Taking it Outside

Michael Brown

I was fairly impressed with Soundcast Systems' iCast product when it hit the market late last year, but store shelves are sagging with devices that stream audio from iPods to hi-fi rigs. Now the company is taking its excellent frequency-hopping technology and embedding it into wireless self-powered speakers—and one of them is designed for outdoor use.

Neither product is shipping yet, so consider this an informed preview and not a review, but I did get to check out functional prototypes. The indoor product, which they’re calling the SpeakerCast, bears a striking resemblance to the Zvox 325 ; but I’ll have to wait for reviewable product to determine if it sounds as good. The SpeakerCast houses two three-inch drivers in a single enclosure and a 50-watt amplifier. It comes with an iCast transmitter, which sports an iPod docking station (plus an aux in/out jack, so you can also use it with other players).

Soundcast's SpeakerCast is a self-powered speaker that can receive audio streamed from an iPod or other digital music player.

Buttons on the SpeakerCast enable you to remotely control the iPod’s pause/play and trackforward/back control functions. It will also come with a remote control that performs these functions plus volume control and mute. This product is expected to sell for $400 when it ships later this summer. It’s an interesting product, but it would never replace my A/V system; and I think Sonos has a better solution for multi-room audio (albeit it a much more expensive one).

The outdoor speaker product, on the other hand, looks like it could a slam-dunk success. Dubbed the OutCast (a brilliant name, don’t you think?) looks like a short conga drum. Its cylindrical shell houses a 100-watt amplifier, four three-inch drivers in an omnidirectional array, and a massive eight-inch down-firing woofer. It’s completely weatherized, so you can leave it outside all year long, and its built-in handle renders it very easy to pick up and move around your backyard or patio. This thing even has built-in mood lighting. Soundcast’s people tell me it will run for 10 hours on its built-in rechargeable battery (it will also run off AC).

The OutCast also comes with a iCast transmitter and has the same button configuration for remote control of an iPod as does the SpeakerCast, and it has an aux input if you’d prefer to use something other than an iPod with it. If you’re blessed with a very large yard (and very tolerant neighbors), you can daisy chain a second OutCast to the same iCast transmitter or add a second iCast as a repeater and run four of these monsters.

I was very impressed with the OutCast’s bass response during the demo—which is a good thing considering that Soundcast expects this puppy to fetch $700 when it ships later this summer.

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