In 2010, an upstart company called Soundfreaq came out of nowhere with a versatile, snazzy, and sonically solid speaker dock called the Sound Platform. For the company's sophomore release, Soundfreaq took the same concept and aimed smaller, producing the Sound Step (SFQ-02).
Priced at $139, the Sound Step can charge and play music from any of your mobile gadgets, including the Apple iPad, iPhone, and iPod. For an extra $20, you can purchase a model with a rechargeable battery called the Sound Step Recharge, which offers all of the same features plus 6 hours of battery life.
Measuring 13 inches wide, 3.75 inches tall, and 5 inches deep, the shoebox-size Sound Step could be at home on either a nightstand or a countertop. The minimal design has a refined Sony quality to it that doesn't call attention to itself.
The body is mostly made from plastic, with a matte finish on the top and a high-gloss finish around the sides and back. A cloth-covered speaker grille on the front conceals a pair of 1.5-inch drivers that are spaced far enough apart to not be obscured by a docked iPad. There are signs of some clever porting between the speakers to help with overall tuning and maximize the effect of the 2-inch woofer tucked away on the back of the unit.
Beneath the speakers you'll find the 30-pin dock connection, compatible with Apple's iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. If you're using the Sound Step with non-Apple devices, you can use the full-size USB port on the back and conceal the dock connection on the front with an included rubber bumper.
The small buttons on the front of the Sound Step are responsive to the slightest touch. On the left you'll find buttons for each of the three sound sources (dock, Bluetooth, and aux input), as well as a button to activate Soundfreaq's UQ3 audio enhancement mode. Buttons for power, volume, track skip, play/pause, and Bluetooth pairing are located on the right.
On the back are sockets for the power adapter, aux input, and FM antenna wire. The full-size USB charging port is also back here, along with a composite video output for running video from your docked Apple gadget out to a TV. Overall, there's a nice selection of extras back here, but the use of a clumsy FM antenna wire works against the compact, minimal design--especially if you're springing for the portable model.
One final design extra on the Sound Step is a little fitted slot in the bottom of the speaker for the included remote control. If you tend to lose your remotes, or rarely use them, this cubbyhole is a nice detail. The remote itself is unspectacular. You get controls for volume, mute, track skip, play/pause, audio enhancement, and source, and an operating range of 10-15 feet. We're happy to have it, but didn't find many occasions to use it. After all, one of the great things about Bluetooth speakers is that the mobile device basically becomes a remote control (one with better range, too).