There’s nothing that livens up a party on the deck, by the pool, or at the campsite like the music from a portable Bluetooth speaker. These things have been a game-changer compared to the old days when you had to bring a boombox and either a huge loop of extension cord, or stacks of D-cell batteries that you’d burn through on an hourly basis. However, most portable Bluetooth speakers are rather modest in size and sound output. The small size is what makes them portable, after all. Longing for something more substantial, but still able to run for hours on a rechargeable battery? The subject of this review is for you: the SOUNDBOKS 4 Bluetooth performance speaker.
The first impression of unboxing the SOUNDBOKS 4 is that a band might have misplaced part of their stage speaker stack. When I say this is a mammoth portable speaker, I’m not kidding. It stands over two feet tall, it’s built like a professional speaker–with a poplar cabinet (not plastic), a steel grill and a powder-coated aluminum frame–and it tips the scales at over 35 pounds.
That size makes it just barely qualify as portable. Barely. Fortunately, there are silicone ball corners that not only allow the speaker to stand securely, they provide needed cushioning against bumps if you’re lugging the speaker through tight quarters. If you have a lot of distance to cover, SOUNDBOKS offers an optional backpack attachment.
Although it just barely qualifies as a portable speaker, the SOUNDBOKS 4 makes good use of that massive cabinet and after powering it on and starting to stream your music, you will very quickly forget about the effort involved to get the speaker there.
Most portable Bluetooth speakers have plastic enclosures and because of their size, employ a small array of 2-inch or maybe 3-inch full-range drivers, plus a passive radiator to try to add a bit of bass. Amplification is likely to be in the 10W to 20W range, and average battery life probably averages around 10 hours these days. In most cases, music played outdoors on these speakers is passable, but far from exceptional. Especially once you get a few feet away from them.
The SOUNDBOKS 4 goes far beyond passable, to impressive sound, with a big sonic upgrade from the first three editions of the giant flagship speaker.
That huge speaker cabinet has the space to mount a pair of 10-inch woofers, plus a 1-inch compression driver tweeter. They are powered by three 72W Class D amplifiers. The poplar cabinets provide a warmer sound than plastic, and there is a pulse reflex port that helps to strengthen the lower end even further. The battery is not only the safer and longer life Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) formulation with up to 40 hours of playback time, it is also swappable.
SOUNDBOKS 4 Key Specs:
- 2 x 10-inch woofers, 1 x 1-inch compression driver tweeter with 40Hz – 20kHz frequency range, custom pulse reflex port
- 3 x 72W RMS Infineon MERUS Audio eximo class D amplifiers, next-gen adaptive DSP with bass enhancer, custom EQ (app-based) plus Stage, Dancefloor, Lounge sound modes
- Volume control knob goes to 11
- Bluetooth 5.0
- Pro Panel inputs for guitar, DJ mixer, microphone or active instruments (2 x 1/4-inch inputs, 3.5mm input and 3.5mm output)
- Supports SOUNDBOKS wireless TeamUP multi-speaker connectivity
- IP65 rated electronics coating
- User swappable/replaceable 12.8V, 7.8Ah Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) battery with 5-step LED power indicator, rated at up to 40 hours playback at mid-volume
- Operating temperature 14°F to 100°F
- 25.6 x 17 x 13-inch poplar cabinet with silicone ball corners, powder-coated aluminum frame, power-coated steel grill and handles
- Weighs 35.5 lbs
- Bottom pole mount
- Black cabinet with black grill, or black with metallic gray grill
- Additional batteries and accessories such as backpack frame sold separately
- Some features controlled via SOUNDBOKS mobile app
- 45-day return policy, 2-year warranty (plus additional 1-year when registered)
- MSRP $999
The SOUNDBOKS 4 is claimed to deliver “drastically improved” audio performance and quality compared to the original (and followups SOUNDBOKS 2 which I reviewed here and the SOUNDBOKS 3). SOUNDBOKS says the improvements include a much more powerful DSP, redesigned speaker drivers, refactored audio routing, new firmware and improved battery life.
When I tested the SOUNDBOKS 2 a few years back, I discovered that playing music at a volume level of 6 (out of 11) could be heard a block away. The SOUNDBOKS 4 has that same power. I spent multiple days doing yard work with the speaker at 5 and about 50 feet away from me, and it was loud.
Not just loud, but it sounded really good, which is not easy to pull off from that distance and outdoors. The highs were crisp, midrange was solid and the bass thumped and rumbled. A lot of the detail that would be lost or muddied at any distance with a typical portable speaker was still there, and then some. You can use the SOUNDBOKS 4 indoors with new Dancefloor and Lounge sound modes taming that output and tailoring it to an indoor setting. The mobile app also offers an EQ for custom settings.
I don’t have that SOUNDBOKS 2 around to compare it to, but if my memory serves me right, the SOUNDBOKS 4 is just as loud, but with a more refined sound and even more impressive bass.
Long Battery Life, But Pay Attention to Charging
I love the fact that SOUNDBOKS speakers use swappable batteries. Not only does this promise a much longer life (most portable speakers are done as portables once their built-in battery dies after a few years), but it also allows for buying a second battery and swapping it out if needed to keep a long party going for even longer.
However, you do need to pay attention when charging this speaker. First, it’s not quite as simple as plugging in a power adapter to charge. The included charger uses a T-jack, which is slightly more complicated to connect–you can’t connect the charger directly to the speaker (skipping the battery)–and SOUNDBOKS also warns against charging for more than six hours, as the charger is not meant to be used as a power source. While charging (which takes about 3.5 hours), you need to keep power output under half volume.
The bottom line is that when using this speaker indoors, you’ll still be running on battery power…
To me, the swappable battery is more than worth the inconvenience. And in terms of battery life, the SOUNDBOKS 4 is a champ. While you can drain the battery in just five hours if you pump the volume to 11, at a much more reasonable volume of 6 (which will still absolutely blow away most portable speakers, by the way), you can achieve up to 40 hours of playback on a charge. I could take the speaker out for a few hours a day, play music at mid-volume, and only have to charge it every two or three weeks.
The SOUNDBOKS 4 is somewhat unique in its additional capabilities, which make it a great choice for big events in general. Its “Pro Panel” includes inputs for a microphone or even an electric guitar or other active instruments–some portable speakers include a mic input, but good luck finding one that can be used as a guitar amp. You can even power and mix multiple external audio sources simultaneously.
If you own more than one of these speakers, the SOUNDBOKS 4 is SKAA-compliant. This means you can wirelessly connect up to five speakers together using TeamUp for true concert-level performance. The designers made this extra easy with an on-speaker button dedicated to the task.
Want to make the SOUNDBOKS 4 truly your own? The company offers several grill colors. But SOUNDBOKS also encourages creativity. The grill can be easily removed and custom spray-painted. The user manual even provides step-by-step instructions.
For absolutely dominating outdoors sound in a portable form factor, the SOUNDBOKS 4 is tough to beat. It’s big, solidly built, rugged, loud (but with high quality audio performance), offers up to 40 hours of battery life plus a swappable battery, and it can do double duty as a guitar amp or PA system. At $999 it’s not cheap, but you are getting a lot of speaker for your money. Just be aware that if you are using it indoors it is still meant to run on battery, not plugged into the wall.
If you are craving big sound and like the idea of a swappable battery but the SOUNDBOKS 4 is just too much speaker for you, I’d suggest checking out the SOUNDBOKS Go (reviewed here) as a slightly more manageable–but still–mighty, alternative.
Disclosure: SOUNDBOKS provided a speaker for evaluation purposes but had no input into this review.
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