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Xounts Up hands-on preview: Two parts wireless speaker, one part objet d'art

Michael Brown | July 13, 2016
Looking for something different in home audio gear? This speaker/light show fits the bill.

Xounts Up interior
Michael Brown

This is what the Xounts Up looks like on the inside with its sleeve removed (the multi-color LED smart bulb in in the center. and the Bluetooth module is on the left). The amplifier and down-firing subwoofer reside beneath this compartment.

I tested the Xounts Up’s audio performance by streaming music over Bluetooth, but it has a stereo aux input and a USB port if you want to plug any other source into it. The obelisk has lots of joints, loose contact points, and thumbscrews, so I was surprised when I played music through it and didn’t hear any unwanted vibrations. The typical speaker cabinet is designed to be acoustically neutral, but the panels to which the transducers are mounted are designed to resonate. Audio purists won’t like the Xounts Up at all, but they’re obviously not the target audience.

For all those reasons, I was prepared to be horrified by the Xounts Up’s audio performance. To my great surprise, it actually sounds pretty good. What's more, the speaker lives up to its promise to deliver 360-degree sound. While there are distinct left and right speakers, you still get a sense of stereo even when you’re completely off axis—as in 90 degrees to the front or rear of the speaker. Listening to Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks perform “I Scare Myself” (from his 2000 album Beatin’ the Heat), the opening kick and snare drum have a well-defined snap. When Hicks and guest vocalist Rickie Lee Jones come in, their voices are well blended with the accordion, piano, and the rhythm section. (Hicks was impossible to pigeonhole, but if you enjoy vocal jazz, this album is a treat, with other guest appearances that include Bette Midler, Tom Waits, Brian Setzer, and Elvis Costello).

Xounts Up base
Xounts Up

The base harbors independent controls for the stereo speakers and the subwoofer, aux inputs and outputs, a USB port, and on/off switches for audio and lighting. 

The Xounts Up doesn’t lack in the bass department, either. The Annie Lennox track “Money Can’t Buy It,” from her Diva album, opens with just electric bass and a kick drum laying down a slow groove. The 6.5-inch subwoofer served it up good and thick. Judged solely as a speaker, the Xounts Up is good, but not great. It will be very fun at parties, but it’s not as acoustically pleasing as something like the new Sonos Play:5.

If you’re interested enough to buy a Xounts Up, there are 10 days remaining in the campaign. The company has received more than $77,000 in pledges against its $60,000 goal, and it expects to ship its product in November. For a stretch goal, the campaign lists a power bank that will enable the speaker to run completely wireless for up to nine hours, but it’s unlikely to reach the $250,000 target to unlock that option.

Bottom line: There are better-sounding speakers on the market, but few that are as much fun or as likely to start a conversation. 

 

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