Soundmatters DASHa: A Kindle-Specific Bluetooth Speaker
At first glance, I thought this was just a marketing ploy—a way to sell the DASH7 to the Kindle crowd. Not a bad thing—I loved the original FoxL and the DASH7, as did my colleague Brent Butterworth in his review here. However, the DASHa has subtle, yet important distinctions from what is obviously its big brother.
First, the DASHa is $149 and the DASH7 is $219. The DASHa is also smaller, meaning a bit less low-frequency output. Specifically, it measures 2.1” x 7.5” x 0.6”. It has a significant “heft” to it although it weighs just 6.9 ounces—it just feels solid. The metal speaker grill takes up almost all of the top panel. This panel also has the rather diminutive power and volume controls, along with a small LED that indicates Bluetooth pairing status and power status. On one end of the unit is the micro-USB charging port and the other end houses an auxiliary audio input. The DASH a comes with a micro-USB to USB charging cable and a 3.5mm cable to connect a non-Bluetooth device.
The next difference between the DASHa and DASH7 is in the guts of the speaker. While the DASH7 is kinda like the FoxL and the DASHa is kinda like the DASH7, they all sound quite different. As mentioned, the bass response is lighter from the DASHa, although it uses Soundmatters’ patented “twoofers.” These pancake-thin high-excursion speakers give a full-range sound from a very thin speaker. The internal design is a bit different between the two models; this difference gives the advantage to the DASH7 with a smoother treble sound. Rumor has it that the twoofers in the DASHa are identical to the speakers in the Jawbone Jambox Mini, although they have a different tonality, design and tuning. The bass response of the DASHa is enhanced by the inclusion of a passive radiator combined with the internal battery.
There are a few other differences between the DASHa and DASH7. The DASHa lacks the subwoofer output found on the DASH7. The DASH7 includes an AC adapter; the DASHa only charges via micro-USB. Finally, the DASH7 includes a carrying case that doubles as a stand for the unit that lets you angle the speakers. The DASHa is designed to sit flat on a surface, with a rubberized back panel to reduce vibrations and keep the unit from sliding around.
So, with all these differences, how does the DASHa actually perform? Pretty darn well. I used the DASHa with a borrowed Kindle, and I also auditioned it with my iPod nano. It paired quickly and simply with both devices, and as expected I noticed no perceptible differences in the sound from either device. There was slightly less hum when using a wired connection compared to a Bluetooth-connected device, but this is negligible when playing back most music. One quibble—the system doesn’t shut off automatically.
I listened to Ellie Goulding’s Burn to see how the system sounded. I was immediately impressed by the clear and clean the sound of this little speaker. Ms. Goulding’s voice can sound quite sibilant when played on a lesser system, but I didn’t detect any sibilance through the DASHa. Her voice had a pleasant transparency and breathy quality. There was a tiny bit of distortion from the very deep synth notes in the intro, but there is still a cleaner bass quality than most portable Bluetooth systems I’ve been using lately. With so much reliance on the bass radiator, I noticed vibrations from items on my desktop that most other systems have no effect on. Once I moved the offensive item (desk lamp, in this case) the bass could play without interference. The rubber bottom effectively eliminated the problem of the player scooting around on my desk. The sound is significantly more interesting with the unit laying flat on a desk or countertop—I would suggest to always keep it flat for the best bass.
Bottom line: does the world need a Kindle-specific Bluetooth speaker? Given the choice, would I pick the DASHa or the DASH7? The DASHa perfectly matches the Kindle, but so does a black DASH7. The price difference is $70. For me, the enhanced sound quality of the DASH7 is worth it. However, if I had to pick between the DASHa and the vast majority of other similarly-priced Bluetooth speakers? No contest. For sound quality and ease of use, the DASHa is a hands-down winner. I just hope that Soundmatters continues to offer really high-quality speakers that I can audition. It certainly makes my job more fun.