What is the Soundboks?
The Soundboks is a giant wireless speaker that looks like a mutant, giant version of something like the BW T7. Need a sound system for a beach party or just hate your neighbours? This could be the ticket.
Following early Kickstarter deals, it will sell for $699, likely to equate to around £600 once sales tax has been added.
As promised, it’s the loudest Bluetooth speaker I’ve ever used. However, the sound quality won’t blow you away like the sheer decibel count will.
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Soundboks – Design and Features
The Soundboks is the consumer, crowd-funded version of a portable PA speaker. It’s a giant box with a thick and chunky grille on its front, only half-hiding the two gigantic drivers that pump out this thing’s sound.
It’s a brute, and upright it sits a good way above my knee. This isn’t a speaker you can just sit in a corner and expect it not to become a bit of a talking point.
But is it just a portable PA speaker? You can get those for under £200, after all. In some respects it is, but it has a few elements that mean it feels much more like a regular buyer’s product.
First, there are those giant metal balls on its edges. You could prise one of these off and use it as a weapon, but what are they for? These make sure that as long as the Soundboks is sitting on a flat-ish surface, you won’t totally wreck the body panels.
The panels appear to be tough, properly finished fibre board rather than the ugly plastic you’d get in a PA speaker. Those things are designed for pure practicality, for the most part. The Soundboks is a bit different.
For another example, it has few volume knobs down one side, and stylistically they’re closer to oversize guitar amp knobs than anything else.
The Soundboks does have a certain DIY vibe to it, though. The battery slots into one side, and you can see the cables jamming into the thing. It’s not waterproof, which would be a handy feature in an ‘outdoor’ speaker. The benefit is that you can replace the battery pretty easily.
Soundboks’s makers sent me a spare speaker, and some packages come with one, but the battery life is actually very impressive without a spare. It’ll last for up to 30 hours at lower volumes, or eight hours at higher ones. Not bad, right?
What the Soundboks can do is a little limited compared with standard wireless speakers at this sort of price, but it has the features it needs. There’s Bluetooth and a 3.5mm aux input to let you plug in, say, an iPod Classic.
You switch between these sources using one of those giant guitar amp-style knobs on the side. The one beside it alters volume, predictably enough. The final feature you need to note is that pair of giant carry handles, one on each side. The Soundboks isn’t light, but these handles make moving the speaker over short distances a cinch.
Just to make it clear, there’s no multi-room, no Wi-Fi, and no integrated EQ. Its electronics are fairly simple.
Soundboks – Sound Quality
The Soundboks is big and totally different to any other wireless speaker I’ve reviewed. Its whole aim is to be the loudest speaker around.
It hasn’t failed on that front. I’ve been using the Soundboks at home. I live in a semi-detached house and have only managed to get remotely close to its top volume for a couple of seconds: it’s called an outdoor speaker for a reason.
The Soundboks uses a totally analogue volume knob, though, meaning you can set it at any volume you want. Loud is not mandatory.
My issue with the Soundboks is that it doesn’t really sound that good, at any volume I’ve managed to listen for a prolongeed time for. At most volumes the bass is flabby and undisciplined, the treble is a little muggy and the mids are very soft. When using Bluetooth it also sounds very ‘digital’, as though your 320kbps Spotify stream has suddenly been downsampled to a 64kbps MP3. I’m not sure why this is quite as evident as it is, as you’d expect a £500-600 speaker to use reasonbale-quality DAC and the quality compromises inherent in Bluetooth are not this severe.
If you’re looking for something to act as a main hi-fi system, the Soundboks is not a good choice. For listening at the sort of volumes I’d use day-to-day there are actually tiny speakers that provide a higher-fidlity experience. Boxes like the Bose Soundlink Mini II and Kef Muo.
This isn’t the point, of course. No mid-size Bluetooth speaker can go remotely as loud as the Soundboks. However, at mid-level and louder volumes the bass is very boomy. It’ll dissipate in the wide outdoors areas, but as the situations in which it excels are so narrow, I wonder why you just wouldn’t buy a battery-powered portable PA speaker.
They start at less than a third of the price, and given the Soundboks’s general lack of audio fidelity I can’t imagine the sound would be all that much worse.
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Should I buy the Soundboks?
The Soundboks is a giant wireless speaker that offers good battery life and a beach-ready body. However, the situations in which it’ll be useful are pretty limited.
This doesn’t sound good enough to be used as a home speaker, not at £400-600 (exact UK price is still TBC). It goes loud, but the sound quality lacks the punch or finesse you tend to get with more conventional wireless speakers.
Its sound won’t dissipate into the night like your average wireless speaker, though. If you find yourself hanging out on private beaches or have gatherings on empty fields, maybe the Soundboks is just right. However, I’m struggling to see what it offers over a much better-value portable PA setup aside from a more Kickstarter (and mainstream audience)-friendly design.
It’s very, very loud, but the Soundboks’ audio quality isn’t up to scratch.