Soundfreaq intros budget Bluetooth speakers with integrated battery (July 13th, 2012)
Product Manufacturer: Soundfreaq
- Compact housing
- Decent audio quality at low volume
- Seven-hour battery
- USB charge port
- Poor bass response
- Distortion at high volume
- Soft buttons for playback control
The market for iPod docks and other portable speakers arguably has become saturated, but some players, such as Soundfreaq, have continued to evolve their products to stay on top of the game. Soundfreaq's Sound Kick SFQ-04 attempts to fill the gap between two dominant segments, providing the portability of a small Bluetooth-connected stereo system but with larger speakers and an integrated battery for several hours of wireless playback. We put the Sound Kick through a series of tests for a full review to determine if the speakers live up to the company's promises.
The Sound Kick hides its speakers within an unassuming black brick. The design is more utilitarian than stylish, lacking a flashy display or complex control knobs. We believe any speakers should sound great—everything else is secondary. The Sound Kick serves as a refreshing departure from the aesthetics-first design philosophy that seems to dominate the mobile accessory field.
Many compact speaker systems suffer from lackluster bass, due the combination of small speakers, weak amplification, and tiny housings. The Sound Kick offers a collapsible design, with a rear section that pulls out of the main housing and adds approximately one inch to the depth. The extension serves as a speaker chamber to bolster low-end response, while holding the speakers in a slightly upward angle.
The overall package weighs in at 1.6 pounds, measuring 10.5 inches wide and 4.2 inches tall. The collapsed depth is 1.6 inches, extending to 2.5 inches when in use. Although the design is not waterproof or explicitly "ruggedized," we found the construction to be generally robust.
Connections and controls
The Sound Kick primarily relies on a Bluetooth radio to communicate with source devices. We easily paired the speakers with several different Android and iOS devices, along with a MacBook Pro, without encountering any problems, thanks to a dedicated "Pair" button.
For source devices without Bluetooth support, a standard 3.5mm port can be used as an auxiliary input. A USB port is also present for charging a mobile device, though it cannot be used for the audio link.
Aside from a physical button for power, the rest of the features are controlled by soft buttons. This leaves fewer places for water intrusion if the speakers are used outside near a pool or accidentally exposed to rain, however it is difficult to easily determine if the soft buttons have been properly pressed.
We prefer a hardware knob for volume control—as a visual reference—but the Sound Kick buttons are adequate. Additional buttons can be used to skip to the next/previous track, pause and resume playback, or enable the "UQ3" automatic sound-level enhancement.
Portable speaker systems from a broad range of manufacturers have collectively established a bad reputation for the entire segment. Aside from a few expensive examples, most options lack adequate volume, frequency response or battery life. Obviously there is a tradeoff between amplifier output and battery life, but we rarely encounter portable speakers that strike a decent balance.
We were initially surprised by the volume output from the Sound Kick's dual 2.3-inch drivers. The speakers are louder than many of the smaller units and some of the comparably sized alternatives. As expected for such a small system, however, the bass response lacks intensity. Listening to classic rock or other soft genres is not a problem, but electronic tracks with deeper bass expose the limitations of the compact hardware and power-sipping amplifier.
Quality suffers at the top end of the volume scale, though fidelity proved to be acceptable at lower volumes. Certain tracks showed a breakdown in the bass presentation at surprisingly low volume, leading to a distorted sound. The distortion became more evident when enabling the UQ3 processing, however the enhancement does help improve low-frequency presentation when the volume is not cranked.
Soundfreaq claims the Sound Kick can last for up to seven hours before requiring a recharge. We expected the official estimate to be an exaggeration, likely only attainable when listening to classical music at 25 percent volume.
To put the company's claims to the test, we played a series of heavy tracks for several hours. We placed our bets on two to three hours of high-volume playback before the system quieted itself as the batteries depleted. Surprisingly, we reached six hours of intense playback before the battery showed its practical limits.
To be clear, a smaller device such as Jawbone's Jambox may prove superior when competing for portability. Conversely, buyers will have to dish out more cash and clear a bit more room for the ultimate in battery-powered fidelity and volume—Logitech's $150 Wireless Boombox, Jawbone's $300 Big Jambox, and Bang & Olufsen's $800 Beolit 12 represent a several steps up the ladder.
We approached the brick-shaped speakers without great expectations, but we walked away feeling that Soundfreaq might be on the right track. The Sound Kick, which sells for just $99, may be hard to beat in terms of affordability, portability and battery life. Returning to our original thoughts on speakers, however, several of the costlier alternatives may be worth the extra money and heft.