I’m crazy for portable Bluetooth speakers. They’re practical, they’re cute. They’re the type of gadget that works in every room—especially in places where you normally wouldn’t put a traditional sound system, like the kitchen, bathroom, basement, or back deck. Never mind the park, the beach, and the balcony at the HoJo.
As a result of my obsession, I have a great number of these speakers in my apartment (seven, by last count) and I’m always testing the new ones. This speaker, the Pocket Kick from Soundfreaq, has been my favorite new addition to the flock. It’s small (“pocket” is probably a misnomer, but it is very tiny), it costs $100, and the sound quality it produces puts it at the head of the class of small speakers at this price.
The speaker it looks the most like, and the one with which curious friends will surely confuse it, is the Mini Jambox. They can be forgiven for calling it a Jambox—the word has become a generic trademark of the digital age—but the differences are notable. Yes, both speakers are about the same size, but where the Mini Jambox is a stylized brick of shiny metal, Soundfreaq’s speaker box is a more traditional matte metal grille ringed with rubber and plastic. It’s also about $30 cheaper than the Mini Jambox.
Most importantly, it sounds better too. I realize this isn’t saying much, as the quality you get from these super-tiny wireless speakers is never stellar. But if your ears can detect common flaws like muddiness in the bass, harshness in the high frequencies, and distortion at higher volumes, then you’ll be pleased with the Pocket Kick, which produces audio largely unplagued by these problems. Soundfreaq also makes great-sounding bigger speakers—the $150 Sound Platform 2 and the $130 Sound Step Lightning among them—so the fact that this little guy sounds excellent isn’t a surprise.
During the past two months, I used this speaker everywhere, playing all different kinds of music through it, from Bobby Timmons to Bobby Zimmerman. That’s actually the stuff that sounded best: jazz, classic rock, acoustic music, groovy jams. Everything was clear and natural. Really loud and heavy music (Opeth, Tobacco, Sleep) sounded decent enough to get the point across, but anything with a ton of distortion or low-end punch is going to require more hardware than the Soundfreaq’s pair of 1-inch drivers and rear-facing passive radiator to deliver the full brain-crush. Still, for a speaker that fits into the back pocket of your jeans, it’s very impressive.
Battery life is also stellar. I routinely got more than the quoted ten hours out of it. In fact, I took a fully charged Pocket Kick on a couple of road trips where I was staying in hotel rooms, and I didn’t need to charge it up again until I got home.
There are cheaper Bluetooth speakers, for sure. As the category grows (given the popularity of these things, it’s unlikely to ever stop growing), there are speakers popping up at $60, $50, or even less. Honestly, these cheaper speakers have such poor sound quality, I can’t recommend any of them—especially since you can get something that sounds remarkably better for only $100.
The current champion at the $100 mark is Logitech’s UE Mini Boom. It has the same battery performance as the Pocket Kick, and it’s the same price. The Soundfreaq is much thinner (only 1.25 inches) while the Logitech is more like an oblong softball. The UE Mini Boom does a neat trick, however: you can pair two of them wirelessly, creating either a stereo right-left arrangement, or a two-speaker system where both Mini Booms play the same thing. All of the Jambox products can do this, too. The Soundfreaq cannot. The lack of this stereo feature isn’t likely to be a deal-breaker for most people, but it is something to consider if you’re trying to decide which Bluetooth speaker to spend your $100 on.
Either one of these—the Logitech or the Soundfreaq—would be excellent choices if you want to get down to some Funkadelic while you’re washing the dishes or enjoying beers on the porch. The Soundfreaq is just the more portable option. If you’re the type of person who needs to have music everywhere, all the time, it’s $100 well-spent.