Model: Sound Spot
Compatible: All Bluetooth-Capable iPads, iPhones + iPods
Soundfreaq Sound Spot SFQ-07
Soundfreaq probably didn't need to release a sub-$100 speaker. Sound Kick was the best $100 Bluetooth audio system we'd ever tested when it was released last year, leveraging a unique pop-out rear compartment to deliver substantially better bass than would have been expected from its 10.5" by 4.2" by 1.6" chassis. But since there's demand for even less expensive options, Soundfreaq came up with the brand new Sound Spot ($70, aka SFQ-07) as another step down the price and performance ladder. It has all the hallmarks of the company's earlier speakers -- a body shape, atypically sturdy build quality, and some neat little tricks -- plus the compromises we'd expect from a $70 speaker: sonic and functional reductions.
One striking design decision in Sound Spot is the fact that it’s not wildly smaller than Sound Kick—it’s actually larger in both height and thickness. Nearly square at 5” tall by 5.2” wide, it’s 2.4” thick without any Sound Kick-style compartment on the back, and solid-feeling from edge to edge. Volumetrically, it’s roughly equivalent to three Jawbone Jamboxes laid on their backs atop each other, space Soundfreaq unusually uses for one oversized audio driver rather than two or three small ones.
For the first time on a Soundfreaq speaker, Sound Spot’s face contains a circular grille, still made from the sturdy painted metal we liked in Sound Kick, though without continuing the bar-shaped ridges that wrap around the rest of the unit’s body. It’s another handsome design, and benefitted by two color options: neutral jet black or fancier “white and wood,” the first two of what will likely be a broader number of options available this Fall. The wood version’s face looks and feels like wood, complete with consistent imperfections and grains, but is almost certainly a synthetic or engineered alternative.
You still get the standard Soundfreaq collection of circular capacitive controls on top—volume, track, play/pause and pairing—alongside a depressable power button, but the spatialization “UQ3” feature of Sound Kick and earlier Soundfreaq speakers is gone. Instead, there’s a more meaningful three-position switch on Sound Spot’s back to toggle between “flat,” “warm,” and “bright” equalization, found alongside aux in, aux out, power in, and power out ports. Sound Spot is bundled with one 3.5mm audio cable and a micro-USB to USB cable for charging, but no wall adapter; this cable’s easier to carry around (and replace) than Sound Kick’s adapter, but obviously needs some help from a self-supplied computer or power plug to actually refuel the speaker.
Two of the ports mentioned above merit some extra attention. The audio-out port is new to Sound Spot, enabling you to physically pair two otherwise monaural speakers with one another for stereo-separated sound. While we wouldn’t generally recommend going out and grabbing two $70 speakers for this purpose rather than a well-designed $140 stereo system, some users will appreciate the option. Sound Spot has an odd kink, though, in that you’ll only get true left- and right-channel stereo separation if your iPod, iPhone, or iPad is connected to the speaker with a wire; in Bluetooth mode, both speakers will play the same sounds. It’s particularly surprising that this is an issue given that Soundfreaq successfully released a wholly wireless Bluetooth system in Sound Platform 2, which requires no cables for stereo Bluetooth streaming or speaker synchronization, but then, Sound Spot is a much less expensive speaker.
Sonically, Sound Spot is just as expected: a compromised alternative to Sound Kick. Budget-conscious users will like the sound, which even on the “bright” setting is roughly as full-bodied as Sound Kick’s—richer than a pricier Jawbone Jambox—with enough treble that audio doesn’t sound particularly flat. That said, the sonics change skew only a little bit based on the position of the rear switch, giving users the choice of slight boosts to their preferred part of the audio spectrum. Stereo separation has disappeared in favor of a single “full range” driver at a physical size Soundfreaq doesn’t specify—our best guess is between 3” to 3.5” in diameter, or at least an inch below the 4.5” diameter of the metal front grille. Going with a single large speaker rather than two or three small ones has one big advantage: like Sound Kick, Sound Spot performs music at a markedly higher peak volume than Jambox without distortion. Bluetooth wireless performance was solid and uninterrupted in our testing at standard 33-foot distances.
While Sound Spot isn’t a “necessary” speaker in the sense that users only shave $30 off the cost of a Sound Kick while giving up stereo separation and saving only a little bit of physical space, budget-focused users will see the extra dollars as a real cost savings without losing the core functionality that made Sound Kick special. Beyond the wireless and wired audio performance, the ability to handle emergency device recharging is a plus, and the industrial design is every bit as impressive as on Soundfreaq’s more expensive systems. We’d call Sound Spot very good overall; a follow-up with purely wireless multi-speaker support would be even better.