Every few years, an accessory category reaches saturation due to the number of similar options already in the marketplace — right now, that category is Bluetooth wireless speakers. Unknown developers are releasing new speakers every week, and established companies are already on their third, tenth, or twentieth iterations on the genre. Today, we’re looking at three new portable options with somewhat different features: Soundfreaq’s Double Spot SFQ-09 ($120/$150), iHome’s iBN6 ($100), and Cambridge Audio’s GO V2 ($180). Each speaker connects to your iPhone, iPad, or Bluetooth-ready iPod.
Most of Soundfreaq’s speakers require no explanation: it’s clear from their designs that they are made to be stationary, portable, ultra-portable, clock radios, or highly budget-sensitive. Double Spot doesn’t fit neatly into any of those categories. It’s based upon the company’s stripped-down $70 Sound Spot, yet it’s more than twice as large, and roughly twice as expensive.
When asked to explain Double Spot’s reason for being, Soundfreaq described it some months ago with nuance: it’s a slightly less expensive version of the company’s home audio system Sound Step, designed to be left in one place, but capable of being used as a portable if needed. It includes a wall adapter for power, and comes in all-black or white and faux wood colors. Whereas Sound Step comes in $130 (no battery) and $150 (six-hour battery-laden) versions, Double Spot starts at $120 without a battery, adding a seven-hour, 1800mAh cell at $150. Apart from battery life, you lose a lot of extras picking Double Spot: each version of Sound Step includes an Apple device dock, remote control, and FM radio, while Double Spot has none of these features.
It’s tempting to stop there and call Double Spot comparatively under-equipped, but that’s not the whole story — the systems are also different from one another in size and key components. Double Spot is an 11” wide by 4.4” tall by 3.15” deep box with two large (3.5”) speakers inside, and is a little easier to toss into a bag. By comparison, the 13” wide by 3.5” tall by 5” deep Sound Step has twin 1.8” speakers in the front and a neatly-nested 2.5” subwoofer in the back. While Double Spot has metal speaker grilles, Sound Step has a fabric-faced speaker box atop a larger base. Double Spot’s top-mounted controls are simpler than Sound Step’s, with rear-mounted UQ3 and tone control switches alongside power, USB power-out, and aux-in ports.
Given what’s missing functionally from Sound Step, one might imagine that Double Spot would have a sonic or other advantage, but it doesn’t. We weren’t terribly surprised to find that the twin 3.5” drivers didn’t have the frequency range of Sound Step’s three drivers, regardless of whether we used the rear Tone switch on “flat,” “bright,” or “warm,” but we would have expected them to get louder given their size, have deeper bass, or something special. They didn’t. While both models are small room-filling at their peaks, Sound Step has a slightly higher top volume level, sounding clearer with less distortion than Double Spot. You can tweak the flat/bright/warm settings or switch on/off UQ3 spatialization, but they don’t make a huge difference in improving the audio.
The Double Spot unit we tested also had a relatively rare issue: its left and right speakers were wired backwards, so left-channel audio came out of the right speaker and vice-versa. We’d bet that this will be fixed in future production runs, but we rate products as we test them, and this is a demerit for any primarily indoor speaker.
As much as we’d like to be able to recommend Double Spot given its clean design, it’s hard to understand the product’s comparative appeal. It’s roughly the same price as a Soundfreaq model that’s sonically superior, considerably better-equipped in frills, and not terribly different in size. Double Spot feels like it was conceived to improve margins or simplify manufacturing rather than serve a real consumer need, which is very unusual given that Soundfreaq has otherwise been so consistently thoughtful in designing speakers. Between the so-so sound and the limited functionality, it doesn’t stand out from the universe of Bluetooth options out there as much as it fits awkwardly into one company’s lineup. Unless the price drops significantly, our advice would be to pass on this one in favor of pretty much anything else Soundfreaq offers.
Company and Price
Model: Double Spot
Compatible: All iPads, iPhones, and Bluetooth-ready iPods