This portable speaker fits in your pocket


November 25, 2008|By KEVIN HUNT | KEVIN HUNT,Hartford Courant

Brain-teaser: How many doctorates does it take to create the world's first pocket-size portable speaker system that actually sounds like a real speaker?

Answer: Apparently, the three - astronomy, nuclear physics and physical chemistry - belonging to Godehard Guenther, the head of the Soundmatters speaker company in Reno, Nev.

Soundmatters' 5 1/2-inch-long foxL, designed by Guenther and named after his grandson (the "L" is for "little") is a breakthrough sound device.

Never before has such a small speaker duplicated the frequency response of a full-scale bookshelf speaker. (It also, not so miraculously, duplicates the price of a full-scale bookshelf speaker, $199.)

I've been toting around the even more expensive foxLmb ($250), which adds Bluetooth technology for streaming music and a microphone for use as a wireless, hands-free speakerphone. Both foxLs run on either electrical power or a lithium-ion battery that lasts up to five hours per charge.

What matters, though, is how Guenther somehow coaxes such a wide range of sound from this gadget that weighs just shy of 10 ounces.

Guenther started with a pair of 1-inch, combination woofer-tweeters he calls Twofers that are supported by a perforated-metal grille. Additional low-frequency sound emerges from the flat bass radiator on the back reinforced, cleverly, by the lithium-ion battery.

This "BassBattery" contributes to the foxL's remarkable low-frequency response. The company says foxL's low end reaches 80 hertz, similar to a rear-channel bookshelf speaker in a surround-sound system. Using a test disc, I estimated it closer to 65 hertz in my room and marveled as the foxL kept making noise all the way to 50 hertz.

This compact system was designed for nearfield listening, maybe a foot or two away, though it plays much bigger. When pushed too hard, though, the foxL distorts like any overdriven speaker. It plays cleaner, and slightly louder, with the AC adapter - which supplies 4 watts, double the battery's power.

At higher volumes, the foxL also dances around. After I placed it on a mousepad, it never strayed. But its turn-on volume is too loud. (Soundmatters says it will be lowered in future production runs.)

The foxL has no special iPod accommodations, only a one-size-fits-all minijack connection for a digital music player or DVD player. It also has a mini-USB connection for charging (slowly) or powering via a computer or laptop. The foxLmb, with its Bluetooth pairing button between the two speakers, linked easily with my MacBook.

Paired with a cell phone, however, the foxLmb becomes more useful as a speakerphone. And, impromptu party animals, it will stream music from just about any cell phone except the iPhone, which Apple so far does not allow.

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