SoundCast OutCast Portable Indoor/Outdoor Speaker System

Is it a futuristic beer keg?  A spare droid from Star Wars?  A water conditioner?  While it does look futuristic, this curious device is available today from your local SoundCast dealer—and it’s one of the most interesting portable music systems we’ve seen.

The OutCast is a single 26-inch tall cylinder with a slight taper in the midsection.  The control panel is located on the top of the device.  It lets users operate an iPod or iPhone, as well as iTunes, Pandora, and Rhapsody.  The easy-grip handle, also on the top, has plenty of room for those with large hands, while the sealed function buttons should be impervious to prying hands and intoxicated neighbors.

Within the casing are four sections.  The uppermost section holds the receiver unit and a 100-watt Class-D amplifier.  The middle section contains four 3-inch drivers aligned in a right-left-right-left pattern that creates a 360-degree stereo output.  The bottom section features a sealed chamber holding the 8-inch IMPP woofer, which, with its down-firing placement, allows for even bass dispersion.  The bottom section has ports for the woofer and ambient blue lights, and also serves as a sturdy base.  The OutCast’s heavy-duty design and external material limits exposure to the elements, while still letting the music be heard.

Setting up the OutCast and installing its rechargeable nickel-metal hydride battery takes about five minutes, if you take the 90 seconds required to read the manual.  Both the audio-input jack for non-iPod MP3 players and the power-cord socket are covered by a flexible but tight-sealing rubber gasket.  The OutCast offers three 2.4-gHz channels, which are manually switchable, to prevent interference with other wireless devices.

A Perfect Partner

Placement of the OutCast is key to its performance.  Getting the unit away from anything within at least five or six feet is critical for stereo performance.  Then, once you’ve charged it overnight, you’re ready to rock.

Combining the iCast dock/transmitter (a $100 option) with an iPod Classic, the Outcast fills most backyards with quality-sounding music.  Sell that boom box at your next yard sale, because the Outcast has serious low-end grunt.  Its midrange punchiness combined with omnidirectional ambience redefines outdoor hi-fi.  Blasting Adele’s 21, the OutCast easily carries her vocals to the end of my backyard, yet it wasn’t so loud as to send the neighbors into fits of rage.

The conveniently placed handle makes light work of carrying the 25-pound OutCast around the yard or to a neighbor’s house.  And it’s equally at home indoors as it is outdoors.

Better than a Rock

Unlike those outdoor speakers that look like rocks (but do not rock when called upon), both the OutCast and smaller OutCast Jr. (which starts at $600) deliver the goods, no matter what the volume.  This is an all-purpose portable player with serious capability.  Whether I was playing John Mellencamp or AC/DC, the sound was full and clear.  At a recent outing, a few guests complimented the sound quality and wondered where the wires were—one of the OutCast’s most-noticeable perks.

The device claims a 300-foot range between it and the iCast wireless dock.  It was still playing solidly at the edge of my 200-foot yard, but does drop off somewhat around corners.  For best results, you’ll want to keep it within line of sight.  Like a tuner car from The Fast and the Furious, the OutCast features blue mood lighting to increase its sci-fi feel.

Don’t be surprised if taking the OutCast or Outcast Jr. to your next party makes you the hit of the neighborhood.

SoundCast OutCast Portable Indoor/Outdoor Speaker System

MSRP: Starting at $900

B&W’s MM-1 Portable Speakers:

“Where’s the sub?” Those were the first words out of my mouth as I entered Danny Haikin’s office at B&W in London earlier this year. He just smiled and said, “There isn’t one. That’s just coming from the two desktop speakers.” Then we spent the better part of the next hour talking about music while I got a proper demo of B&W’s latest masterpiece, built upon the technology incorporated in its Zeppelin models.

Indeed, a few years ago, B&W wowed the desktop/iPod world with its original Zeppelin and built on that success with the Zeppelin Mini and recently, an upgraded Zeppelin model. My tour of the B&W factory (full article to follow in a future issue of TONE) revealed a substantial amount of brain trust devoted to the Zeppelin line. The forward-thinking mindset has paid off handsomely for B&W, which now sells the Zeppelin and MM-1s through Apple stores as well as its own dealer network.

Like the rest of the B&W range, the MM-1s possess the understated elegance for which the marquee is known. While the $499 price might initially catch you off guard, the first listen proves reassuring. Incorporating a version of the Zeppelin’s DSP (digital signal processing) engine, the MM-1s are a two-way active speaker system that uses a tube-loaded tweeter—just like those in the company’s higher-end models—and a long-throw bass driver. The brochure claims that the MM-1 “is a true hi-fi speaker, shrunk to fit on your desktop,” and is absolutely correct.

Each of the MM-1s only takes up a 3.9 inch (100mm) x 3.9 inch square on your desktop and stands a mere 6.6 inches tall (170mm). The enclosures are wrapped in black textured grille cloth that is similar to B&W’s larger speakers, and trimmed with a brushed aluminum band and top plate. Our art director’s design sense immediately piqued during the photo shoot.

Quick Setup

The MM-1s looked like so much fun that I resisted the urge to read the instruction manual. I’m happy to report that the average computer user can be rocking in a matter of minutes. Three essential connections need to be made: The 4-pin umbilical from the left speaker to the right, the USB port from the right speaker to your computer, and the power supply to the right speaker.

I had to sneak inside my iMac’s sound control panel to direct sound output to the MM-1s via USB, but that was about it. The only glitch in the operation came when using the Control:Mac software with my Sooloos music server. For those accessing a Sooloos, you will have to use the supplied AUX cable to go between your Mac’s headphone output and the MM-1’s AUX input. The Mac will not send audio output from the Sooloos back out via USB. iTunes and Rhapsody users will have no trouble.

Once connected, volume can be controlled via the chrome band on the right speaker, the control panel on your computer, or with the egg-shaped volume control that is standard issue for the Zeppelin series. This is incredibly handy, should you utilize the MM-1s outside of an immediate desktop region. They actually worked quite well in my kitchen, fed via a nearby Apple Airport Express.

Verifying Initial Observations

To be sure I wasn’t brainwashed at B&W’s HQ with a tarted-up prototype, I began my listening sessions with tracks containing some bass.  First up, Thomas Dolby’s “Pulp Culture” from Aliens Ate My Buick. Then, after auditioning a few quick cuts from Tone Loc’s Loc-Ed After Dark, I was firmly convinced that the MM-1s had enough bass on tap. The warm sound I remembered from my London visit confirmed that these are serious desktop loudspeakers.

The B&W DSP engine works wonders, allowing the MM-1s to disappear on your desktop in an almost uncanny way. Prince’s One Nite Alone perfectly played to this strength, creating a soundfield that went well beyond the desktop’s borders. While not always convenient in an office environment, spend 30 minutes with the MM-1s, and you’ll never want to listen to headphones again.

With rock, rap, and funk checked off, time spent with acoustic music confirmed the speakers’ versatility and shared heritage with top-line B&W models. The Sooloos made it incredibly easy to switch between the desktop system with the MM-1s and my reference system built around B&W 805Ds. Both pairs of speakers had a similar, airy character, especially with piano and violin. Listening to Keith Jarrett’s Shostakovich: 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87 equated to a spectacular experience on the desktop; with my eyes closed, it seemed like a piano was floating on my desk.

Serious Resolution

An uncanny level of resolution sets the MM-1s apart from many of the other powered computer speakers I’ve experienced. They reproduce spatial cues and create a three-dimensional soundfield in a way I’ve yet to experience with this type of product.

Even the most inexperienced listeners are easily able to hear the difference between low-res MP3 files and standard 16bit/44.1khz files of the Rolling Stones’ Through the Past Darkly. Yet the variation became more stunning when playing back the HD Tracks’ 24 bit/176khz versions. My friends were not only amazed by how much more information surfaced, but how effortless it was to discern such detail on a pair of $500 desktop speakers. For example, the texture in Mick Jagger’s voice on “Ruby Tuesday” proved staggering.  The only way I could get my desk back was to blast Steel Dragon’s “Death to All But Metal.” And while this deejaying change helped me regain my personal space, the MM-1s were still clearly up to task.

No Need to Fear High-End Sound

If you’ve been on the sidelines or fearing the complex world of high-end sound, jump in with a pair of B&W MM-1s. You won’t need any special cables or know how. And the speakers won’t leave a huge dent in your wallet.  Just plug them in and enjoy your music in a much more immersive way than you did before. Who knows, you might even be tempted to head to your B&W dealer for a pair of 800s one day. Good sound is contagious. This is truly a product you will wonder how you ever lived without.

Click here to visit the MM-1 site.