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Soundfreaq delivers feature-packed speaker dock

Upstart company Soundfreaq offers Bluetooth audio, FM radio, iPod/iPhone dock, and a striking design. CNET's Donald Bell goes hands-on with a First Look video and slideshow.

Now playing: Watch this: Sound Freaq SFQ-1 Sound Platform

When the Soundfreaq SFQ-1 Sound Platform speaker dock hit my desk, the odds were stacked against it. I had never heard of the company, but its intentionally misspelled name immediately conjured up visions of magician Chris Angel and bad '80s metal bands.

Fortunately, I was able to look past the name, because the Soundfreaq Sound Platform ($199) is one cool speaker. Chalk it up to being the new kid on the block with something to prove, but the Sound Platform includes tons of little extras and details that established brands such as Sony, Logitech, Philips, and Creative just don't deliver.

Its blocky, lunchbox-like design is something you'll either love or hate. To me, it feels retro in a midcentury modern, Dieter Rams sort of way. With the tiny EQ knobs, magnetic remote control, flat top, and secret side compartment, you get the sense that there's just one or two inspired product designers responsible for it.

Sonically, the Sound Platform is above average, but not fantastic. Its biggest weakness is the low-frequency distortion that creeps in when you turn it up over 75 percent. Judged purely as a speaker dock, the Philips Fidelio DS8500 delivers bigger, cleaner sound for around the same price. Still, the sound quality is better than a lot of what passes for $100 to $200 iPod/iPhone speakers, and is helped by independently adjustable bass and treble controls, and a proprietary sound enhancement setting called UQ3, which bypasses the bass and treble EQ when activated. Is it sonically better than the JBL OnStage IV? Definitely. Better than the Editors' Choice-winning Logitech S715i? Well, the Sound Platform is louder, certainly, but not much different in sound quality from S715i--and definitely not as portable.

What really sells the Soundfreaq SFQ-1 are it features. This boxy beauty includes an FM radio, remote control, wireless A2DP Bluetooth audio, OLED display (albeit extremely dim), aux input, and the previously mentioned EQ. We can think of plenty of competitors that boast one or two of these features, but few that can match them all. The Bluetooth support in particular, puts this on the short list of speakers recommended for iPad users, or homes contending with multiple smartphones (be they iPhones or otherwise).

So that's my first impression of the Sound Platform by Soundfreaq. I'll expand on these ideas in more depth next week for our full, rated CNET review. In the meantime, dig into our hands-on photo gallery.