The market is awash with Bluetooth speakers of varying plastickiness, and it’s rare that a day goes by without me receiving at least one press release extolling the virtues of some new miracle said to be just the thing to get the party started/entertain the whole beach/play music while cycling/amaze your friends and win true love – you know the kind of thing.
Trouble is, with a very few exceptions, these speakers sound – well, horrible. With their flea-sized amplifiers, desperate attempts to squeeze something resembling bass from tiny drive units and ‘style over substance’ construction, most deliver a sound that’s better than playing music through your smartphone or tablet’s built-in speakers – which isn’t hard – but that’s about it.
Having had too many of these speakers through my hands of late (you’ll notice you haven’t seen many reviews of them on this site, which tells you a lot), my expectations are thus pretty low, which is why it was a pleasant surprise when I first encountered the Frankenspiel FS-X last year.
You can read what I made of it here, but the short version is that I was extremely impressed.
Since then the Frankenspiel people have been rethinking the speaker, from power consumption to amplifier power to voicing, and the result is a completely revised FS-X, coming soon at prices expected to be around £75 for a single speaker, or £140 for a dual-mode stereo pair.
So you can either buy stereo all at once, or buy one now, then add another for stereo, or even pair up with a friend when you want to listen together – and two FS-Xs can be combined to make a stereo pair.
However, if you think all the company has done is allow two speakers to be used together to create stereo, think again – the past year has seen a fairly thorough overhaul of the entire design, with improvements in just about every area of its performance.
More power, more bass, more running time
There’s been a huge increase in the power the little speaker delivers, upping the maximum sound pressure level on offer from the 93dB at 0.5m of the original to 110dB at 1m, and increasing the bass extension: the first model went down to 110Hz, but this one is said to be good for 50Hz. Yes, from a 9cm cube!
Also greatly improved is the battery life, though last year’s model was hardly power-hungry, giving 40 hrs of use with Bluetooth at a measured output of 69dB at 0.5m. This year the FS-X will play for 60 hours or more, at 70dB measured at 1m.
So, how’s using the new FS-X in stereo? Well, connection is just as easy as with a single speaker – you just have to power up the two within ten seconds of each other, and then one acts as the master/left speaker, feeding audio through to the righthand one, again by Bluetooth.
Together they appear on your device as ‘FS-X Dual’, and that’s just about job done: a pair of FS-Xs sound just as amazing as a single one, but now in living stereo. There’s no need for toeing-in or precise positioning or bracing your neck in a clamp to keep your head still(!): thanks to the dispersion characteristics of those BMR drive units both the tonal balance and stereo imaging are maintained even when you’re well off axis.
That’s the technical way of saying you can put them just about anywhere you like and they’ll still sound great and give you a real sense of space and stereo solidity. And I’m not just talking what might seem like the obvious idea of parking them on a desk and using them to improve the sound from your computer – there’s much more to the FS-X than that.
There are trade-offs using it in dual mode: Bluetooth range is noticeably reduced, along with a marginal decrease in playtime, due to the fact that the left ‘master’ speaker is both receiving from the music-playing device and transmitting to the right speaker. But what you gain is a much more musical soundstage, as well as a doubling in volume (an extra 3 dB).
Two together, one to go
This novel approach offers interesting usage opportunities: two of you could get together with your speakers, or you could use two speakers for serious listening at home in enhanced dual mode stereo, then for on-the-go just grab a single speaker and pop it in your bag.
This almost incredible little system is more than up to the task of filling a decent-sized room with sound, and creating an entirely credible stereo image with excellent detail and clarity, not to mention having more than enough power to deliver the kind of sound levels you’d normally only expect from much larger speakers.
Play them loud, and you can revel in that superbly extended and tightly defined bass, underpinning a clear, natural midband with excellent intelligibility and crisp, detailed treble to deliver a real sense of space and ambience.
Even better, there are no wires involved at all, so you really can place them anywhere you want – although each speaker has a USB power socket and also a 3.5mm analogue audio input should you want to use them wired or should the batteries run out. However, given the design and the fast charging, that’s not going to happen too often, however loud you play them.
Yes, these are very special little speakers, and when you add in the solidity of build, compact dimensions and simplicity of use, these are just about the perfect go-anywhere listening companion, with the all-up weight of less than 1kg for the pair making them easy to carry with you anywhere.
According to Frankenspiel, what the new FS-X system is spearheading is a whole range of products offering true hi-fi from seemingly impossibly small portable speakers – no less than that.
All of a sudden that lime-green plastic ‘turbobass’ Bluetooth speaker with the flashing disco effect lights looks a bit silly, doesn’t it?
Written by Andrew Everard