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 this little iPhone- and iPod-compatible speaker dock system includes tons of little extras and details that established brands such as Sony, Logitech, Philips, and Creative just don't deliver in a comparable all-in-one product.
The Sound Platform's blocky, lunchboxlike design is something you'll either love or hate. Admittedly, it's a little chunky compared with many of the slim systems we're seeing from Altec Lansing and Logitech. Still, to us, it feels retro in an appealing midcentury modern sort of way. With the tiny EQ knobs, magnetic remote control, flat top, and secret side compartment, you get the sense that there are just one or two inspired product designers responsible for it.
To the left of the iPhone/iPod dock, you'll find three tightly spaced knobs--two for EQ (bass/treble) and one for activating a sound enhancement preset that artificially widens the stereo field for a pleasant effect. On the other side of the dock, you have concave buttons for power, track skip, audio source, volume, and Bluetooth pairing. The source button takes you through Bluetooth, iPod dock, FM radio, and aux input, and you can see them cycle through on the little display. The display is pretty dim, and isn't helped by the slim font that's used, but it comes in handy for tuning the radio.
Our favorite design feature by far is the hidden compartment on the side of the Sound Platform. It opens with a push, and keeps your remote control out of the way with a magnetic backing. The remote is your standard IR type, with buttons for volume, power, track skip, play/pause, and EQ. It won't get you farther than your average 15 feet, but it's another one of those extras we're glad to have.
Also included with the SFQ-1 is the power adapter, an FM radio antenna wire for improved reception, and three dock inserts--one for the iPhone 3G, one for most iPods or the iPhone 4, and a flat insert if you plan on just using Bluetooth and don't want the dock calling attention to itself.
It's rare for us to mention it, but the back of the speaker looks surprisingly cool. Soundfreaq flaunts the rear-ported speaker design with an inset of silver-colored plastic framed by glossy black vents. Running across the bottom, you have a place to plug in the power adapter, as well as an aux input and a socket for the radio antenna. If you're looking for a speaker that can be placed at the center of a room and look good from every angle, the SFQ-1's design can stand up to the scrutiny.
Sure, we're fans of the SFQ-1's stylish design, but it's the speaker's features that have us reaching for our wallets. 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).
One feature we weren't impressed by, though, is the Soundfreaq app, available for iOS. Once you dock your iPod or iPhone into the Sound Platform, your device will display an alert prompting you to download the free Soundfreaq app. The app isn't necessary to use the Sound Platform, but since it's free, we figured we'd give it a shot. It didn't take us long to realize that the app is just a needless repackaging of the basic playback and playlist features already included in the iOS music player, along with some remote control functionality already provided by the hardware remote. Download it if you want, but we don't believe it adds much value--at least in its current version (1.3).
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. You can alleviate some of the low-end rattling with EQ adjustments; however, the Sound Platform only offers a paltry 3 degrees of cut of boost on its EQ, and bypasses EQ altogether when you've enabled the sound enhancement preset. Simply put, it's not a great option for those who like to get loud. If your volume needs are modest, you'll be pleased with the sound quality.
Judged purely as a speaker dock, a product like the Philips Fidelio DS8500 delivers bigger, cleaner sound for around the same price. Still, the sound quality of the SFQ-1 is better than a lot of what passes for $100 to $200 iPod/iPhone speakers, and is helped by its sound enhancement mode. For example, it knocks the socks off the ($149) JBL OnStage IV in both power and sound quality. Pitted against the Editors' Choice-winning Logitech S715i, it holds its own with a less dramatic low end and brighter clarity at the top. Of course, it's not as portable or as affordable as the S715i, but the addition of Bluetooth, FM radio, EQ control, and a full-featured remote arguably make up for it.
The Sound Platform from Soundfreaq is one of the most flexible, feature-packed tabletop speaker docks around, with options for iPod and iPhone, FM radio, aux input, and iPad-friendly wireless Bluetooth audio. You could spend more money for better sound quality, or spend less for a similar sounding portable system, but for $199, the SFQ-1's broad features and refined design are tough to match.