Soundcast VG7: More than just another boom box

Bluetooth speakers have become an ubiquitous part of the portable music scene. From tiny, pocket-sized cubes to large boom box-style designs (and everything in between) consumers are spoilt for choice. So, what makes the Soundcast VG7 different?

 

I grew up in the era of the high school garage party. I’d lug my sound system to whoever was hosting the weekend’s shindig, and set up shop in their garage.

The system wasn’t anything fancy: a small Kenwood stereo amp, a pair of Pioneer coaxial 6x9s mounted in self-made boxes, and a stereo cassette deck with a bunch of pre-mixed tapes. But it delivered many hundreds of party hours.

If only the likes of Soundcast were around back then. Setting up for a party would have been so much easier! The US brand specialises in an extensive array of portable speakers, and after having spent a good few weeks in the company of the Soundcast VG7, I know that it’s a party winner.

AT FACE VALUE

But here’s the thing: the VG7 isn’t just for party animals. It’s a sophisticated piece of audio kit, cleverly packaged in an aesthetically pleasing, all-in-one enclosure. And despite a small footprint and relatively compact dimensions, it puts out a sound that will have everyone wondering where the rest of the speakers are.

Think of the VG7 as a slim, tapering composite pillar that’s slightly wider at the base. Seen from above, it has an octagonal shape, with four primary and four bevelled sides, and a top panel housing all the salient controls.

At 48 cm tall, and weighing in at 9,5 kg, the VG7 is a substantial piece of kit that’s happy to be moved around inside and outside. The weather-resistant construction adds to its no-nonsense, use-anywhere appeal – patio, lounge, bedroom or even bathroom.

A robust integrated handle makes picking up and moving the VG7 around a cinch. Our test unit was finished in an elegant charcoal, with clip-on, silver mesh protective grilles for the drive units.

UNDER THE COVERS

Each primary side houses an identical 76 mm aluminium-cone full-range driver, located high up in the casework to create a 360-degree stereo array. The driver size might sound on the small side, but with a substantial butyl rubber surround and beefy neodymium magnet motor system, these little ‘uns deliver a lot more than expected.

Augmenting this four-driver array is a single 178 mm long-throw woofer, mounted in a down-firing position at the base of the VG7. The woofer features a composite cone and butyl rubber surround.

Also built into the enclosure are two Class D amplifiers – a 30 watt device dedicated to driving the subwoofer, and a separate 2×15 watter for the four-driver stereo speaker array.

AS the VG7 is a portable speaker, it runs on a rechargeable li-ion battery pack that takes about two hours to charge fully, and delivers somewhere between 12 and 15 hours of playtime. Of course, the VG7 can still be used while it’s being charged.

SETTING UP

Most users will avail themselves of the VG7’s Bluetooth capability to hook up a music source – typically a smartphone or other smart device. The VG7 uses latest-version Bluetooth 4.2 with aptX and AAC codecs for wireless signal transfer, and can store the pairing information for up to eight devices.

Pairing is a quick and seamless process, and if you have an NFC-compatible device, you can also use NFC pairing, which is even simpler. Once linked, the connection between device and speaker is impressively robust right up to Bluetooth’s typical 10 metre limit.

Other useful features include a 3,5 mm analogue auxiliary input, and a USB Type A charge socket.

The review unit arrived brand new, and after installing the li-ion battery pack, I waited until it had charged completely before pairing both my old iPhone 5S and my A&K Jnr high-def personal music player – a quick and painless process in both instances.

The VG7 provides two selectable, DSP-originated EQ modes for indoor and outdoor listening respectively, accessed via a button on the soft-touch control panel. The outdoor mode places more emphasis on the mid-bass and bass frequencies, which makes sense, while the indoor setting adopts a more tonally balanced approach.

The control panel also provides facilities for play/pause, mute, and volume adjustment. If you’re lucky enough to own two VG7s, you can link them in a left/right stereo arrangement, using the in-built Qualcomm TWS technology.

SOUNDS LIKE

Frankly, that would be overcomplicating things, though: a single VG7 delivers its musical wares with such gusto and enthusiasm that you never feel the need for more sound. This is a speaker that takes the music by the scruff of its neck and delivers it with a resolute intensity that sounds more like hi-fi than just a portable speaker.

There’s more than enough urge and headroom on offer to play the music loud – and I mean really loud – without any sign of distortion or loss of control. Park this baby in the garden, turn up the wick beyond halfway, and you’re sure to get the neighbours’ knickers in a knot.

Even better, the 7VG isn’t just able to play at consistently high volume levels, but it does so while creating a passable sense of soundstage space and dimension. No, there’s not any real sense of left/right stereo, but the sound picture this speaker creates is both voluminous and enveloping.

Thus, you don’t really experience the VG7 as a single point source, because of it’s ability to fill even large rooms with a sound that’s full, rich and detailed.

The speaker’s tonal breadth is impressive, even given it’s larger than usual size. Bass notes are delivered with good thrust and believable timbre, while the mids are full without resorting to any artificial richness or colouring.

Add trebles that are satisfyingly clear and cleanly projected, and you have a speaker that never ceases to amaze – certainly in terms of the sheer presence and tactility of the music.

Marimba virtuoso Kuniko’s breathtaking and system-challenging readings of Bach sonatas are a good case in point. The VG7 wasn’t in the least intimidated by the deep, thrumming marimba notes, always retaining its composure, while nimbly following the Japanese artist’s every mallet stroke.

At the same time, it was able to create a believable sense of space and dimension, allowing the full impact and scope of the performance to be experienced – all from a portable speaker!

Moving on to something a little more conventional, the VG7 really got its teeth stuck into John Mayer’s ‘Queen Of California’ off his Born And Raised set. It had no problem untangling the closely knitted arrangement, allowing Mayer’s almost lyrical lead guitar riffs to rise sweetly above the rhythm guitars, amiable bass and easy-shuffle percussion.

Again, it was the fullness and the clarity of the sound that impressed, creating a room-filling listening experience that wasn’t at all what you would expect from portable speaker.

Results using the Deezer app on my iPhone 5S were equally impressive. Hans Zimmer’s utterly compelling Live In Prague was presented with all the impetus and occasion it deserves, with the VG7 easily keeping up with the intricacies and sheer scope of the music.

Finally, the Punch Brothers’ The Phosphorescent Blues was delivered with all the verve and dynamic shifts of the original, doing the textures, hues and timbres of the music full justice, and again creating a soundspace both more natural and effusive than any portable speaker should be capable of.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Comparing the indoor to the outdoor EQ setting, I found the indoor setting the better all-round set-up, even in open-air applications. The bass became that little bit too intrusive in the outdoor setting, and while it did add further oomph to the music, the VG7 doesn’t need it to convince.

The Soundcast VG7 wasn’t anything like what I expected. I assumed it would be loud and proud, yes, but I never imagined it would deliver the levels of refinement, clarity and dimensionality it does. If you didn’t know the sound come from just one source, you’d never guess – it’s that expansive and expressive.

Add the convenience of true portability, intuitive use and extended battery life, and Soundcast has a winner – even at this price point.

PROS
A sonic overachiever, with a sound much bigger than its size infers.
CONS
Performance doesn’t come cheap

VITAL STATS

Enclosure type: Portable
Drive units:
– 4x 76 mm aluminium-cone full-range drivers
– 1x 178 mm long-throw woofer, down-firing
Power output:
– 1x 30 watt RMS Class D (subwoofer)
– 2x 15 watt RMS Class D (driver array)
Frequency response: 55 Hz – 20 kHz (±3 dB)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2
Inputs: 1x 3,5 mm stereo analogue minijack
Dimensions (HxW): 48 x 28 cm
Weight: 9,5 kg
PRICE
R12 990
SUPPLIED BY
HFX Systems

SOFTWARE
Kuniko – Bach: Solo Works For Marimba (Linn 96/24 FLAC)
John Mayer – Born And Raised (Columbia 44/16 WAV)
Hans Zimmer – Live In Prague (Eagle Records 44/16 FLAC)
Punch Brothers – The Phosphorescent Blues (Nonesuch 44/16 FLAC)