soundmatters foxL Personal Audiophile Speaker
Since the advent of the iPod, the stature of portable audio products has risen. Still, some taboos have remained unbroken. You can make audiophile-approved choices in what you load into your player, what headgear you plug into it, and even what iPod docks and iPod-friendly systems into which you plug it. But the notion that a portable audio system might approach the go-anywhere versatility of the iPod itself has languished. Oh, there are good ones, and some are even rechargeable, but they're still more for briefcase or knapsack than for purse or cargo-pants pocket. That may change thanks to what soundmatters calls the foxL personal audiophile speaker.
The foxL speaker is 5.6 inches long, 2.25 inches tall, and 1.5 inches deep and rests on rubber feet that aim it forward and slightly upward. It weighs just above half a pound. Two one-inch full-range drivers signal their presence with bulges on either side of the nondetachable metal grille. They get two watts per channel when the system runs off its battery. That doubles to four watts when the AC adapter is connected. The unit can also recharge from a computer via USB.
On the back are a hard power switch, volume up/down buttons, and a 2.8 by 1.7 inch rubber-clad bass radiator that hides beneath a detachable grille. Incredibly, the bass radiator does double duty as the compartment of the rechargeable lithium ion battery. The foxL runs five hours on a charge. It has a mini-jack input but no iPod docking connector. If you buy the $249 Bluetooth version, it can also run wirelessly from Bluetooth-compatible sources. Those include some cell phones. Note, however, that the foxL's interaction with the iPhone is limited to hands-free talk, but not music streaming, because Apple has locked the iPhone's music streaming capability. Otherwise you can save a few bucks with the $199 Bluetooth-less version.
Interesting facts about Dr. Godehard Guenther, founder of soundmatters: He has degrees in nuclear physics, chemistry, and astronomy. Werner Von Braun personally recruited him to NASA. He then founded a/d/s, where he became the first to use rare earth magnets (strontium and the now-common neodymium) in speakers. And he's not new to the personal-speaker game.
What exactly do we expect from a personal speaker? Not miracles, but something recognizable as music. Not a slammin' drum sound, but some rhythm nonetheless. Something warmish and pleasurable, not too tinny or shrieky. Not a comprehensive account of all the virtues of a recording, but some of them, at least. And that's what this product delivers.
I set it on my desk and got a piano sound that I could listen to for hours. Vocal coloration was minimal, occasionally leading me to wonder if the singer were trapped inside the speaker. Electric guitars had some bite but the top end wasn't overweening enough to mask the mids. A surprisingly large and varied slice of midrange emerged from everything I played. There wasn't enough bass to fully flesh out drumkits but there was more bass than I've ever heard from a device this size. For what it is, it sounds amazingly solid. Given the choice between this and having something clamped on my head or stuck in my ears for long periods, I'd choose this, assuming there was no one else in the vicinity to object.
My only quibble is that the on/off control is a hard switch. There's no auto shutoff in the absence of a signal, so I couldn't use the soundmatters for bedtime listening (at least not without the prospect of a daily charging ritual).
But I could see using this product in a lonely hotel room instead of playing music on a laptop. And if you've ever wanted music in your laundry room, or garage, or for a few dusty hours in the attic, perhaps even in your treehouse, this might be just the ticket. The fact that it's not iPod-specific may be an advantage for some, and I say this as the owner of two SanDisk players as well as two nanos. Here's an audio system that'll go wherever you and your portable player go, even if there's not an outlet nearby--even in the pocket of your Levis.
Prices: $199-249 from soundmatters and other online retailers.