Last spring Fabriq released its debut speaker, bearing the company’s own name and combining AirPlay, Bluetooth, and Amazon Alexa support in a $50 package. While the original Fabriq wasn’t without its limitations — Alexa required push button activation and it only provided a scant five hours of listening time — we were quite impressed with what the company had managed to put together for a speaker in that price range. Now, only a few months later, Fabriq has taken it up a notch with its new Chorus Smart Speaker, which builds on the features of the original by adding voice-activated Alexa and a nice boost in sound quality in a $100 speaker.
Chorus retains the same basic cylindrical design as the original — now dubbed “Riff” — doubling the height and packing in a pair of two-inch drivers along with a two-inch passive radiator for a total of eight watts of power, compared to the single-driver five-watt design of the original. Chorus also sits in an included dock for power and charging, addressing our prior concern with Riff’s awkwardness for use a home speaker. Fabriq has also included a USB power adapter and micro USB to USB cable in the box. Chorus comes pre-charged and ready to go out of the box, and now promises six hours of playtime on a single charge, courtesy of its built-in 2,200 mAh battery. As with Riff, Chorus is mostly covered with a fabric material, available in four different patterns. The extra height of Chorus also allows for better placement of controls on the rear, with press-to-talk, volume, play/pause, and power buttons located directly on the rear and a flap below concealing pairing and mute buttons along with a micro USB charging port for powering and charging the speaker without the dock.
The process of setting up Chorus is that same as for Fabriq’s original Riff. Bluetooth pairing is done directly from the speaker, in the same way as for any other Bluetooth speaker, by pressing the pairing button under the flap on the rear. However, to set up Chorus as an AirPlay speaker you’ll need to use the free Fabriq app to go through the process of joining Chorus to your Wi-Fi network, giving it a name, and associating it with your Amazon account for use with Alexa. As before with Riff, the Fabriq app still requires that you manually enter your Wi-Fi password rather than taking advantage of the iOS Wi-Fi sharing features, and again it’s worth keeping in mind that the app-based AirPlay configuration is separate from Bluetooth pairing — you’ll still need to do that directly from the Bluetooth settings on your iPhone in the usual manner. However, since Fabriq will work over AirPlay as long as you’re within range of your Wi-Fi network, you’ll only need to pair it with your device using Bluetooth if you’re taking it out with you.
Once you’ve gone through the initial set up process, Chorus will automatically join your Wi-Fi network whenever you turn it on, showing up as an AirPlay speaker that you can stream music to from just about any iOS app. In addition to set up and configuration, the Fabriq app also provides direct support for additional streaming music services such as TuneIn, iHeartRadio, Tidal, and Napster, as well as the ability to play back any music stored in the Music app on your device. In the latter case, however, this seems to be limited to downloaded music — attempts to play tracks from your iCloud Music Library result in a message that “This song belongs to the cloud and can’t be played.” Realistically, however, as we said with Riff, we don’t think this is an issue as we much prefer Apple’s own Music app to Fabriq’s for this purpose anyway.
The Fabriq app also allows you to stream audio to multiple Chorus and Riff speakers simultaneously — something that’s only possible with AirPlay when streaming from iTunes on a Mac or PC. Chorus also directly supports Spotify Connect so you can stream to it directly from the Spotify app, although direct Spotify playback via Alexa still isn’t available — Amazon Music works fine, but requests to Alexa to play music from Spotify result in a message that “Spotify Music is not supported on this device.”
In terms of sound quality, Chorus exceeded our expectations. It’s not the best we’ve ever heard in this price range, but it easily edges out speakers we’ve recently looked at in the same class. As with Riff we’re quite impressed with what Fabriq has managed to do here, especially with AirPlay and Alexa also being included. The sound is quite good although a bit unrefined — not quite as crisp as we’d like and a slight bit muddy at peak volume, but free of distortion. The bottom-firing radiator also puts out enough bass to vibrate the floor underneath the table without actually being overpowering, and the peak volume has improved — it’s definitely enough to fill an average sized room or a quiet backyard setting, although Chorus still wouldn’t be our first choice for outdoor use.
The other major improvement in Chorus is that Alexa is now fully voice-activated, rather than requiring the press of a button on the speaker. So you can simply call out “Alexa” and issue commands to it from anywhere in the room. It works well, and Chorus was able to clearly hear and respond to all of our Alexa requests without any difficulty. A mute button under the rear flap on Chorus allows the mic to be switched off for users who may be more wary of the privacy implications or simply find they’re accidentally triggering Alexa too often. Despite the inclusion of a mic for Alexa, however, Chorus does not include any speakerphone capabilities, even when being used over Bluetooth.
While Fabriq’s original speaker, Riff, particularly impressed us with its technology — what Fabriq was able to pack into such a small package at such a low price — design and battery life held it back from being fully practical. Chorus feels like a grown-up version of Riff, handily addressing all of the limitations of its little brother; voice-activation makes Alexa integration actually useful, sound quality has noticeably improved, and the included charging base is exactly the right approach for a speaker that combines at-home AirPlay use with on-the-road Bluetooth capabilities, allowing “grab and go” flexibility for when you want to use Chorus somewhere else in the house or take it out with you, and also makes the six-hour battery life much less of a problem for home use. Although Chorus comes in at twice the price of Riff, we think the technology and sound improvements plus the additional hardware in the box easily justify the higher price.
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