When we reviewed the first edition of the Soundmatters FoxL Personal Audiophile Loudspeaker (Bluetooth) last year, its small footprint and large soundstage over a wired connection blew us away. We preferred the Bluetooth-free model, since the wireless audio quality tended to suffer from aural degradation. A little more than a year later, Soundmatters has a new version of the Bluetooth portable speaker that not only improves on the wireless audio quality, but also extends the wireless range and includes a built-in speakerphone for portable teleconferencing. At $200 for the Bluetooth model, the FoxL v2 is certainly one of the more expensive portable speakers we've tested, but the fidelity and build quality make it a worthwhile purchase for serious audiophiles on the run.
The FoxL v2 is the exact same size as its predecessor and measures 5.6 inches long by 2.2 inches wide by 1.3 inches deep--roughly the same size as a king-size Snickers candy bar. The speaker isn't the lightest kid on the block at 9.5-ounces, but the heft is necessary to prevent the device from "walking," a kinetic phenomenon caused by the power of its rear-firing bass radiator. This solid construction quality also doubles as protection against dings and drops in transit and the included cloth carrying pouch fends away light scratches.
It's easy to mistake the v2 for the original model, since they look very similar except for a small "2" in the bottom right corner. The front of the speaker houses two proprietary 25mm dome speakers that Soundmatters calls the "Twoofer," because of its capability to produce both high and low frequencies while saving space. And although you can't physically see them, the v2 also uses four digital amplifiers that provide up to 97 decibels of aural power. The back of the bar has an on/off switch in the left corner, and two buttons on the right control the volume. You also get a kickstand that lets you position the speaker at an angle, and two rubber feet on the bottom support the unit during playback. Other convenient features include a Mini-USB port for battery charging, a 3.5mm line-in port, a power input jack for the five hour lithium ion rechargeable battery, and an LED status light that blinks to indicate power and Bluetooth pairing status.
You can pair the FoxL to a music player over Bluetooth or using a hardwired 3.5mm cable, but take note that the output wattage increases when the unit is connected to the AC adapter. It's not a big deal, but don't be surprised if you experience a slight decrease in volume when it's unplugged.
Pairing two Bluetooth devices together is usually a headache, but we had a completely painless experience with the FoxL v2. It goes into discovery mode right when you turn it on, and from there it's just a matter of locating the speaker using your audio player of choice. In less than five minutes, we were streaming audio from an Apple iPhone 3G, but you can use it with any device that supports the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) protocol. There's also a microphone button on the front that pauses your music and lets you answer or reject calls on the speakerphone without interrupting playback.
We listened to the Soundmatters FoxL speaker for a solid two weeks before writing this review and we're still impressed by the sound quality, especially considering its portable footprint. The FoxL also gives off a surprisingly thumping bass response thanks to a unique BassBattery design that wraps the battery in rubber for more low-end vibration, which you can actually feel on the surface you put the speaker on. The sound stage is nothing to balk at, either: the Twoofers remain clear with little noticeable distortion even playing bass-heavy tunes at high volumes.
We used Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall" album as a reference recording, because of its impeccable engineering, and every song from "Girlfriend" to "Rock With You" showcases the FoxL's audiophile endorsement, generating a wide, dynamic range and palpable spatial imaging. Taking into consideration the FoxL v2's small stature, we're hard pressed to find another small speaker that offers fidelity on par with the Soundmatters FoxL v2 pocket speaker.