slowly fades away and we make our way into the fall, we find ourselves about to
report on two great audiophile events! Am so much looking forward to Rick Becker
and Phil Gold's coverage of the second edition of TAVES (Toronto Audio Video
Entertainment Show). This new(ish) Canadian event marks its second year and will
have approximately 70 exhibitors with over 280 brands. Naturally Enjoy
the Music.com will have coverage shortly afterwards as I am right now
busy getting ready for RMAF (Rocky Mountain Audio Fest). Talk about big; RMAF
will have 175 exhibitor rooms, 3 vendor areas, thousands of products worth many
millions of dollars. The Big Dogs are coming to the RMAF this year with quite a
few world premieres and you can count on me being there reporting live each day.
For those keeping count, this is the ninth annual RMAF and have personally been
to each one reporting live, and plan on delivering something very different this
year so my 2012 coverage is not to be missed!
Back To The 80's... Bluetooth
Now before you go on about the lack of sound quality from Bluetooth, or how Logitech has no idea about sound quality – since we all know about the SLingbox, etc -- there is an auxiliary analog input too on these powered speakers. Frankly, odds are Bluetooth specifications will eventually include ‘audiophile approved' lossless quality and there is apt-X too. For those unfamiliar, apt-X is a family of proprietary audio codec compression algorithms to achieve better sound quality with less data. Think of it along the lines of HDCD back in the day. And now i bring you the three players:
Logitech UE Boombox ($249, pictured above) Bluetooth boombox has the usual wireless range of around 50 ft. It has two 0.5" tweeters, two 3" woofers and to help with bass four 2 5/8" passive radiators. Frequency range is from 55 Hz to 20 kHz and the built-in rechargeable battery can provide upwards of 6 hours of use between charges. To charge this unit you use an included large wall wart (and I do mean large!). It is rather compact as it seems no one is offering monster-sized boxes like in the 80's. As so the Logitech UE Boombox is a mere 15.2" x 3.1 x 6.5 (LxWxH). Like all the Bluetooth powered speakers here, it can easily be used with smartphones, tablets and other devices that support Bluetooth wireless audio profile [Advanced Audio Distribution Profile - (A2DP)] or 3.5 mm audio output.
Logitech also just released their far smaller UE Mobile Boombox ($99.99) that uses two 1" full-range drivers to produce sound from 150 Hz to 18 kHz. Smaller size means easy charging via standard USB. It has a very respectable 10 hours of battery life between charges. And when I say this thing is cute yet boxy, it truly is with dimensions of 4.4" x 2.6" x 2.4" (LxWxH). It has the same Bluetooth compatibility as its larger brother, yet also can be used as a wireless speakerphone via standard Bluetooth Hands-Free Profile (HFP1.5).
Of course as a reviewer there needed to be some wildcard as it were. And never one to disappoint my readers, I included the soundmatters foxL v2 Platinum unit ($279). It uses "V2.2 technologies including Twoofers (tweeters that woof)". Soundmatters designed their 25mm dome speaker, dubbed the "Twoofer", from the get-go for sound quality and transparency. The Twoofer incorporates soundmatter's Linear Magnetic Drive topology featuring field-focused, back-to-back, dual Extreme-Energy neodymium magnets and a 1-inch, dual voice coil. FoxL's dual digitally powered Twoofers are assisted in their task of reproducing low frequencies by a miniaturized version of the high mass "moving-wall" passive bass radiator. Talk about being innovative, "To add the additional bass driver, without compromising stringent weight and space restrictions, soundmatters engineers developed an innovative solution, the BassBattery. This patented design was created by rubber-encasing foxL's built-in high capacity, lithium-ion battery, enabling it to provide the mass for, and do double duty as, an acoustic suspension bass driver. Moving the battery from the inside of the speaker to become part of a ‘moving-wall' radiator, frees up critical internal airspace to drive the bass."
The rechargeable Li-Ion battery can keep the party going for up to 12 hours, perhaps more depending on use. Charging the internal battery it is easy via the included high output 5V 2 Ampere USB AC charger with int'l adapters. Inside the box of the soundmatters foxL v2 is an abundance of accessories. Inside you'll find a very high quality Audioquest 3.5mm audio cable, travel pouch, wrist strap, and anti-skid acoustic mat. Like the smaller Logitech UE Mobile Boombox, it can be used for music and as a speakerphone.
All of these Bluetooth powered speakers have great build
quality and feel solid. Obviously size matters when it comes to producing sound
and yes the UE Boombox had the highest volume output capability, deepest
quantity bass, etc, yet it was not my favorite unit! The smaller UE Mobile
Boombox felt great for on-the-go such as bicycling, etc, yet the soundmatters
foxL v2 Platinum had the best overall sound quality. This is not to say the UE
devices should be ignored, just that they seem to fit other niche' imho. Ok, so
all three units needed some form of equalization and every tablet and smartphone
have access to the usual five-band EQ. The best sound out of the small UE mobile
Boombox was very impressive. Sure it lacked bass and transparency, yet was
better than I expected from such a small and inexpensive design. The larger UE
Boombox came ever so close to being my favorite if it was not for the lack of
smooth highs and something was mucking up the transparency. There is much
potential and perhaps the next generation or some firmware update could fix this
situation. Still, the large US Boombox was able to play hour after hour and,
once you have it positioned just right
near a corner or wall, it produces surprising good sound. The critical part of
that sentence is how much different the unit can ‘sound' depending on
positioning. Normally I want something that has a fuller sound (read: bass), yet
we audiophiles know most of the music lives in the crucial midrange region. And
it is that impressive midrange and very good transparency from the small
soundmatters foxL v2 that won me over.
Since the battery also doubles as a type of bass radiator, it
was fun turning the volume up high on bass heavy music and watching the entire
unit ‘dance' in the table. Turning it down to normal volume levels and with
more normal music, the unit simply sits there producing quite good sound. Sure
it lacks true deep bass you can feel, yet the upper bass range sound relatively
full and the highs are smooth too. So the overall tonal quality easily justifies
the higher price for such a small unit. Add in all the great accessories from
soundmatters, the auxiliary analog input, ability for speakerphone use plus the
ease of USB charging and the foxL v2 Platinum is a winner! Then again if you
need to 'fill' a larger room/area then the UE boombox would be my choice.
Of course these are all relatively early devices and within a few years, should demand arise, we may see 24-bit/192kHz battery powered boomboxes. In some ways it almost feels like my early days of 80's boombox desires. Must have owned five of them as time passed! If you love music and taking it everywhere you go yet want sound quality too, am sure you'd agree we need to see the same development as those great portable music players (boomboxes) of days past. Some of those big Master Blasters produced amazing sound back in the day. Hopefully these new units will weigh less and we won't need 8 D-size batteries.