Soundcast specializes in expensive but satisfying wireless speakers. The Melody ($449) is the company's latest offering, swapping out the proprietary wireless connectivity for Bluetooth 3.0 while shrinking the size and price of its earlier OutCast line of speakers. Its size and output power put this device in a class well beyond other Bluetooth portables such as the Jawbone Big JamBox, Bose Soundlink and Braven models. Its price, however, puts it in a league with powerful but non-portable wireless models such as the B&W Z2 and Sonos Play: 5 (both of which require Wi-Fi). Is the Melody the ideal combination of these two different categories?
The Soundcast Melody's cylindrical shape is reminiscent of a small humidifier, measuring about 9 inches in diameter and 9.5 inches tall. A built-in handle at the top makes it easy to grab the 9-pound speaker and go. Buttons on the top control playback, Bluetooth pairing, volume and power. A rubberized area under the handle has grooves in it that let you sit your mobile device on top of something without it sliding off.
The speaker is encased in white plastic, and a gray metal grille covers the four 3-inch speaker drivers and four passive bass radiators, which are arranged in a 360-degree array around the unit's midsection. The whole speaker is water-resistant, which basically means you can leave it out in the rain for a few minutes without the system frying itself. However, we wouldn't leave the Melody out in a serious storm.
The micro-USB and 3.5-mm line input ports on the Melody's back are covered by a rubber strip to keep moisture and grit out. An internal (nonremovable) rechargeable battery powers the speaker for up to 20 hours, though you'll get less time than that if you keep the volume cranked all the way up. You can charge the speaker fully in a few hours using the supplied USB cable and wall plug or the 12V car charger (also supplied).
Bluetooth 3.0 lets you place your mobile device up to about 33 feet away from the Melody, though actual range depends on what obstacles are in the way. Outdoors with unobstructed sightlines, you're likely to exceed the rated range by at least a few feet; indoors with walls and furniture in the way, don't expect to get dropout-free audio more than one room away. BT 3.0 also lets you stream lossless AAC and aptX files, though this is more of a convenience feature, as the speaker isn't really audiophile-grade. Oddly, the device lacks speakerphone capability, but we're not convinced that's a necessary feature for a party-oriented device like the Melody.
Pairing the speaker with a Bluetooth-capable mobile device is a very simple and process -- just press the Bluetooth button on the speaker to put it in discoverable mode, and choose the Melody from your device's Bluetooth connection menu. Our iOS devices didn't require a passcode.
The first thing we noted about the Melody speaker is its volume. It blasts your music in all directions loudly enough to be heard clearly at the far reaches of a medium-size yard. And when you hit top volume (when the LED flashes green briefly), you can still get a bit louder by pressing the volume up button a few more times -- a feature the company says is for quieter recordings. We didn’t detect any distortion at top volume, though we preferred the overall tonal balance at about 60 to 70 percent, as the midrange becomes a little overpowering when the Melody is maxed out.
The speaker's 3-inch full-range drivers and radiators provide good power in the upper bass, which makes tracks across most genres -- especially rock such as the Tom Petty album "Learning To Fly"-- punchy and full-sounding. But the drivers are not big enough to extend down into the low bass region, which can take some of the thump out of club hits like Lady Gaga's "Do What U Want" and hip-hop, like Macklemore's "Can’t Hold Us." Dance genres featuring sub-bass and classical music with huge pipe organs that go down to the lower limits of human hearing suffer noticeably, but we doubt those listeners are the target audience for the Melody. R&B like Tower of Power's "Attitude Dance" was tight, though it could have benefited from a bit more bass.
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With acoustic jazz like John Coltrane's "Blue Train," the upright bass comes through fairly well but is overwhelmed by the prominent midrange of the horns and piano. Upper mids are strong and crisp, so cymbals and percussion come through loud and clear on acoustic music, though the uppermost frequencies are a bit weak due to the speaker's lack of dedicated tweeters, which means you lose some of the timbre of many instruments.
Overall, we are very satisfied with the sound given the speaker's purpose, which is to create a vibrant party atmosphere rather than to be a critical listening device.
At $449, the Melody is far from an impulse buy, but it outperforms every other portable Bluetooth speaker we've heard so far. You're not going to throw this 9-pounder in a backpack for a camping trip -- it's more likely to be thrown in the back seat of a car on the way to the beach or a pool party and lugged by its handle. If you need to power an outdoor party with solid volume and don't want to worry about your speaker getting wet, the Soundcast Melody should be on your (very) short list.