Soundmatters Foxl Portable Speaker System Page 2

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PERFORMANCE

The day after I got the Foxl, I brought it along for an appearance on Sound & Vision Radio. Co-host Ted Cohen demanded to shoot out his nifty Nokia MD-6 portable speaker system against the Foxl. While the $79.95 Nokia is even more compact and portable, performance-wise it was no contest. After hearing the Foxl for a mere five seconds, Ted exclaimed, "You win!" That's the reaction the Foxl gets: You can tell immediately that it sounds vastly better than anyone would expect.

To audiophiles, the most striking aspect of the Foxl's performance will be that the sound is so neutral, so free of unnatural coloration. Vocals, in particular, sound fantastic. No matter if I listened to the wispy singing of Inara George from the eponymous debut CD by The Bird and the Bee, or jazz/blues guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer's guttural song stylings on Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions, the tonal veracity was comparable to what I get from my Genelec recording monitors. (You think I'm nuts? Check out the measurements.)

Non-audiophiles will be shocked by how much bass the Foxl delivers. It's not "get up and dance" bass, but it fills out the sound nicely. This characteristic is key to the Foxl's appealing sound - without that bass, it would likely sound thin and annoying, even with all the fancy engineering that went into the Twoofers.

Placed on a desktop within a couple feet of my ears, the Foxl played satisfyingly loud without apparent distortion. But even a laptop computer can do that. A tougher test is filling a hotel room with sound, something I've never been able to accomplish with a laptop. By and large, the Foxl succeeds at this task. When I played "Oleo" from jazz guitarist Pat Martino's Live at Yoshi's, it played loud enough that I worried I might disturb the people in the room next door. I got similar satisfaction when I listened to classical music, most light pop music, and the talk programs on NPR. To me, it just isn't a weekday morning unless I can hear NPR's Morning Edition, and the Foxl/Samsung combo delivered it with satisfying clarity. (The hotel clock radio wouldn't tune the local NPR affiliate at all.)

The Foxl is a stereo system, but its drivers are too close together to deliver a true stereo soundfield unless you press your nose against the front grille. Still, I was surprised by how full and enveloping the sound could be. But the bigger and more kick-ass the recording was, the smaller the Foxl sounded. When I played anything from Led Zeppelin's Remasters, the soundfield seemed to contract; I was suddenly reminded that I was listening to a tiny speaker system. I got the same results when I played recordings of big jazz groups with lots of horns. Paradoxically, the simpler the recordings, and the less reverb they had, the bigger the Foxl sounded to me. This may well be a psychoacoustic effect and not the result of an engineering anomaly, but it's what I heard.

When I have a good sound system I want to crank it up. However, when I tried this with the Foxl I sometimes pushed it past its limits. The maximum undistorted volume I was able to achieve depended on the recording; Led Zeppelin, as it happens, lost out here, too. With most recordings (and in any hotel room I can afford) the Foxl will play adequately loud enough for me. I can't say if you'll share my sentiment, but in case you don't, Soundmatters offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

BOTTOM LINE

My house is full of fantastic audio gear, including a couple of excellent home theater sound systems and a multiroom audio rig. I'm guessing, though, that this little $199 system will have at least as big an impact on my life as any of them. In the week I've had it, it's played several hours a day. Not only did it greatly liven up my most recent hotel stay, it's so small, I find myself toting it all over the house and around the yard.

Some people may be turned off by the Foxl's price; most systems of its size go for about $40. But those who value good sound will consider it a bargain - and, perhaps, something of a miracle.

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