Marshall Kilburn II (The 2018 Update) vs the Kilburn I (Original): What’s the Difference?

Torn between the old and the new versions of the deservedly loved Marshall Kilburn? The Marshall Kilburn II is getting lots of praise, but for now the original is still on sale and often discounted. So which should you get?

We’ve done a thorough meta-analysis of the reviews for both, and these are speakers that we ourselves also very much enjoyed and have been happy to recommend.

We’ll take apart the differences in a side-by-side table so you can see for yourself if the new one is worth it for you, with a lot of our own commentary below that. Do note that the Kilburn II remains one of our favorites of the larger, louder Bluetooth speakers.

Update History of This Article

This article was originally published on October 12, 2018.

Side-by-Side Comparison: Marshall Kilburn I vs Marshall Kilburn II

Bigger, Deeper Sound and Slightly More Durable: The Kilburn II Update’s Advantages

While at first glance there has hardly been a grand departure here, the Marshall Kilburn II does represent a significant step forward.

While keeping the same shape and overall styling, it’s slightly taller than the original but also just a bit lighter. The lovely throwback of volume, treble, and bass dials is still there, which make it much more inviting to fine-tune your sound than when using the equalizer apps that you have to deal with for most quality Bluetooth speakers. In addition, there is now a battery-level meter, aptly resembling a soundboard’s level indicator. There is also now a Bluetooth pairing button.

The corners of the unit have plastic caps, suggesting that the Kilburn II will be able to handle a bit more abuse. Add to that the new IPX2 waterproof rating, which means that you still shouldn’t dunk it in a pool, but it should be able to handle the odd drizzle, small splash, or other bit of water.

The insides of the Kilburn II have been upgraded as well to one woofer running on a 20-watt amplifier and two rear-firing tweeters on 8-watt amplifiers. The rear-firing is intended to give a bit more multidirectionality to the sound, though really the speaker still sounds best from the front as that’s where the stereo effect can really be heard properly.

Critics so far have absolutely loved the way the Kilburn II sounds, noting punchy crispness and dynamism throughout the mids and highs at any volume, and a potent, balanced, deep bass. There’s even more power and depth on bass-heavy tracks, but the original was no slouch here.

As with the first version, the Kilburn II gets quite loud and performs quite well doing so. Distortion isn’t apparent unless you twist all the dials — volume, bass, and treble — to their max, but of course that’s a silly thing to do and you’re well above uncomfortable volumes before then. The update goes a bit louder than the original, unsurprisingly given its improved guts.

There are a few other minor improvements. The Kilburn II works with Bluetooth 5.0 aptX, which offers increased range and, if you’re an audiophile who deigns to use Bluetooth, bragging rights (we doubt you can actually hear the difference with aptX, as most can’t). It can also connect two Bluetooth devices simultaneously, so you can war with your friend over who controls the music.

The Original Marshall Kilburn Is Still One of the Finest Large Bluetooth Speakers Out There

We recommended the original Marshall Kilburn as our favorite larger Bluetooth speaker for more than a year. We loved the way it sounded, whether outside or filling large indoor spaces. In fact, my Brazilian dance teacher used it daily with his classes to fire up sambistas in a large dance studio, and nobody for a moment complained that we weren’t using a large built-in sound system.

The bass end is full and satisfying, and vocals and other instruments are reasonably separated and balanced. There’s fabulous clarity and heart to its performance. Neither the Marshall Kilburn nor the Kilburn II will sound as good as high-end bookshelf speakers — but to most listeners they will be close.

The consumer organizations, critics, and audiophile blogs have largely agreed with this assessment. As with the Kilburn II, they reported it didn’t distort at top volumes, and it got surprisingly loud. There was fullness and richness across various types of music.

We thus don’t hesitate to recommend the original Marshall Kilburn if you can still find it at a good price (the links in the table above can help with that). The Kilburn II is an improvement, but the first time out of the gates it was already a winner.

Wrap-Up: Is the Upgrade Right for You?

We think both units are great and anyone would be fine with the old version, though the new version definitely sounds better. To get the best prices, click through to Amazon and check on color and refurbished options in these listings as well.

Marshall Kilburn (Original)
Formerly the best-sounding Bluetooth speaker of its size and price, a classy-looking throwback in design
Marshall Kilburn II
Just slightly deeper bass, stereo effect, and better overall performance; a bit more durable and water-resistant

One last note: If you’re buying a speaker for doing a lot of festivals, outdoor partying, or pool use, you should probably consider the more durable, fully-waterproof and 360-degree party monster the Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3 instead. We loved how it sounded too.