Besides a big bottom, one other thing it lacks is sheer volume. Soundfreaq co-founder Matthew Paprocki tells me the engineers tugged the reins a little on the Sound Stack’s amp to keep customers from pushing the speakers to the point of distortion, mucking up the sound and ruining the hardware (This was a problem we noticed when we tested the first Soundfreaq box, which distorted rather easily). But, he says, they did nudge the power right up to the edge, tuning it to handle as much volume as physically possible. I threw on some bass-heavy jams (Dr. Dre, Prince, some Mastodon), cranked it up as loud as it would go, and everything sounded tight with no distortion.
Still, “as loud as it would go” wasn’t quite loud enough for a party. I found the Stack performs best in smaller rooms — it fared better in my dining room and bedroom than in my large living room, or in the bustling and expansive get-gadget office. But in a smaller or mid-sized room, it sounds phenomenal. It provided the perfect volume level for a small gathering in my home office. You could also use it as a center-channel speaker in an A/V system, or as a nicer stereo rig for your TV that (bonus!) charges your iPhone while you watch Torchwood.
Tighter confines bring out other positives, too, since the stereo separation remains clearly evident until you get about 10 feet away. That’s an impressive feat considering the thing really isn’t that big — the speakers are only about a foot apart.
The Sound Stack also has an on-board digital signal processing (DSP) chip that Soundfreaq calls UQ3. It does the common spatial-widening trick that lends itself best to folk, classical and other acoustic music. You can toggle it on and off.
Bluetooth pairing is seamless. Soundfreaq understands how much of a pain point this is on other devices, so it’s always put a big “Pair” button right on the face of its docks. I paired the Stack to five different devices (iPhone 4, iPad 2, Android phone, Samsung tablet and a notebook) and never experienced a hiccup. The sound over Bluetooth is surprisingly good — not as good as when you plug an iPhone into the dock connector, but that’s expected.
On the Sound Stack, the buttons are all capacitive, and they’re grouped into tight clusters. The source display is backlit, but the buttons aren’t. This causes some fumbling even in softly lit rooms. Like any device, you eventually learn the layout and you’ll be able to touch the right spot every time, but for the week or so I tested our loaner, there was much stooping, squinting, and using the iPhone screen as an ad hoc flashlight.
The physical remote is a slim slab with membrane keys. It’s small and the buttons have a nice feel. A magnetic clasp secures it to the back of the Sound Stack, so you can store the remote out of sight without losing it.
There’s also a remote app for iOS and Android that lets you select tracks. It’s just OK — it works, but it’s sort of inelegant. But there is a digital FM tuner built into the Soundfreaq, and if you must have your radio, the app is the easiest way to dial in stations.
Photos by Jon Snyder/get-gadget
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