Review: XtremeMac Soma Stand
Years ago, XtremeMac was as well-known for its intriguing industrial designs as anything else, and the new Soma Stand ($100) is a welcome return to form -- one of the only truly novel speaker designs we've seen in a long time. While capable of folding flat-ish for storage, Soma opens into a rounded pyramid shape with a pop-out front dock and rear-mounted controls, housing left- and right-firing speakers within a black and gray plastic enclosure. The dock is designed to be used with iPads, iPhones, and iPods, including a flexible connector to accommodate cases, and does in fact work with some of our favorite case designs for all three types of Apple devices.
Soma Stand is surprisingly minimalist when used with an iPad: the triangular unit hides completely behind the tablet, revealing itself solely through a thin strip of plastic and a red power light. Obviously more of the unit’s body is visible when you plug in a smaller iPhone or iPod touch, looking akin to a slightly taller pyramid behind the iPhone or iPod touch. Regardless of you device you connect, you can adjust volume either with the accessory’s integrated buttons or the iOS device’s own controls, which may well be more convenient than reaching around to the back of the system.
XtremeMac’s approach to powering Soma Stand on the go isn’t ideal, but it works. Six hours of play time are promised from four self-supplied AA batteries, rather than including a built-in rechargeable cell as many rival speakers do these days. Thankfully, however, the company doesn’t skimp on a wall adapter, including one that removes the need to rely upon disposable cells—at least when you’re going to be near a wall power source, and willing to carry it around. No carrying case is included for the unit, but it’s built solidly enough that it won’t fall apart under normal usage conditions.
Sonically, Soma Stand is solid enough given its size and asking price. Since the drivers fire off to the sides, positioning that naturally limits apparent treble response, and the unit doesn’t use huge speakers, audio is respectably stereo separated but relatively flat, with adequate mid-treble, midrange, and mid-bass detail but not ultra-high highs or really deep lows; the sound skews towards the mids and mid-lows. This isn’t a huge surprise, and since Soma Stand sells for a much lower price than the rare pocketable units we’ve tested with crisper highs or more powerful bass, it’s not objectionable. Peak volume levels are roughly several times what one would expect from an unassisted iPad, which is an even more significant volume boost for iPods and iPhones; the unit has enough power to sound overly loud at a close distance, but not enough to completely fill a small room.
Overall, Soma Stand is a really unique little speaker system. The fold-out dock, the triangular shape, and the option to run off of wall or battery power all make it very convenient for travel or desktop use; it also delivers good sound on a desktop or hotel nightstand without occupying much space. While we would have preferred for it to include a rechargeable battery, the system’s otherwise good enough to merit our general recommendation, and some additional praise for originality in industrial design. XtremeMac is definitely on the right track with its latest speakers and docks, which is a great thing to be able to say after its extended absence from the audio segment.