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ThinkOutside Boomtube H201

Thu Feb 23, 2006 - 5:01 PM EST - By Harv Laser

So how does it sound?

If you slept through music theory class, think of a piano keyboard. Go up one octave and you double the frequency of the note. Go down one octave and you halve the frequency. A 1000 cycle tone is twice as high as a 500 cycle tone which is twice as high as a 250 cycle tone, and so on up and down the frequency range of human hearing and beyond, from supersonics on the high end, down to subsonics on the bottom end.

Most quality sound reproduction systems are rated at, and can actually reproduce 20 Hz to 20 kHz. My $100.00 Sony MDR-V6 studio monitor headphones are rated at an astonishing 5 Hz to 30 kHz, they are the cans of choice of most studio engineers and recording artists, and they are my reference listening system by which I judge everything else. By lopping off the bottom end at 50 Hz, the Boomtube denies you about an octave and a half of bottom-end low frequency sound, the low bass fundamentals, but the reason is simple. As with car engines, so it can be said of speaker systems: “There is no replacement for displacement.” You simply can’t push enough air with 2” speaker cones to reproduce extremely low bass notes no matter how much power you feed them, or how you tweak an equalizer.

Most non-portable three piece speaker systems, whether something like the Bose AM-3, which hooks to your home hifi, or a high quality set of amplified computer speakers use at least a 4” or 5” subwoofer driver in a ported enclosure the size of a shoebox or loaf of bread. These kinds of speakers CAN push enough air to go down to 20 Hz cleanly, for that bone-rattling bass. But those kinds of subs are quite heavy, because bigger speakers need bigger voicecoils and magnets to handle a lot of power to push more air. To keep the Boomtube’s size and weight down to something people would actually consider reasonably lightweight and portable, the 2” drivers firing into a non-ported aluminum tube inherently limit the bottom end, and thus the compromise between true low bass and portability.

Don’t get me wrong. The BT will play loud; it will fill a room with quality, acceptable sound at low and high volume levels. It's especially good sounding with spoken word material like podcasts, audio books, and music vocals. The highs and mids and low mids are sweet, tasty, and accurate, but it’s all too easy to over-equalize and overdrive the subwoofer to the point of distortion, or, if you’ll excuse the street slang, farting out. And distortion is not what quality audio is about. It’s about full-range and accurate sound reproduction. It’s about speakers that don’t color the sound. It’s about transparency and a gut-level reaction that says “These sound like music, not like speakers.”

Used with your Treo and any MP3 playing software, you’ll actually have two volume controls to deal with, one on the Treo, and the pair of knobs on the Boomtube. On a laptop, using something like WinAmp, you’ll have three, or even more when you factor in a graphic equalizer.

So the BT’s sound is a compromise, dictated by the size of its drivers.

If you’re itching to rattle the windows with the opening organ notes of “Thus Spake Zarathustra”, it simply can’t do it.

Rethink the design, please.

The Boomtube has no elegant way to store its four cables. When it’s time to pack it up and take it out to play, you’ll either be stuffing those cables into its carrying case, making a twisted, knotted mess, or tediously wrapping them. Here’s where the design needs a re-think. Each satellite speaker or the central tube itself should be grooved so you could wrap the wires into a detent, or some kind of cable retracting spool. Even better would be a design with no wires at all and why not? Wireless headphones and home telephones have been around for decades. Eliminate the wires, and you eliminate the mess.

And this bugged me: although it may make them look high techy pretty, the four speaker cones have no protective grilles of any kind, when the satellites are taken off the subwoofer and the system's in use. I've been buying and selling and upgrading and auditioning speaker systems since the 1960s, and I’ve never seen loudspeaker systems without protective grilles.

Again, I turned to ThinkOutside and asked them why. They claimed they tried all kinds of grilles but they muffled the sound. I don’t buy that answer. Whether cloth, slatted plastic, or metal mesh, speaker cones need protection, and with no grilles over the cones you constantly run the risk of grabbing one of the satellites and putting a finger through its cone. If you have rug rats who love to pick up and play with small objects, the risk of speaker cone damage is, pardon the pun, amplified.

And with the subwoofer on the floor, where it belongs, the controls are a long reach down. They should be moved to one of the satellites where they’d be easier to access. Again, back to loudspeaker design - low bass is omni-directional, and subwoofers produce more bass when they are on a floor, more when they're where a floor meets a wall, and the most in a room corner where two walls and the floor meet. So you CAN get more bass out of the BT by, for example, putting its subwoofer section on the floor, behind a desk, next to a wall, but then you'll be down on your hands and knees to adjust the controls, which is why those knobs belong on one of the satellites, not on the central sub tube.

Lastly, the system has no slot or holder of any kind in which to rest or dock a Treo, an iPod, or anything else.

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