Soundcast Systems focuses its efforts on a very limited line of wireless audio products and it shows: the company consistently earns praise for its top-notch wireless sound quality. Competitive pricing, however, is not Soundcast's strong suit, and the OutCast is no exception. This $700 weatherproof, wireless speaker setup is definitely not your average iPod speaker, but that's a good thing. It's innovative, extremely easy to use, and offers great sound quality. It could use some help in the looks department, though.
The Soundcast OutCast includes two main parts: the speaker unit and an iCast, which contains the wireless transmitter and acts as a base station for your iPod or other audio source. The iCast is a rather compact and nondescript-looking device that's shaped like a crescent moon lying face down and colored in computer white, muted gray, and a bit of neon green. A cradle that fits any dock-connecting iPod is built into the top, while a port for attaching other audio sources is housed in the back. Soundcast includes both an RCA-to-minijack cable and a minijack-to-minijack cable for connecting various devices. There's also a power input and a channel switch, which allows the iCast to transmit to one of three possible receivers. One of these is the included speaker, but Soundcast also makes a couple standalone receivers that can be purchased separately.
The OutCast speaker unit is patently not compact, nor is it the most stylish piece of audio equipment we've come across. That's not to say it's ugly, per se; rather, it has a nondescript look that will probably blend into most patio or garage settings nicely. However, it showed dirt and scuff marks very easily after just one jaunt outside (black would have been a better color option). And we'd be remiss if we failed to mention that several observers at our test site asked if it was a diaper genie. Namely, the OutCast is huge (it measures about 25-inches tall and 10-inches in diameter) and cylindrical, and it weighs 40 pounds. Thus, despite the fact that it's battery operated, it's not precisely portable; in other words, you can move it from place to place if needed, but you probably won't want to do it often. All this heft bodes well for durability, and also suggests that the OutCast is of the quality that the price tag implies.
Of course, the niftiest aspect of the OutCast's design is its ability to be completely wireless and weatherproof. Once you charge up the battery (rated for 10 hours) and close the port flaps, the speaker can withstand a healthy dose of wet while receiving wireless audio from the iCast, which can be up to 350 feet away, inside and out of the elements. The OutCast features an array of buttons on the top, including play/pause and track shuttle keys that can be used to control an iPod docked in the iCast. There are also power and volume buttons, as well as a key that controls a blue ambient light at the bottom of the speaker. The OutCast can be used as a standalone speaker as well, though that takes away from its water-resistance, since the audio-in port must be uncovered in order to connect a source.
Setting up the OutCast couldn't be simpler. The first thing you'll need to do is install the OutCast's battery, which is a bit of a chore and requires a screwdriver, but it's not a difficult process. Then, just plop your iPod into the iCast, connect the power cable, make sure the iCast and OutCast are on the same channel, and hit play. Music pumps out immediately. The playback controls on the speaker work just fine, though the response delay increases the further the speaker is from the base. The wireless performance in general is great: no hiccups from more than 100 feet away through several office walls.
The star of the show, though, is sound quality. The OutCast features four 3-inch tweeters, which are arranged around the center of the speaker in order to output sound in all directions. There's also a 100-watt digital amplifier and an 8-inch downward firing subwoofer. This means that music not only gets exceptionally loud, it also offers truly powerful bass--you can feel it thumping in your chest (the true test of any good speaker, in our book). Audio is expansive, encompassing, and clear--all things we expect from a unit in this price range. If you're looking for an easy way to port impressive wireless audio from your living room to your patio, the OutCast is an excellent choice.