Bluetooth speakers are a hot growth item in the mobile world. It seems like every week, TUAW is inundated with pitches for a few more speakers from companies ranging from high-end audio equipment manufacturers to those that we say "Who?" about. The speakers range from cheap and dirty to high-end as well, with sound quality that can be as crisp and realistic as being at a concert to sounding like a scratchy low-power AM radio station on the car radio of a 1965 Chevy Impala station wagon. I recently had the opportunity to test an absolutely beautiful Bluetooth / NFC speaker from Soen Audio that launched on Kickstarter today. The Transit XS (US$130, but limited early bird backers can get one for as little as $60) looks incredible, but what about the sound? Read on for details.
Dimensions: 6.25 x 2.5 x 1 inch (158.75 x 63.5 x 25.4 mm)
Weight: .6 lbs (.27 kg)
In stark contrast to many of the inexpensive Bluetooth speakers that pass through the TUAW Labs, the Transit XS is drop-dead gorgeous. The prototype I tested is off-white, with a rubberized material covering the top, back, bottom and sides. The front grille appears to be constructed of a perforated metal material the same color as the case. But the cool design feature is a brushed aluminum strip that extends all the way around the middle of the speaker. On top are three buttons -- one for volume down/skip back, one marked with an infinity symbol for play/pause, and a volume up/fast forward button.
On the left side of the speaker as you look toward the front are a power switch, an AUX input port, four white LEDs for determining remaining battery, and a micro-USB port for charging. The right side features the patented Momentum Port, which I'll talk about in a minute. Finally, on the back of the speaker is a 1/4 inch screw mount that can connect the speaker to a tripod or a bicycle mount. Soen also plans to ship the Transit XS with a belt clip to make the speaker wearable.
The Kickstarter page shows the Transit XS in five different colors: black, red, blue, purple, and white.
Let's get the minor features out of the way first. That rubberized material is awesome, making the speaker quite easy to grip and also isolating it from vibration on hard surfaces. Soen provides a standard 3.5mm (1/8-inch) audio cable if you want to plug your Transit XS into a device without Bluetooth or NFC, as well as a USB to micro-USB charging cable.
Powering up the Transit XS is as simple as sliding the power button. Unlike some of the jarring BEEEPs or voice prompts telling you that the speaker has been powered up, the Transit XS provides a two-note bass guitar riff -- nice touch. Similar bass riffs sound when you press the "infinity button" atop the speaker to enable Bluetooth pairing and once again when the two are paired.
One feature that I saw with iOS 8 beta that I had never seen before was that the speaker's battery level showed up in a tiny vertical battery icon on the iPhone. I'm not sure if that's something that will work with all Bluetooth devices or perhaps just those running Bluetooth 4.0 -- or it could be an iOS 8 feature -- but it's kind of cool that my iPhone displays the speaker's battery level.
Now the big fun -- listening to the speaker. It has surprisingly good sound quality and volume for such a small device. A bass port on the right side of the Transit XS seems to accentuate bass fairly well, so if you love deep, pounding bass, you're going to love this speaker. That's not to say that it doesn't do a good job with mid- and high-range sounds as well: it does.
While the Soen Transit XS still has 29 days to go in its Kickstarter campaign, it's already reached 65 percent of its funding. I think I know why -- it's a good looking and well-built Bluetooth speaker with great sound that can be mounted just about anywhere. I have no doubt that it's going to blast by its funding goal in no time at all.
Rating: 4 stars out of 4 stars possible