Published on March 18th, 2011 | by Greg0
Soundmatters FoxL v2: Best Small Speaker Yet
We’re often skeptical of marketing talk, especially when it comes to technologies and devices that are mature. Speakers, for example, are constrained by the laws of physics- size and weight matter a great deal. We may want big, booming bass from a small box, but we shouldn’t expect it. There is a good reason why great speakers weight a great deal, cost a great deal, and are so large- and it is not because people like them that way. As with previous speaker reviews, we try to compare apples to apples- our Edifier Aurora system wasn’t matched against the Audioengine P4s for example. But we were forced to expand the class for today’s review- most other battery-powered Bluetooth speaker systems aren’t as good as the FoxL v2 from Soundmatters.
The page on their technology certainly made us a little worried. When companies talk about proprietary “Linear Magnetic Drives” with ” field-focused, back-to-back, dual Extreme-Energy™ neodymium magnets”, and boost of their “ultra-rigid totally sealed acoustic enclosure”, we can’t help but wonder. The more interesting specs to us: 9 ounces total weight, a battery life of almost 8 hours, 8 watts of sound. You can sit it next to a hotdog in a bun and it will compare favorably in size- and look quite a bit sleeker.
When we first opened the surprisingly small but dense package, we weren’t quite sure what to make of it all, including the odd name (borrowed from the founder’s grandson). The first tests involved simply plugging directly into the foxL via mini-jack using our iPhones and playing some music samples- lower bit-rate stuff via Pandora, higher quality acoustic files ripped from vinyl. We then tested via Bluetooth, using the same music when possible, and noticed some static and noise but 90% or so of the quality. Not only were we impressed by the output, we were surprised by the broad spatial reach as well. Many speakers are highly directional, and smaller ones work best in a very small zone. These were powerful enough to play to a small room, and were enjoyable even to people who were not directly in front of the system. We upped the ante to videos, where dialogue and explosions and such often make a mess of small speaker systems. Most of the time, booms are lost, dialogue gets crunchy, and sound balance sounds way off. Here, it won’t be beating a home theater setup, but was quite good enough to make us prefer it over headphones, with crisp, clear sound through TV episodes and action flicks alike.
Stereo separation wasn’t great, though, and controls on the unit itself are awkwardly placed on the rear. Volume was impressive, and we liked the bass- you can really feel it roar and shake. Apparently, they use the built-in battery to provide the weight and heft for the woofer, a smart idea that we hope catches on. Bluetooth still wasn’t as good as wired, but when plugged in it beat out most laptop speakers we compared against. We would’ve liked a bit more protective of a case- the grill sticks out a bit- but they do make a separate (and cute) travel trunk. We weren’t quite as convinced by the speakerphone proposition- the foxL didn’t work that well in a car, where we use a speakerphone most, though we do admit the built-in microphone was pretty good in quiet conditions (less so against wind or background noise). Batteries recharge via USB or the conveniently included wall adapter.
Overall, there is much to recommend the foxL. Built to last, perfect for travel, it is now our default sound system when traveling light and looking for sound beyond our headphones. Setup is as simple as you might expect from Bluetooth, and there are even audio-out jacks for external subwoofers, along with travel power adapters included. The only catch is the price- at $199 and available widely, it might be a bit too expensive for your average listener, but a relative bargain for the audiophile. If you like to listen to speakers instead of headphones on the go, this is the top of the line in truly portable battery-powered audio.