The future of high-fidelity audio has arrived. The small and stylish Mass Fidelity Core ($599) puts speakers twice its size to shame, offering multiroom capabilities, more than 12 hours of battery life and the ability to double as a soundbar. The most amazing thing about the Core is how it delivers true stereo using acoustic holograms ─ without separate left and right speakers. This is the little black box that every audiophile needs to have.
How It Works: Holographic Audio
A confession, dear reader: my time with the Core has taught me that I've been using the descriptive term "room-filling" wrong. Yes, other speakers I've reviewed do indeed fill a room with sound, but they lack the dimension this relatively small device delivers.
Using a complex mix of electromechanical engineering and carefully calculated algorithms, the speaker's ARM processor times the device's output to create an acoustic hologram of sorts. This hologram allows the Core to deliver true stereo sound, eliminating the need for a left and right speaker.
I didn't really understand the science until I listened to Pink Floyd's "Money." As the song began, I heard the gentle clinking of coins and the closing and opening of the cash register to the left and right.
The primary function of this technology is put an end to sweet spots ─ that small locale where you typically find optimal sound from your speaker(s). Combined with the five custom drivers and a downward-firing subwoofer, the Core's unique holographic tech delivers crisp 360-degree audio that sounds good no matter where you are in the room.
The Core's design is effortless. Whether it's in your living room, kitchen, bedroom or bathroom, the Core's clean lines and gently rounded edges just look like they belong there. The look starts with the glossy, black anti-scratch plastic surface with the small Mass Fidelity logo stamped at the top. The obsidian surface conceals the NFC chip embedded within. It's also a fingerprint magnet, so keep the included microfiber cloth handy. A quad of concave buttons for multiroom, source, volume up and volume down sit expectantly near the bottom.
Soft black cloth lines wrap around the device's middle save for the rear portion, which is made of firm black plastic. It's here that you'll find more subtle branding for the company along with a slew of ports, including Sub Out, Aux, Control, Optical, standard USB charger, DC adapter and a Power button. The Core's bottom sports a gleaming chrome treatment, with two thick black rubber feet to anchor the device when it's kicking out those heavy basslines.
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Measuring 6 x 6 x 4 inches and weighing 7.9 pounds, this speaker is smaller than a breadbox and can fit in most adults' hands. Although the Core's weight is substantial, I was able to comfortably transport two in my book bag. The 14.5-pound, 13.3 x 19 x 5-inch Mohu BeBox is a monster by comparison.
A Box of All Trades
Outside of its main duties as a Bluetooth speaker, the Core offers a variety of other functions, thanks to its multitude of ports. For instance, plugging the device into a video source like a TV, cable box or even a Roku gives you an impressive sound bar, complete with its own remote control. It can also be hooked up to a CD player or even a turntable, so you can enjoy your high-res 24 bit/192kHz audio the way the artist wanted you to experience it. The Core is even compatible with smart home devices such as Nest, though the specifics of what it can do with those gadgets is still unknown.
Performance: Anything But Small
So much boom from such a little box. The Core produces luscious lows that you can feel even at lower volumes. The speaker handled the bone-rattling bass of The Weeknd's "The Hills" with graceful aplomb, whereas most speakers would sound blown-out. The Mohu BeBox speaker, even with its active subwoofer, had some difficulties with this track. At mid-volume, the BeBox had the edge on the Core, but as I raised the volume, the bass became increasingly distorted, which didn't bode well for the rest of the track.
The Core, however, is more than a portable bass machine. You'll also enjoy clear, balanced highs and mids across genres. Like the line in his song "Tennessee Whiskey," Chris Stapleton's voice was as "warm as a glass of brandy" against the gentle strum of the guitar. The chords were almost bell-like in their clarity, edging out the BeBox's performance.
During Janelle Monae's "Can't Live Without Your Love," I reveled in the eclectic artist's beautiful soprano that seemed to dance upon the sweet violin and guitar. There was a hint of muddiness in the bass, but even so, the same track on the BeBox had more disruptive distortion on the lows.
Although the sound is lovely, there are a couple of caveats. The first of which is something that plagues most Bluetooth feature ─ annoying notifications. It's jarring to be in the middle of a groove only to have it disrupted for a random Facebook update from someone you're not even friends with IRL. Although most smartphones and tablets have a Do Not Disturb feature, it'd be nice if the speaker would ignore these disruptions automatically.
The other point of contention is the range, which topped out at 50 feet during my time with the device. That's actually great range, but the problem begins once you start walking around. If I inadvertently walked out of range, the music would sputter and then cut out entirely.
Multi-Room: Double Your Pleasure
Or triple or quadruple it. In addition to moonlighting as a soundbar, the speaker has the ability to link up with other Cores, creating a multiroom setup. Currently, the Core can link with up to eight of its little black brethren, provided you have the space to accommodate that much awesome.
While that's all well and good, what makes the Core stand out from the competition is the ease in which you pair the devices. Instead of relying on your home network, each Core has its own 5-GHz network, so linking devices is as simple as pressing the pair button. It's a huge step-up from having to fumble with an app or purchase another component to create a link. In practice, my second Core took 3.5 seconds to connect with my main device, instantly transforming my humble bedroom into my own private concert hall.
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Creating a multiroom setup with Sonos' Play 5 speakers involves tapping into your home's network connect. Since this is how you'll be receiving any and all software updates as well as streaming music, Sonos dictates that the connection must be high-speed Internet with the appropriate router. The company advises people with larger homes or with 5GHz networks to invest in either its Bridge or Boost products to prevent spotty Wi-Fi coverage. Both devices work to create dedicated wireless networks for your Sonos devices. Depending on your home, you'll be doing a lot of plugging before you play.
Mass Fidelity estimates the Core can last up to 12 hours, depending on the genre of music and volume level. Over the course of three days, I streamed my Spotify megamix (Hip Hop, R&B, Alternative, Classic Rock and a little bit of country) for 3 hours at time at a medium volume looking for the flashing red status light that would signal the speaker had 10 percent battery life remaining. I saw it about 1:15 into the fourth day, putting the time at 10:15. The Mohu BeBox lasted over 6 hours under the same conditions.
When the Core finally does run out of power, it takes approximately 2 hours to recharge. You can also power your smartphone or tablet on the speaker via its USB port.
The Mass Fidelity Core doesn't look like any Bluetooth speaker you've ever seen, because it's more than a nifty wireless peripheral. Boasting a slick design, impressive audio quality and multiroom capabilities, the Core is a jack of all trades and a master of all. It also makes for a mighty but mini soundbar. Having to actively enable Do Not Disturb or pay attention to the Bluetooth range can be annoying. However, it's the $599 price tag will give all but the most deep-pocketed audiophiles pause. But if you can afford it, the Core is a great choice for discerning music lovers with unrivaled style.