Does the world need another iPod dock? Probably not. Still, the Soundfreaq’s inaugural SFQ-01 “sound platform” (hint: it streams music too) is not only nice to ogle, it also delivers surprisingly good sound at super reasonable price.
The entire front side of the Soundfreaq — or ‘the Freaq’ as I’ve grown fond of calling it — is dominated by one grill. Tucked behind this sonic drapery are two balanced, Kevlar-reinforced drivers that provide ample oomph for a small-to-medium sized space — think bedroom or office, not living room. That space will also look a hell of a lot better thanks to the unit’s glossy sharp lines, sleek orange backlighting and retro-futuristic styling.
A slight lip protrudes from the bottom of the Freaq, and here you’ll find bass, treble and UQ3 knobs on the left (more on the latter in a sec), the standard 30-pin iPod connector in the center, and all the media-control buttons on the right. There’s also a small door on the side that pops open, revealing a place to stash the included remote. You can leave it stashed if you’d like and just use the Soundfreaq Remote iOS app to control it.
While the sound system is small (6 x 12 x 6 inches) and relatively easy to move around (4.4 lbs), it ain’t no ghetto blaster. There are no battery options and you’ll have to plug the unit directly into an outlet for power. The Freaq just wants to sit on your desk and look good.
But enough about appearances and specs. A sound dock should be judged on its, you know, sound quality. And unfortunately, it’s here that the system loses some of its luster. The inherent limitations of those two closely spaced 2.75-inch drivers are all too apparent when you move out of the dock’s direct sound field. I found the overall sound quality to be fine when it was parked on my desk — clear soundstage and punchy, but not overwhelming bass. The dock is far less ideal for parties, however, and had some serious trouble filling up larger rooms with sound.
Thankfully, the Soundfreaq includes a bit of proprietary DSP magic, something it calls UQ3. Twist a knob on the left side and you’ll get a faux boost to the spatial sound and some added stereo separation. Once I discovered it, I never turned it off.
There’s also the matter of loudness. When I punched up the sound (in both modes), there was a fair amount of distortion, especially with bass-heavy songs like Massive Attack’s “Angel” and Meat Beat Manifesto’s “Dub 62.” This wasn’t a consistent problem, but you’ll want to take it easy on the Jack Dangers.
Instead of Apple’s AirPlay, which has only made it into a handful of docks and stereo systems thus far, the Soundfreaq relies on Bluetooth for wireless music streaming.
This turned out to be both a curse and a blessing. On the plus side, you can stream audio from nearly any device. I tested the dock with an assortment of Bluetooth-equipped devices — laptops, phones and MP3 players — and never had even the slightest hiccup in connectivity.
Even better, setting this connection up literally takes seconds and is accomplished by hitting the “Pair” button on the unit and waiting for the device to find it. Finis.
One thing to note: This is definitely not lossless streaming. As such, using the digital dock connection or the analog Aux input will yield noticeably better sonic results in terms of overall fidelity. The good news is you probably won’t notice this discrepancy unless you’re constantly switching back and forth between Bluetooth and the dock.
There are other small details that keep the SoundFreaq from true greatness. I wasn’t really a fast fan of the capacitive touch buttons on the right side of the dock, especially after using nubby tactile goodness of those knobs on the left. Similarly, the remotes — both the physical version and the virtual iOS app — were rather unpolished and felt like hasty add-ons.
Still, none of these quibbles diminish the fact that the Freaq remains a fantastic value. Can you pony up more and get better sound? Absolutely. Will you find a sound dock that offers a better combination of looks, features and decent sound for less money? Probably not.
Photo by Jon Snyder/get-gadget
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