A year or two ago, a good portable Bluetooth speaker would cost you $150 to $200. Since then, as more companies move into the space, the price has been dropping and now you can do quite well for $100 or less.
Case in point: the Soundfreaq Sound Kick SFQ-04, which retails for an affordable $99.99 and has some nice features and good sound quality for its price level.
This is not the first Bluetooth system that relative newcomer Soundfreaq has produced. The company also sells the pricier and more substantial Sound Platform ($179) and the Sound Stack ($400), both of which include an iPhone/iPod dock. And rounding out its current lineup is the $150 Sound Step Recharge, an iPhone/iPad audio system that incorporates Bluetooth.
Like the company's other products, the Sound Kick speaker reviewed here has an attractive, clean design, and I liked how the back portion, called the Xkick chamber, retracts into the unit when not in use, making the overall footprint smaller. To turn the unit on, you have to extend the Xkick chamber, which not only forms a stand with rubberized feet but is also supposed to enhance bass performance. It's a cool design element and the speaker props up at a nice angle, tilted slightly back, though it ends up being a little unstable and if you bump it, it'll rock and may fall over.
Aside from that small gripe, there's a lot to like here. The unit itself feels fairly light, weighing in at 1.62 pounds, but substantial enough not to feel cheap. Overall construction seems good, though its corners are a little pointy and I'm not sure it would withstand a fall onto a hard surface too well.
The Sound Kick is easy to set up to wirelessly stream audio from any A2DP Bluetooth-enabled device (as with most Bluetooth devices, you must be within about 30 feet of the speaker to stream music to it). That means nearly any smartphone (including the iPhone) or tablet (iPad) will work as an audio source -- with the notable exceptions of the Kindle Fire, the Nook Tablet and Nook Color, and the first-generation iPod Touch, which do not include Bluetooth compatibility.
You get an auxiliary input on the back for connecting audio devices that don't offer Bluetooth support (a 3.5mm cable is included for this purpose). On top of that, there's a USB port for charging your phone or iPod; it works when the included AC adapter is plugged in or -- if running on battery power -- when you have the volume set below 70 percent. A green light near the port tells you it's available for charging. The AC adapter is used to recharge the unit's built-in battery, which is rated at an ample 7 hours of playing time when fully charged.
In terms of other design touches, it's worth noting that the buttons on top of the unit are touch-sensitive. Some people like touch buttons, some don't. I thought they were fine and liked the separate button that puts the speaker into pairing mode.
Soundfreaq doesn't include a remote control with the unit, but it doesn't need one: your smartphone or tablet will suffice. Soundfreaq does offer a free remote app for iOS and Android devices. It doesn't really do anything but put a skin on your music player. But hey, it's free, so who's complaining.
As for sound, I thought it was quite decent for a compact speaker that's priced at $99, but it does have its limitations. The Sound Kick can play louder than smaller speakers like the Jawbone Jambox and Logitech Mini Boombox, plus it delivers slightly richer sound. Also, it can handle more volume without distortion so long as you engage the UQ3 "spatial enhancer" circuitry, which essentially optimizes the performance of the speaker. You'll want to keep it on all the time, which makes you wonder why Soundfeaq didn't just bake it into the speaker and do away with the button.
Overall the speaker's sound is pretty detailed. Like a lot of these compact speakers, it's strongest in the midrange and sounds best with acoustical material and lighter fare, particularly ballads. As I said, you can play it fairly loud, but it's really best not to push it too hard. I left the volume high on the unit itself, then tended to ratchet back the volume on my iPhone, playing a variety of music that included lossless tracks and tracks streamed from Spotify. The sound was pleasant at around a 60-70 percent volume level.
While Sound Kick offers some bass, it doesn't offer much kick. Hip-hop and electronica tracks sounded thin and restrained and the unit doesn't deliver near the same amount of bass as the Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Bluetooth speaker. The SoundLink isn't much bigger than the Sound Kick but starts at $300 and produces much better sound. No, that's not a fair comparison, but I thought I should throw the Sound Kick up against the best and see what it could do.
Other options in this general price range are the Creative D100, which costs less but is less easily portable, and Logitech's Wireless Boombox for iPad, which is larger and costs a little more but sounds better.
The Sound Kick does have a better design than both those models and in the final analysis it offers a good balance of design, performance, and price. In short, I recommend it.