Ever since their introduction in the late 90’s, MP3-player are still alive and kicking. The demand for MP3-player’s and let’s not forget the iPod culture has also created a blooming ‘ecosystem’ of accessories to go along with all those Digital Audio Players (DAP). When it comes down to actually producing the music, there are plenty of impressive earphones/headphones to choose from, like the Shure SE530PTH we recently reviewed. At the other end of the spectrum we have portable speakers, where the less than stellar performance actually seems to be the norm rather than the exception. In the middle of the portable audio scene, come the people at Soundcast with their latest offering: the OutCast! Their solution is done a bit different when compared to your typical portable speaker. They not only use a larger-than-normal unit, housing a an equally large 8′ woofer, but they also use four 3′ high frequency drivers placed in an uncommon (for portable speakers) omni-directional array. Add the fact that the unit is rechargeable, all-weather and includes a wireless transmitter, there’s no denying that the OutCast is not your typical portable speaker. But the question is, do these features add up to a great portable system? And does it sound equally good? FEATURES -All-weather, outdoor speaker system Includes iCast transmitter for use with the Apple iPod -Allows connection of other audio devices – MP3 players and computers – using the auxiliary input/output jack -Transmits signals up to 350 feet outdoors -Features buttons for pause/play and track forward/track back for remote iPod operation -Easy set-up -One 8′ downward firing woofer -Four 3′ high frequency drivers in an omni-directional array -100 watt digital amplifier -Made of water resistant plastic -Operates for up to 10 hours on the built-in, rechargeable battery pack -Internal AC power supply that can recharge the NiMH battery pack and operate the system at the same time -Transmitters search for open channels in the 2.4GHz band, and instantaneously jump to them – ultimately avoiding interference and allowing for unprecedented sound quality -Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 16 x 33.5 inches ; 40 pounds
SPECS -Data Rate: 1.536Mbps -Modulation: Frequency Hopping, FSK Digital Radio -Transmission Type: Transceiver (Bi-directional) Addressing for 3 mating for ID Tx/Rx bonding -Co-existence: Impervious to 802.11, microwave oven, both DSSS FHSS cordless phones and Bluetooth devices. -Operating frequency: 2400-2483Mhz -Channel Width: 2.0Mhz -THD+N: 0.07% @ 1Khz -SNR: 92.4dB A-weighted (20-20kHz) -Latency: 64ms (some products include selectable latency) -Frequency Response: 20-20Khz +/- 1dB -Typical Range: up to 150 feet indoors, up to 350 feet outdoors Transmitter Power: 19dBm (FCC and ETSI Compliant Operating temperature: 0 to +50C
The Soundcast System
The Soundcast OutCast system actually consists of two units: the OutCast Weather Resistant Wireless Speaker and iCast transmitter. As the name implies, the speaker is weather-resistant, wireless and rechargeable. The iCast transmitter connects to your iPod using the iPod docking bay or just about any audio source with a 3.5mm audio jack (this includes other Digital Audio players or mobile phones) and is in turn able to wirelessly transmit this audio to the weather-resistant OutCast. The beauty of the system lies in the fact that you can safely keep the iCast and the connected device out of view or away from the elements, while the weather-resistant OutCast can be placed just about anywhere. In case you want the OutCast close by, you can skip the iCast altogether and connect your devices directly to the OutCast’s mini-jack using the supplied 3.5mm cable. While Soundcast doesn’t allow potential buyers to choose the UAT as an added option on their OutCast page, the two units are compatible. The UAT is sort of like a smarter version of the iCast. The Universal AudioCast Transmitter or UAT for short, can wirelessly send music from your computer to any Soundcast speaker system or receiver. In addition, UAT has the added the convenience of being able to control the music on your computer from that Soundcast speaker or receiver.
The Soundcast system was really built with multiple units in mind and it shows: the wireless feature really shines when adding additional units. Each iCast transmitter can operate up to two iCast receivers, two OutCast portable speakers systems or one of each. This means that you can for example purchase an extra OutCast unit and let the single iCast transmitter wirelessly transmit music to one OutCast outside near the pool and one indoors, keeping both guests indoors and those near the pool entertained. The system transmits in the 2.4Ghz range and avoids interference by using a system called Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS). It does this by constantly searching for open channels in the 2.4Ghz range, once it does, it instantly jumps to this channel. This frequency hopping is done many times a second to ensure optimal transmission and sound quality. A similar technology is used with Bluetooth 1.2-enabled and higher devices.
Putting the iCast next to the OutCast almost makes you wonder whether they’re really part of the same system, due to the completely mismatched design and color scheme. On one hand you have the OutCast in a light grey color, while the iCast is done in glossy white, grey and neon green. Normally this would be a bad thing, but in this case, the reason behind the mismatched design is simple: they are never really intended to be next to each other. The glossy white on the iCast perfectly matches the iPod, while the OutCast’s nondescript grey design is perfect to blend in with for example other outdoor (pool) furniture, almost looking like piece of furniture itself.
The system will set you back a hefty $799 dollars. With the option of adding additional OutCast ($699), iCast Receiver ($79.99), UAT at $99, or the new OutCast Jr. ($499.99) which is a smaller version of the OutCast.
The package includes the following -iCast Transmitter -OutCast -OutCast Battery -AC/DC Adapter -Power Cord -3.5mm Mini to RCA Cable -3.5mm Mini to Mini Cable -Owner’s Manual
The entire unit comes in one of the biggest (and heaviest) boxes we’ve ever seen here at the Gadgetnutz labs, rivaling even the Creative GigaWorks S750 and Klipsch Promedia Ultra 5.1 boxes. It’s not only big, but it’s heavy too, with the OutCast itself coming in at a hefty 28.5 pounds! Most of this weight is thanks to the OutCast’s humongous battery, 8’sub woofer and solid materials. Getting everything out of the box was a task all on its own, but once you do get a first glimpse of the unit with all the accessories you’ll see that Soundcast has put together a serious piece of equipment and that the exercise required to get the unit out of the box was well worth the effort.
Setup by itself was pretty simple and straightforward: You’ll need to unscrew the battery compartment cover, insert the battery and screw the cover back on. Place your iPod in the iCast (or 3.5mm jack equipped audio source) and plug the adapter into your wall outlet. In about 5 minutes I was playing my tunes at full volume. Out of these 5 minutes most of it went to actually getting the OutCast out of the box and removing and putting the battery cover in place. But let’s take a few steps back to have a look at the system.
The iCast Transmitter
The iCast has kind of like a crescent shape that lies face down. The device is mostly done in a matte grey rubber material, while the top part of the unit is done in glossy white. Strangely enough they decided to do the back in neon green. Maybe it’s an attempt to make the hidden connections and controls more visible; if that’s the case they’ve succeeded. Or maybe some of the people at Soundcast thought about using the iCast as an emergency signaling device? Either way you look at it, the bright green color does draw attention to the connections and controls on the back, but it sure won’t fit everyone’s taste. Judging by the name and design it’s evident the unit was made with the iPod in mind. It’s extremely simple to use and compact, but beneath its uncomplicated exteriors lays a multitude of features. It does triple duty by not only transmitting the audio signal from your source to the OutCast speaker, but it also serves as a cradle for the iPod, while charging it at the same time. The dock is compatible with most iPod models out there and right out of the box it will accept the iPod 3G, mini, 4G, iPod with color display, nano and video, allowing you to fit these directly into the dock. With your device in place, there’s the added plus that all controls on the iPod except the volume will work normally. Worth noting is the fact that Soundcast chose to have the volume fixed, allowing all volume adjustments to be made on the OutCast speakers unit itself. One small omission is a compact RF remote. In many cases the iPod and iCast will be far away (for example when using the OutCast outdoor, while the iCast stays indoors) and even though the OutCast has audio control it too may be a few feet away. A weather-proof RF remote that serves as an extension to the controls on the OutCast would have made this system just perfect (and you very lazy). Even better would have been one that neatly tucks away in the OutCast’s body. When asked about this particular omission, one Soundcast rep indicated that by adding a remote, the Metadata would take up a full channel, so they were left with the choice of either using the second channel to support an additional receiver module or provide an RF remote that would use the second channel. In the end, when considering several factors, including cost and feature, they opted to leave out the remote. A fair trade, but a remote still would have been sweet if you ask us. Something maybe worth consider for version 2.0, SoundCast?
Having the iPod as the only audio source would have seriously hampered the system’s usefulness, but thankfully there’s a 3.5mm audio jack on both the iCast and OutCast. Any source plugged into the audio jack on the back of the iCast, be it a smartphone, mp3 player or even your laptop is transmitted to the OutCast. With the included 3.5mm jack to RCA cable, there’s the added plus that TVs and other home audio equipment can be added to the mix, making the OutCast a very capable (and portable) addition to any piece of gadgetry with either a 3.5mm or RCA audio jack. Because the iCast is an iPod-first affair, other portable sources are not treated equally as well as there isn’t really a place to put your portable device. As a result you’ll find your Microsoft Zune or Creative X-fi player just lying on the table next to the iCast connected through the 3.5mm audio jack. A small pull-out drawer or compartment could have neatly done the trick. A nice touch is the fact that the 3.5mm input jack, also serves as an output jack, this can be done with an iPod plugged into the docking station. This means that you can both wirelessly blast music to your pool area where the OutCast is located, while comfortably listening to the same tunes via your headphones connected to the iCast.
Once plugged in, the iCast shows a cool looking Blue LED light that indicates its power status with another Blue LED indicating that the unit is connected to the OutCast. The connection happens almost instantly and automatically with no button to push or anything to worry about. Even in cases where I did have many wireless equipment that use the 2.4Ghz frequency, it took a bit longer, but even so, we’re we’re talking about a duration of no longer than 5-6 seconds, which still is very impressive.
For a system designed with mobility in mind, the iCast sure has a big power brick. Considering the overall modern look, the AC power adapter looks very dated and out of place. Soundcast should consider making a smaller unit to match the overall system. Considering the portable nature of the Soundcast, adding a built-in power supply with a roll-up cable that is neatly stored inside iCast itself would have done the job a bit more elegantly.
Let’s take a look at the back of the iCast transmitter, shall we? Here, the overall simplistic theme that dominates the entire system continues on the back. The only things you’ll find here are the AC/DC socket for the power adapter,3.5mm audio jack and the 3-channel selector. According to Soundcast this selector can be used when you have two Soundcast systems: one should be left in channel 1 while the second system can be used in channel 2 or 3.
Other than the oversized power adapter and the lack of an RF remote, there’s not much to complain here. It would have been cool if they could make the iCast rechargeable with at least 4-5 hours of music transmission, while still allowing the option to bypass the battery. The iCast is characterized by sheer simplicity and performs just beautifully.
Let’s get one thing straight: the OutCast is large, heavy and not very portable. The first time you even take the OutCast out of the box, it becomes quite clear that you are not going to be lugging this puppy around for long distances, unless you decide to put it in a car or any other mode of transportation that’s able to support its weight. In my case I did need the help of a family member to get the unit out of the box. Once you get past the large size and heavy weight, the next thing you’ll notice is the sheer quality of the OutCast, the thing is built like a tank! Everything from the materials used, the narrow gaps between various sections and overall sturdy feel to the unit, just oozes quality. Chances are, the all-weather design has dictated the sturdy build and tight gaps , but this surely isn’t necessary as some manufacturer of all-weather or water-proof tech have achieved the same status with lesser materials and build quality. Perhaps inadvertently, this build superiority has resulted in a unit that is able to withstand some unusually extreme situations, but more on that later on.
It’s kind of difficult to explain how the OutCast looks like, but the best I can do is describing the unit as a torpedo standing upright without the pointy front. The design is all about blending in, instead of standing out. This is achieved by using a pretty nondescript design: no stand-out design features, no flashy colors, just a simple oblong shape done in a light grayish color. Normally this would be a bad thing, but in this case, Soundcast made a wise decision. As I found out, it didn’t appear to look out place anywhere I used it: around the pool, in the living room or even providing the necessary entertainment at a beach party. This by itself is a pretty difficult task to achieve, as the unit is quite large housing one of the biggest batteries I have ever seen and the huge 8′ subwoofer. Despite its titan c proportions, attention was never drawn to the unit. Soundcast simply got it right when designing the unit.
The OutCast has Four 3′ drivers in an omni-directional array near the top of the unit behind a protective mesh metal cover that makes them pretty difficult to spot, while also protecting them. By far the largest section of the OutCast is used to house the equally large 8′ downward- firing woofer. Strangely enough they didn’t see the need to put a mesh metal cover in front of the woofer as is more commonly found in Home Theater and or PC speakers. Even the OutCast Jr.’s subwoofer is protected by a grille, so why isn’t the larger OutCast? Luckily the unit isn’t completely out in the open as it does sit slightly hidden underneath the OutCast and it is surrounded by 4 legs that in turn sit on a small pedestal that houses the battery. As a result the woofer IS somewhat protected, but a protective metal cover adds that last bit of protection we expect, just to be on the safe side.
As mentioned already, the OutCast sits on a pedestal, where the battery is located behind a screw-on plastic cover. Initially, we thought about the scenario where the OutCast sits right next to a wall outlet and to prevent overcharging, the ability to quickly and easily be able to remove the batteries would have been great. Because it uses screws to keep this cover in place, we thought that a screw-less design would have greatly helped the process of removing the batteriesl. So we were kind of surprised to find out that that the battery does not have to be removed at all from the unit either for charging or for any other reason as the battery is bypassed once it is fully charged. I was impressed!
On the top side of the unit, the OutCast has a multitude of large easy to use buttons. Pressing the power button, reveals that these buttons are backlit in a cool looking white light, a very nice touch. A green light indicates that the system is wirelessly transmitting a signal to the iCast. Another cool detail is the addition of a blue ambient light created by two lights located near the subwoofer. While we do think the Blue ambient light looks sweet, especially in a dark room, we kind of wish Soundcast could use the same color for the different lights scattered across the iCast and Soundcast. The color that should be used is a pretty subjective matter, but we certainly think that using a single light color should make the system look more uniform. Here at the Gadgetnutz labs, we reckon that an OutCast with a white ambient lights (just like on the backlit keys) and the same white lights on iCast should seal the deal in the aesthetics department. One last thing worth mentioning is a handle/compartment where your portable audio source can be played. This handle proved to be not only handy, but even necessary in the case of such a large unit such as the OutCast. While I do doubt that owners of the system will be moving the system around using this handle, it did make the task a lot easier.
With a large 8′ subwoofer and four 3′ mid-range drivers we expected a system such as the OutCast to outperform most portable speakers out there, especially on the deep end. On the downside, that isn’t saying much as the competition’s performance definitely isn’t worth writing home about, as most portable speaker, either large or small tend to lose composure at higher sound levels and or fail to accurately reproduce the tones of low frequency or range. Especially due to the lack of a large enough driver to truly hit those deep notes, they lack that depth found in their non-portable counterparts. Those 6 or 8 inch woofers are rare beasts among portable speakers, but even in those rare cases they most likely tend to sound boomy overpowering the mids and highs, in their quest to impress the average consumer.
The OutCast easily reaches pretty loud volume levels without ever losing composure until the very last end and should be able to fill mid to large sized rooms with plenty of headroom left. With its ability to reach those higher volumes the system just begs to be played louder, with not even a sign of strain when raising the volume. In fact, the OutCast is able to keep its composure at almost till max volume, where it does begin to sound edgy. How does it measure up in volume? When compared to your typical portable speaker, the OutCast has enough volume headroom for a party, while your typical portable speakers are OK for a small room. The Four 3′ drivers placed in an omni-directional array are perfect to disperse sound in a room, but it’s less ideal for stereo content where the location of the various musical instruments or sources are key. This means that the unit is perfect for Rock, Pop or even New Age, but with Classical Music performed on stage or third person shooter games, where location is key, speakers placed in an omni-directional array aren’t the best choice. The 3′ drivers do an admirable job when it comes to vocals, accurately able to recreate the difficult-to-produce male voices. On the other hand in some pieces we do feel they sounded just slightly ‘recessed’. Outdoors the speakers placed in a 360 degree setup truly shine sending sound in all directions, making difficult to locate the source (The OutCast itself), while still maintaining audio quality even when placed in large open spaces.
One area we do feel the system could use some help is in the higher notes as the four 3′ speakers, sometimes struggle to properly handle highs due to the lack of dedicated tweeters.
The large proportions of the OutCast allows for plenty of room for the true gem behind the unit and something that just couldn’t be possible on smaller systems: the 8′ down-firing subwoofer. This enables the OutCast to go deep with plenty of volume and power to match for a system of this caliber. This is done without ever overpowering the mids and highs, making for system that doesn’t put emphasis on any particular frequency range. The base on the OutCast can be described as quick, tight and musical, not sloppy and vague which seems to be the norm for almost all portable speakers out there. When comparing the OutCast to the popular Klipsch Promedia Ultra PC speakers with its dual 8′ subwoofer, the Klipsch sounds tighter, will go deeper at louder volumes, but then again the unit does use two 8′ woofer in a slot-loaded design as compared to the OutCast’s single 8′ woofer. Despite the Klipsch’s superior dual sub design, the OutCast shows an excellent performance with ‘just’ a single 8′ woofer. The OutCast trumps just about any portable speakers that lack such a massive subwoofer, which in the case of portable speaker is almost every model out there. It appears that OutCast has gone for a sealed cabinet, which in most cases should allow for tight, accurate bass and have a flat frequency response curve. A properly tuned ported design could approach a sealed design in quality while allowing for louder bass, but could be difficult to do with the weather-proof status and all. For this reason we think that the OutCast should stay with the sealed design, but maybe opting a dual 8′ subwoofer design could make a stellar performance even better.
Lastly, we put the OutCast through its paces in a gaming setting, just to get an all-round feel for the system. As already mentioned, the speakers placed in an omni-directional array aren’t ideal for popular third person shooters as you won’t know where enemies are coming from. Despite this, the system had the right punch needed for games. The bass prowess of the OutCast and the mid-driver firing in all directions created an immerse experience, despite lacking in accuracy when compared to the more traditional 5.1 or 7.1 speaker setup.
Worth noting is that there wasn’t any difference between plugging any audio source directly to the OutCast or plugging it into the iCast and wirelessly transmitting it to the OutCast. This was done with various notebooks, netbooks, smartphones and a PS3 all wirelessly connected via Wi-Fi (2.4Ghz) to a router nearby. This shows the robustness of the wireless technology used by the OutCast/iCast. After testing the system for a few months now, we never experienced a single disconnect or a sign of interference that affected the audio quality. Just as impressive was the wireless range: at a distance of about 150 feet, with various wireless equipement in the area and a few walls in between, there wasn’t any interference or disconnects. At a distance of about 350 feet, the OutCast/iCast system kept going without any problem. One thing we did notice however was that the while the OutCast’s audio quality/wireless signal was never affected, when trying to talk on our 2.4Ghz cordless phone, just 1 feet from the iCast transmitter, it showed signs of heavy interference.
As for battery life, we got an average of about 10 hours and 20 minutes, but this will depend on various factor including sound volume, lights etc.
Build Quality According to the Soundcast guys the OutCast is made from ‘UV stabilized ABS plastic with water tight seals’ and can withstand ‘the harshest of elements.’ As noted earlier in the review, one of the first things we noticed was the extremely good build of the OutCast. But why not put it to the test, the following videos pretty much speak for themselves:
There’s no denying that the OutCast is not your typical portable speaker. With its larger-than-normal unit, housing a an equally large 8′ woofer, four 3′ high frequency drivers placed in an uncommon omni-directional array and the fact that the unit is rechargeable, all-weather and includes a wireless transmitter it stands out from the rest.
Judging by the name and design it’s evident that the iCast was made with the iPod in mind. It’s extremely simple to use and compact, but beneath its uncomplicated exteriors lays a multitude of features. It does triple duty by not only transmitting the audio signal from your source to the OutCast speaker, but it also serves as a cradle for the iPod, while charging it at the same time. The addition of a 3.5mm audio jack on both the iCast and 3.5mm jack to RCA cable, means any piece of gadgetry with either a 3.5mm or RCA audio jack can be hooked up to the iCast and its audio blasted to the OutCast. While we praise the iCast for its simplicity and performance we kind of wished it had a weather-proof RF remote. Considering the overall modern look, the large AC power adapter looks very dated and out of place. Soundcast should consider making a smaller unit to match the overall system. Other than the oversized power adapter and the lack of an RF remote, there’s not much to complain here.
The OutCast is large, heavy and not very portable. The first time you even take the OutCast out of the box, it becomes quite clear that you are not going to be lugging this puppy around for long distances, unless you decide to put it in a car or any other mode of transportation that’s able to support its weight. The OutCast is characterized by its solid build quality and impressive audio performance. The OutCast easily reaches pretty loud volume levels without ever losing composure until the very last end and should be able to fill mid to large sized rooms with plenty of headroom left. The Four 3′ drivers placed in an omni-directional array are perfect to disperse sound in a room, but it’s less ideal for stereo content where the location of the various musical instruments or sources are key. This means that the unit is perfect for Rock, Pop or even New Age, but with Classical Music performed on stage or third person shooter games, where location is key, speakers placed in an omni-directional array aren’t the best choice. But the true gem behind the unit and something that just couldn’t be possible on smaller systems is the 8′ down-firing subwoofer. This enables the OutCast to go deep with plenty of volume and power to match. Such solid audio performance pretty uncommon in the protable audio scene. OutCast should consider adding tweeters as the mid-range drivers sometimes struggles with the high frequencies. Making the system a dual 8′ system should make a solid performing system even better. There wasn’t any difference between plugging any audio source directly to the OutCast or plugging it into the iCast and wirelessly transmitting it to the OutCast, which clearly shows the robustness of the wireless signal used by Soundcast. The system lived up to the promise of offering a solid 350 feet wireless range and an equally impressive 10 hours of battery life. When it comes to design, Soundcast simply got it right, creating a look that’s sure to become and icon, not to mention the impressive feet of making such a large unit blend-in in just about any setting.
The OutCast isn’t all perfect as our biggest gripe with the unit was the difficult to remove rechargeable battery due to the fact that Soundcast insists on using screws. Sorry guys, but the screws have got to go! We also wished that that subwoofer was better protected by a mesh metal cover. And while the overall audio performance was probably the best we’ve heard from just about any portable speaker, the system sure could benefit from the use of dedicated tweeters.
The OutCast and iCast system scores an impressive 9.7 out of 10.
Also be sure to stay tuned for part 2 of this series, where we take a look at the SoundCast OutCast Jr. and the UAT!
Pros Weather-proof Extremely durable design Impressive Musical performance (and loud) Capable Subwoofer Solid wireless connection Long battery life Design is classic, iconic and blends in easily in most settings The battery is bypassed once it is fully charged, preventing overcharging
Cons No RF mini remote. Somewhat exposed Woofer Huge Power brick for the iCast transmitter Higher frequencies are better handled by tweeters which the system lacks