Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


Soundzone SZ1001 Capsule Speaker
by Chris Taylor

In an episode of The Big Bang Theory, the guys are helping Penny with a new business. Penny asks "How are flower barrettes going to appeal to men?" Howard exclaims, "We add Bluetooth". When Penny expresses surprise that they want to add Bluetooth to a hair barrette, Sheldon replies, "Penny, everything is better with Bluetooth."

And so it was when I recently came across an ad for a portable speaker. I already have a shoX mini speaker that puts out great sound (http://opcug.ca/public/Reviews/shoXmini.htm). So how could a mini speaker be made better? Bluetooth, of course!

The Soundzone SZ1001 is - at first blush - a fairly standard looking portable speaker. But glancing at the specs, it quickly became apparent this is not - to paraphrase Oldsmobile - your father's portable speaker.

First, what is similar to other portable speakers such as the shoX mini? (see shoX review in October 2011 issue or at http://www.opcug.ca/public/Reviews/shoXmini.htm)

It is compact. It has an expanding section that opens up a chamber for much improved bass sound. It comes with cables that allow it to be plugged into any sound device with a 3.5mm jack as well as charge it from a USB port. The sound quality from the 3W speaker is excellent.

But there are two areas where the SZ1001 leaps ahead. The first is connectivity and the second is battery life.

The big difference is Bluetooth connectivity. Once you pair the speaker with your audio device, it just works. It really is nice to use it without having to worry about cables. I found it held a wireless connection reliably up to about 20 feet in most circumstances, which I found to be quite adequate for my needs. If I moved out of range, it would reconnect automatically as soon as I moved closer.

I was able to easily pair the speaker with my laptop and my BlackBerry. However, I found changing devices messed up the pairing. As long as I stayed with one device, simply turning on Bluetooth was all I needed to get the connection to happen. If I switched devices, I had to re-pair. A simple operation, but something to keep in mind if you want to use the speaker with more than one device.

You can also use the included audio cable which has a 3.5mm jack for a wired connection to just about any MP3 player or computer. It is one of those funky cables like the shoX mini with a mini-USB connector that plugs into the speaker and the other end has both the 3.5mm audio jack and a standard USB-A plug for charging the device. There is also a tethered 3.5mm audio cable that tucks into the bottom of the speaker. This very nice addition means, if I were to lose the separate cable, I could play through the cable in the bottom of the device and then buy a regular cable with a USB-A at one end and mini-USB at the other for charging the device.

I am always leery of stated battery life, especially when it claims "up to" a certain number of hours. So I was sceptical about the "up to 12 hours" claimed in the manual. I was pleasantly surprised. Even over Bluetooth, I got a solid 9 hours from a full charge. And the SZ1001 charges in just 2 hours on a standard USB computer port.

Then I tried it on an audio cable rather than Bluetooth. I had to start taking notes because the battery was not dying before I had to go to work, or to bed, or out to dinner. The battery lasted an incredible 29 hours on a single charge! I found this so unbelievable, I had to retest. The volume had been a little high for my first test, so I turned it down to a little softer, yet still quite clear, level. This time, the battery lasted 38 hours! Amazing.

When operating on a Bluetooth connection, the SZ1001 has controls for adjusting the volume, pause/play, and skip forward/backwards by track. I picture being in a hotel room on a trip, with Shaula (my netbook) across the room on a desk plugged in and charging, with the Soundzone speaker beside me on the bedside table. Very, very handy to be able to control the media player right from the speaker rather than getting up and crossing the room.

One thing I had not counted on when using a Bluetooth speaker was interference with WiFi networking (802.11b/g/n). This is not the fault of Soundzone - it is inherent with Bluetooth as it uses the same frequencies. I was happily transferring some music from my desktop computer to Shaula and was getting my normal 1 to 1.5 MBytes per second file transfers. While I continued to transfer files, I fired up the speaker and started listening to music. While the music played fine, I saw my file transfer speed drop to an abysmal 50 to 60 KBytes per second, or about 5% of the performance without Bluetooth running!

Although the technology in Bluetooth allows for some fancy footwork in shifting channels to try to avoid collisions, it certainly didn't work for me. I might play with the channel my WiFi uses at some point to see if it helps, but for now I will just live with the limitation.

If there is one failing with this wonderful little speaker, it has to be the instructions that are included. The four pages of incredibly small type (one page has 554 words in a square 2" x 2") cover safety instructions (including the peculiar admonishment not to "defeat the purpose of the polarized plug" - which might make sense if the device had such a thing), one page of pictures with a packing list, one page on how to pair the speaker, and finally one page of specifications.

Unfortunately, there were no instructions on how to use some of the dual-purpose buttons on the speaker, no instructions on how to switch between Bluetooth and cabled operation, and not even an explanation that the written instruction "To switch on the speaker, press down on the power button for some time." actually meant 5 to 10 seconds!

Fortunately, at the Soundzone web site, there is an FAQ which expands enough on the instructions that, with a little stumbling around and trying things, I figured everything out.

The Soundzone SZ1001 is not cheap. The price at the web site is $79.90. Orders over $50 ship for free from the Oakville Ontario company, so that helps a little.

Overall, I am really impressed with the quality and functionality of the Soundzone SZ1001 Bluetooth capsule speaker. Although a little pricy, if you need a wireless speaker, or a speaker with amazingly long battery life, I don't think you will be disappointed in it.


Bottom Line:

Device: Soundzone SZ1001 Bluetooth capsule speaker
Price: $79.90 (shipping included)
Web:
www.soundzoneonline.com


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Ottawa Personal Computer Users' Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON  K2G 1S6

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