Review: Soundmatters FoxL Dash 7

Soundmatters didn’t invent the Bluetooth speaker, but it definitely invented the good, compact Bluetooth speaker: the FoxL. The FoxL’s guts became the basis for the much cuter and more broadly marketed Jawbone Jambox. The look and general driver layout of the Jambox were then copied—sometimes subtly, sometimes shamelessly—by practically every audio ODM in China.

With the Dash 7, Soundmatters seeks to once again get out ahead of the market with another radically different design that seems like it couldn’t possibly sound good. The Dash 7 is sort of like a FoxL run through pinch rollers spaced about 15mm apart. It measures 7.5 inches long by 2 inches wide by 0.6 (5/8) inches deep, so it slips more easily into a computer case or even an inside coat pocket.

The Dash 7’s sleeker, simpler look is sure to appeal to consumers who thought the FoxL’s design rather geeky and workmanlike. Also, it’s available in three finishes: white, black, or red.

An elegant carrying sleeve with magnetic flaps protects the Dash 7 from scratches. The case also unfolds to make a little stand that holds the Dash 7 at a convenient angle for desktop use.

The guts are more or less, kinda-sorta the same as the original FoxL. The dual “Twoofers”—tiny high-excursion drivers designed to deliver almost the full range of audio—have been flattened some to fit the new chassis. The Dash 7 also borrows the FoxL’s “Bass Battery”—a rechargeable battery mounted in the middle of a passive radiator, which serves to mass-load the radiator and reduce its resonant frequency. (Translation: better bass.)

Trying different positions

The Dash 7 can lay flat on a surface, stand vertically, or sit in its case/stand.

Laying it flat does the most to transfer the Bass Battery’s motion to the surface below, so if that’s a box or a fairly thin tabletop, you’ll get a lot of bass reinforcement that way. However, in this position, when you play bass-heavy rock or hip-hop music, the Dash 7 sometimes does the “FoxL scoot”—i.e., the vibration makes it move around a bit on the table, something Soundmatters fixed with the original FoxL by including a rubbery mat to place it on. Also, in its supine position, the Dash 7 can rattle softly against the surface beneath it when cranked up, which sounds like a subtle distortion.

If you stand the Dash 7 vertically, the scooting is reduced to nearly nothing. However, you don’t get that nice bass reinforcement, and I didn’t like the mids as much, either—maybe because reflections from the surface below were causing comb filtering effects.

For me, the best choice was usually to plop the Dash 7 on its case/stand. It tended to sound best this way, and the only downside is that it takes a little experimentation to learn how to fold the case so the Dash 7 stays upright.

One other mild ergonomic quibble: You have to hold the tiny power button down for 3 seconds to turn the Dash 7 on, and for 5 seconds to turn it off. For my beefy fingertips, this proved a tad annoying.

The body is thinner, but what about the sound?

I had a chance to compare the Dash 7 directly with several other Bluetooth speakers I had on hand—including the Jawbone Jambox, the Beats Pill, the FoxL v2 Platinum (the latest and greatest version of the FoxL), the Native Union Switch (a larger but still Jambox-like unit), and the Braven BRV-1 (a ruggedized, waterproof unit with just a bit more physical volume than a Jambox). Unfortunately, I could do only a brief comparison with the Jambox and the Pill because I had borrowed those samples from a colleague, but I was able to do a lengthy comparison with the other four models plugged into my custom-built testing switcher. This way, I could sit in my listening chair with the units all about 1 meter away from my head, and switch among them quickly for instantaneous comparisons.

I came into this with a slight bias, based on an early listen I got to a Dash 7 prototype; I expected it to come close to the FoxL v2 Platinum’s sound but not quite match it. Instead, I felt the Dash 7 outperformed the FoxL v2 Platinum on most of the music I listened to.

When I played ZZ Top’s hard-boogieing “Chartreuse,” it sounded what I noted as “1 or 2 notches better than FoxL,” with a clearer midrange and a bit less distortion. Although the sound was a bit bright—as it usually is with these little speakers—it seemed fairly full and mostly pretty flat from a tonal balance standpoint.

The word I kept using in my notes to describe the Dash 7’s sound relative to the other BT speakers in the pack was “vivid.” For example, it emphasized the sprightly sound of the then-emerging 23-year-old tenor saxophonist on “On a Slow Boat to China” from the 1953 Sonny Rollins With the Modern Jazz Quartet. I could tell the Dash 7 was boosting the upper midrange or lower treble a bit, but I didn’t mind and Sonny didn’t seem to, either. (However, this is one of the few cuts on which the FoxL sounded better, because its midrange seemed a little smoother.)

The Dash 7 gamely tackled Rush’s rather trebly sounding “Red Barchetta,” bringing out Geddy Lee’s voice the same way it brought out Sonny’s tenor sax. The sound on this track also seemed more open and spacious than with the other Bluetooth speakers I had on hand. An apparent subtle bump in the upper bass response gave Lee’s electric bass a little extra punch that I liked. When I turned the volume up on “Red Barchetta,” I did notice that the sound got a bit harsher and more distorted, but not so much that I felt compelled to lower the volume.

That reminds me—I have to mention that as with any compact speaker like this, you’ll encounter distortion from time to time, even when you don’t have the unit cranked up. It depends on the material. For example, I didn’t get a lot of distortion when playing the ZZ Top cut noted above, but I did hear it in the acoustic bass line from jazz saxist Charles Lloyd’s “Migration of Spirit,” from the live recording Rabo de Nube. But jeez, the Dash 7 didn’t even distort on the ultra-powerful low note that leads off Holly Cole’s recording of “Train Song”—and that note is a notorious woofer-blower.

In my opinion, a couple of the BT speakers in my recent possession outperformed the Dash 7—the JBL Charge has lower distortion and a seemingly flatter response, while the Native Union Switch has a softer but fuller sound I often preferred with jazz. But the Dash 7 performed at least as well as any other unit mentioned here, and usually better. Sometimes much better. Which is a little embarrassing when you consider all of those speakers are considerably larger.