By Don Lindich
Week 42, 2019
Q. I want to upgrade my patio sound system. I have been using a pair of outdoor speakers connected to a receiver, but now I want a portable, wireless solution that can fill a large area with sound. What are your recommendations for weatherproof speakers in the $500 price range?
-B.G., Somers Point, NJ
A. The Kicker Bullfrog BF400 is a great buy. Last year it sold for $329 and it is now available for $199. I recommended it at $329, and for $199 it is a bargain. It has excellent full-range sound and an FM tuner for listening to the radio. It can also charge your devices from its built-in USB port.
In the higher price ranges I recommend the $599 Soundcast VG7 and $529 AxiomAir Freedom N2. The VG7 has a 360 degree soundfield and the Freedom N2 is a front-radiating speaker. They have different feature sets and each approaches the task differently, but both sound great and belong on your shopping list.
Since we are on the topic of Bluetooth speakers, I recently reviewed a small one that I need to tell readers about right away. Earlier this year I wrote about the $399 Emotiva T-Zero tower speakers and the $299 Q Acoustics 3020i bookshelf speakers and how they went straight to the front of their respective classes. It has been a very good year for speakers because I have yet another worldbeater to add to the list, the $49 Soundcore Flare Mini.
The Flare Mini impresses from the moment you pick it up. It is about the size of a soda can and the strong, tightly knit grille cloth, soft touch plastics and fine finish make it feel much more expensive than it is. Think luxury class, not budget class and you have the right idea.
The Soundcore Flare Mini creates a 360 degree soundfield with excellent stereo effect. The tonality and sonic balance are spot-on, and no matter how complex or detailed the music it never seemed to work hard. I played “The Sounds of Silence” with the Flare Mini on my nightstand, and as the opening with the guitar and vocals played it was like Simon and Garfunkel were in the room with me. Listening to “Big Bad John” by Jimmy Dean, the hammer strikes and the humming chorus reverberated in my head, but in a good way, because they were so realistic. It is pretty astounding for $49, and I don’t think there are even any $100 speakers I prefer over the Flare Mini. It plays loudly enough to use it in a large room, though bass will start sounding thin as you increase the room size. Listen from a few feet away as I did with the speaker on my nightstand and you get a satisfying, full-range performance.
If this is not enough, the speaker can be paired with a second Flare Mini for stereo sound, it is completely submersible and it can create a lightshow from the base. Pressing a button changes the show dynamics or turns it off completely. The lightshow may be a bit of a gimmick, but I found it to be fun and the colors and the patterns are very beautiful.
The Soundcore Flare Mini disrupts the category and based on sound quality alone, it is head and shoulders above the competition. When you add in everything else it becomes a singularly excellent product, and easily the best speaker you can buy for under $50.