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TechnologyTell Review: Soundmatters foxL Dash 7 speaker

Sections: Accessories, Audio, Communications, Mobile, Portable Audio, Reviews, Smartphones, Speakers

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There’s been growing attention and focus toward audio products that deliver better and truer sound quality. Neil Young’s Pono player breached 6 million dollars in crowdfunding, all for the purpose of high fidelity music. Many new headphones and speakers focus on the listening experience with the intent to make the music sound as best it can.

One such speaker stands out quite a bit, not only because it touts itself as delivering stereo hi-fi. This Dash 7 speaker is small. When it comes to this size of speaker, it’s hard to expect anything better than average, let alone close to incredible. So how does the Dash 7 fare? Lets see.

Design

The Soundmatters foxL Dash 7 speaker is shaped like a skinny remote control and holds just as nicely. The thin profile makes it easy to carry along with you wherever you go. This speaker is ready for people worldwide, as the package includes additional socket adapters for other countries. Hate wall sockets? You can still charge up the speaker through tried and true USB.

Soundmatter foxL Dash 7 speaker

Like a king-size candy bar

There isn’t much to do with the Dash 7 speaker, in that there’s only three buttons and a single LED. The buttons themselves are subtle, blending into the speaker grille. The designers must have assumed that skinny-fingered waifs are the target market for this speaker, as the buttons are teeny tiny. You’re better off using a fingernail to poke at the volume. Repeatedly, as there are no sounds to confirm anything.

The Dash 7 speaker is completely silent except for the music that comes out. Powering on/off or hitting the min/max volume levels are accompanied only by an LED flash. You’re likely to cover that LED when powering the speaker on/off, too. There is no noise for Bluetooth connectivity, so you get to assume that everything is set to go. Despite such minimalist approach, the speaker does have commands, performed through various button presses. I think that these button combinations are so smart that it’s dumb. No one (ok fine, I don’t) want to commit such things to memory.

The bottom of the Dash 7 speaker has feet made of a soft gel. Whatever you do, don’t accidentally ruin these somehow, as they’re absolutely mandatory. That is, unless, you want your speaker to dance away from you while playing music. Even so, some music played loud enough can and will propel the speaker around. You’ve been warned; there’s some serious power within.

Also included in the package is a case that doubles as a stand. As a case, it’s not bad. Keeps the dust off. Looks fancy. It requires a firm grip while holding, lest the speaker slide out from the middle like the contents of an open burrito. As a stand, it’s mostly for decoration. The concept and execution don’t meet eye-to-eye, as any music played at higher volumes shakes the stand apart and tips the speaker over. You’re better off lying the Dash 7 flat and ditching the stand.

Sound Quality

My initial impression of the Dash 7 speaker is that the sound comes out extremely clear and vibrant. Following that? Loud. But the unexpected kind of loud, as if to witness Chihuahua bark yet hear a bear’s roar instead. The Dash 7 reaches exceptional volume levels for such a small size, easily matching a speaker a few times bigger.

Soundmatter foxL Dash 7 speaker buttons

Those buttons are teeny and need a good poke

Like almost any other speaker out there on the market, the Dash 7 is subject to distortion past certain volume levels. Unlike most others, it takes a double-whammy because great power is also housed within a small size. There is a physical limitation of what these speakers can accomplish. Too much volume with the Dash 7 increases distortion, noise, and also thins out detail.

What this means is that the best audio performance will be at closer listening ranges with moderate volume. The speaker is too small to effectively project and carry the music, unless you want it to sound like overextended trash. However, the Dash 7 can fill a room nicely as background music for a handful of people gathering around with drinks and conversation. Just don’t expect to reach party-level audio like bigger speakers can.

Even at modest listening levels the gel feet aren’t quite enough, depending on the type of music. It doesn’t help that the Dash 7 speaker is too light to keep itself pinned down. Again, it packs some serious power when it thumps out the lows. It’s so powerful, in fact, that surfaces can and will add coloration (and rattle) to the music if you’re not careful. Setting the speaker down on wood will have a slightly different sound added versus a glass surface. I’ve found that resting the Dash 7 on a light mouse pad helps to deliver the best audio and minimize rattle. The mouse pad also takes off the sharp music edges that arise from excessive power.

Soundmatter foxL Dash 7 speaker foot

The rubber foot helps to keep the speaker in place

Power aside (for now), the Dash 7 speaker delivers music with incredible transparency. Instruments and vocals sound as if they’re right there. Like, you can turn your back and imagine a live performance right behind you. The soundstage is open, and each element has space enough to flex without bumping up against each other much.

The Dash 7 speaker captures extraordinary detail in the highs. You can and will hear the difference between light taps and gentle brushes against cymbals and hi-hats. Cymbals deliver that wonderful “shhhh” sound as they should. The wood texture of maracas and metal of tambourines are not lost either. These instruments don’t sound one-note, as each hit is distinct from the others.

The vocals are lush. Pair them with crisp and precise string and wind instruments, and you’ve got some happiness flowing through your ears into the brain. The command the Dash 7 speaker has over these elements in the highs is astounding. There are little (if ever) unruly peaks, breaks, or shrill notes. In the song “Open Arms”, by Journey, you can hear the nuances of volume, pitch, and power behind the vocals. This is an aspect of quality that similarly-sized speakers could only wish and pine for.

Despite being able to handle intense highs, the Dash 7 speaker exhibits a fuzzy type of crackle with too much volume. I noticed this while testing the speaker’s limits with the Westminster Cathedral Choir. The swell of voices overpowers the speaker unless the volume is nudged down a few. Again, this is likely due to physical limitations of output. But once that volume is contained, the result is incredible. Overall, I’ve found the best volume level for the Dash 7 to be maxed on the speaker and left around the 60 percent mark on a connected device.

Soundmatter foxL Dash 7 speaker belly

But the speaker belly also touches the surface it’s on

Mids have a hard time with the Dash 7 speaker. Stuck between the clarity of the highs and the force of the lows, the mids are truly the eclipsed middle child here. And it’s not due to any lack of quality, since the mids sound fantastic. It’s just that they don’t quite have the same level of energy as the highs and lows. The mids are slightly edged out from the spotlight, overshadowed by some highs, and blurred into some lows.

When midrange guitars and vocals have a bit of a solo, you get that “I knew it!!!” moment. Journey’s song, “Don’t Stop Believin’ “, is a great example that confirms how good the mids actually are. The mids stand on their own when they don’t have to compete against the highs and lows. “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’ “, by Journey, is a good balanced track where the guitars get to shine as much as the vocals, drums, and bass.

Acoustic music from the Dash 7 speaker is great, since you get to enjoy midrange guitars in their full glory. It takes some seriously forward rock guitars to keep pace with the lows. Sometimes, the bass guitar captures more attention than lead guitar more, when it should be the other way around for that track. Other times, the music is evenly balanced with the lows.

I feel that the bass is too powerful for the Dash 7 speaker’s own good. It rattles the speaker, and introduces noise and buzzing, especially as the volume goes up. Wiping the silicone feet with a wet finger for better surface adhesion doesn’t work. A good part of this noise is internal. Hold the Dash 7 speaker in your hand and you can still hear it, though not as much. This sound, exacerbated by volume, tends to be muddy, like pushing air through pursed lips.

Soundmatter foxL Dash 7 speaker case

The case is thoughtful; also comes with instructions

When the Dash 7 is sitting on a table, you can bass and drums vibrate through the surface. In a way, the lows are prominent in the ear as well by touch sensation. I feel I can safely say that the speaker is unbalanced in favor of the lows. But it doesn’t seem to be in some intentional way. I think that the internal woofer membrane is too powerful and quickly gets out of hand. Gentle lows aren’t a problem. It’s when there’s too much stuff going on and/or when the lows are reaching too deep. Then some of that muddy noise pops up.

One extreme test of the Dash 7’s ability to handle lows is Zack Hemsey “Mind Heist”, from the Inception movie trailers. This is a clear example of how it’s necessary to limit the overall volume to maintain sound quality. Setting the volume around the 50 percent mark worked pretty well. Beyond that, the speaker introduced distortion from too much rumble. So while it’s possible to attain sweeping, epic music from the Dash 7, it’s going to happen only when contained in a close listening space.

But when the volume is set to limit the lows and minimize rattle, the sound you get is astounding for the speaker’s size. The impression is that the speaker is larger than it is. If you want to get down with some hip hop and jungle/DnB, it’s done, son. Outkast. Andre Nickatina (also aka Dre Dog). The Dash 7 brings the beat and energy, as it seems to hold it’s lows better with this kind of music.

Wireless & Battery

Despite the diminutive size, the Dash 7 speaker delivers solid Bluetooth range and connection quality. I’m talking 30 feet away, strong, with zero skips or stutters. Bodies passing through the signal doesn’t even make it flinch. A body, floor, or wall standing in the way only shaves off a couple of feet from the overall range. When the signal does cut out, it’s fairly quick too, down to the inch. Overall, the Dash 7 has some exceptional wireless performance.,

As for the battery, I’ve topped over 16 hours of listening before calling it quits. I’m sure the speaker could have gone on a little longer too. Most of my listening were with volume levels around the 60 percent mark, which likely extended the battery life. But for such a small speaker to sneak this kind of battery power inside? It’s pretty darn good.

Verdict

The Soundmatters foxL Dash 7 speaker is full of surprise and delight. There have been countless times, when I’ve glanced over at the speaker itself, and thought, “what the eff??” It’s absolutely baffling to experience such a small speaker deliver larger-than-life sound. The fact that it’s portable and well-constructed makes it all the more impressive.

Soundmatter foxL Dash 7 speaker stand

The case/stand performs better as decor

Despite the excellent audio quality, the Dash 7 still has limitations, namely, physics. No matter how much it wants to, the speaker can’t carry music across great distances. Ultimately, it’s too small to command the power it wants to deliver. Volume is the other limitation. Outside the boundary of good listening levels, the Dash 7 adds muddiness and coloration to the lows, and fuzzy crackles to the highs. It’s the price paid for overextension.

I like the lows, yet I’m not in love with them. The relationship is complicated. Music that shines with heavy drums and bass, such as Tool or Primus, brings me giddy joyousness. But I listen to other music, too. Half of the songs across three albums by The White Buffalo sound balanced with the Dash 7. The other half favored the bass guitar and drums in excess, stealing thunder from the vocals. I find that the lows tend to be too heavy for music that doesn’t warrant it, such as Journey.

Of course, as I mentioned, adjusting the volume can temper the output for particular tracks. But then I feel as if I’m making excuses for a speaker that is, ultimately, unbalanced in favor of the lows. When I am loving what I hear, I can’t even crank it up loud without adding terrible noise.

Do I recommend the Soundmatters foxL Dash 7 speaker? Absolutely, especially since it does deliver hi-fi in a small package. It’s just not for everyone. This is not a crank-it-up and party kind of speaker. This is the kind of speaker that befits personal enjoyment, maybe for a few nearby people, too. You won’t find this kind of quality output in this small size anywhere else. So long as you and the Dash 7’s lows have an understanding, then everything will be copacetic as you let the tunes roll.

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