t hold a candle to HomePod when it came to its rich, deep bass and overly powerful sound.

This isn’t the speaker for you if you’re looking for subwoofer-like sound. In practice, the Maverick is best suited for the pop, classical, jazz and singer-songwriter genres due to its sculpted sound stemming from crisp highs and vocals that shine in the high-mids and highs.

Despite those shortcomings, the Maverick costs $100 less than the Apple speaker. At that price, it actually sounds great and better in my personal view than Google’s speakers. When I’m on the go, I throw the Maverick into its protective stitched travel case. Although I hate to admit it, my friends and I have had lots of fun with this speaker during sunny days at the beaches.

I took it frequently with me to the countryside and it’s definitely turned me into the most wanted guest at parties—I simply connect the speaker to my phone’s Personal Hotspot and the millions of songs are available to pump through the speaker just like that.

Try doing that with HomePod.

Is the Maverick for you?

Ultimately, that depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re in the market for a speaker that offers deep integration with the Apple ecosystem, get yourself a HomePod or wait until Apple delivers a rumored cheaper, smaller model.

Are you someone who is more concerned with overall audio performance than design? If so, Sonos is always a viable option but there are other speakers out there that may meet your needs, like Marshall’s Stanmore II Voice or JBL’s Link 10.

Looking to spend less? You can’t go wrong with the Amazon Echo range.

But if you need a little bit of everything without breaking the bank—perks like Alexa voice control, third-party music services, portability, Bluetooth ubiquity, nice design, great build quality and lots of functionality—you can’t go wrong with this fine speaker.

Pros and cons

Here’s what we liked and disliked about the Maverick.

Pros

  • Works like a regular Bluetooth speaker
  • Premium materials, great build quality
  • Highly portability due to lightness and optimal size

Cons

  • No dual band (2.4GHz/5GHz) Wi-Fi support
  • You can find stronger sound quality for the price
  • The mic offers average intelligibility

Pricing and availability

The Maverick is available in Black or Blue variants, with metallic and distressed leather panels. You can pick yours over at Amazon or from Cavalier Audio for $250 a pop.