In the age of smartphones and digital assistants, is the alarm clock dead? Soundfreaq doesn’t think so. The Bluetooth speaker specialists just came out with an updated version of the Sound Rise, the company’s modern-day (dare we say ‘smart’?) radio alarm clock.
The latest Sound Rise offers a barrel full of features like Bluetooth 3.0 and device-agnostic charging for your smartphone, as well as sound performance that should easily outclass your phone or any radio clock still hogging space on your nightstand from yesteryear. Still, in a world where free alarm apps flow like Niagara, can Sound Rise do enough to justify its $70 price tag? After spending a week with the little unit, we found out.
Out of the box
We freed the Sound Rise from its biodegradable packing material to discover a light little cabinet set in all black. The latest Sound Rise’s slimmed-down design trades the previous model’s rubberized docking station for a sleeker, flat-faced profile. In place of the dock we found a USB charging port at the back panel, which allows any smartphone to connect, but does leave a cable snaking around the back of the clock. Next to the charging port, we discovered an Aux input, a port for an FM antenna, a dimmer key for the display, and a tone button to adjust EQ.
Behind the digital display’s dark glass up top, we ran our fingers along a thin strip of dimpled keys to allow control over source and music playback, alongside a second row of alarm clock stalwarts such as a ‘set’ key, a key each for the clock’s dual alarms, and a good ol’ snooze bar.
Also in the box: an FM antenna cable, the power cable, and a packet of instructions.
Features and design
The ‘Rise’ in the Sound Rise’s title has a double meaning, outlining both what you use the unit for, and what it does on your nightstand, rising up like a miniature skyscraper in order to take up a smaller footprint. The build quality of the unit is fairly solid, but not quite premium, revealing a hint of a budget feel from the light, glossy plastic across the top. Still, our all black review model cut a nice profile, adding a modern vibe to the bedroom. Apart from black, the Sound Rise will be available in wood grain and white for $10 more, as well as getting a likely color overhaul by the Novogratz design team, who work closely with Soundfreaq.
Components beneath the clock’s double stacked speaker screens include a 2.25-inch mono driver, pushed by 3.5 watts of RMS power, and a nice helping of Soundfreaq’s DSP. After completing our evaluation, we got word from Soundfreaq that the Sound Rise’s internal audio hardware is nearly identical to the company’s Sound Spot portable speaker, lining up with our sonic impressions.
Our all-black review model cut a nice profile, adding a modern vibe to the bedroom.
Setting the Sound Rise is fairly straightforward, accomplished by holding the set key, tapping the volume keys to adjust, and pressing set again to scroll through basic settings like hours, minutes, and AM/PM. The clock also allows the user to select the day of the week so it can follow your weekly wakeup schedule with ease.
Each of the two alarms are set by simply holding down the designated alarm key, which pulls up a host of options. Along with basic wake-up time, each alarm can be programmed for weekday, weekend, every day, or for a single day of the week, allowing you to set it and forget it, without interrupting your Saturday slumber, or missing the Monday reset. You can also select your alarm volume. Once set, you must choose your wake-up source from Aux, FM, or Bluetooth, otherwise the clock will default to a basic alarm tone.
When using Bluetooth or the Aux input from your phone as the source for your alarm, the clock automatically selects whatever service or song you played last, from iTunes to Spotify. In case you’re wondering what happens if the Bluetooth connection doesn’t work, the clock defaults to the above mentioned digital tone – a very important feature, which we’ll discuss further in the Daily performance section.
The Sound Rise has a few other useful inclusions, including a dimmer for the display, a pre-loaded battery that saves the time in case your power goes out, and a programmable sleep timer. Sound from the alarm escapes with a lovely crescendo that ramps up slowly to the designated alarm volume level. You can also adjust the EQ to flat, bright, or warm via the tone button at the back.
As for the all-important snooze bar, there are three programmable increments of 5, 10, and 20 minutes. The snooze bar and either of the alarm buttons will send the device into snooze, which is then indicated by a “ZZZ” symbol on the display. The process is designed to make snoozing easier, though in practice, we found ourselves wishing we could simply turn off the alarm on the first strike of the alarm key. We’re seasoned snoozers; i.e. we know how to find the bar.
One disappointing aspect of the new Sound Rise is the lack of integration with Soundfreaq’s controller apps. The previous Sound Rise allowed for easy control of alarms, radio presets, and song play from an app when docked to the device. However, when we tried using either of Soundfreaq’s apps with the new device agnostic version of Sound Rise it was extremely limited with only basic music playback. That’s a major step backward for an updated device, making virtually all control dependent on the clock itself.
The audio that poured from the device sounded a lot like Soundfreaq’s miniature portable speaker we reviewed last year, the Sound Spot (not surprising in light of our recent discovery of the internal components), only better. Due to Soundfreaq’s upgrade to the 3.0 Bluetooth protocol, the wireless connection was much cleaner, allowing for a higher caliber sound from the get-go. Aside from that welcome upgrade, the speaker shared a lot of the same traits we enjoyed about the Sound Spot, blending a pulpy batch of midrange frequencies to reproduce vocals, stringed instruments, and percussion like toms and snare with a smooth, balanced touch.
Sound from the alarm starts with a lovely crescendo that ramps up slowly to the designated alarm volume level.
That said, the Sound Rise was an absolute joy compared to our usual morning listening experience. After the tattered, tinny warble of our old clock radio, or even worse, the aluminum-can bite of an iPhone speaker, the Sound Rise was a giant among men. We kept the speaker on the Warm tone for most of our listening, which added a softer, more satiny voice to the music. Each morning, we found ourselves listening a little longer, smiling a little more, and spending a little more of our routine in the bedroom than usual. And it seems to us, that’s exactly what the Sound Rise is designed to do.
Full disclosure: This reviewer has been a staunch user of radio alarm clocks – actual a single radio alarm clock in the form of a plastic-woodgrain GE model – for 22 years. Coincidentally, just before receiving the Sound Rise, the clock went belly up (So long, dear friend). Switching to the Sound Rise as a daily wake-up device for the past few weeks was both satisfying, and occasionally, frustrating.
We hate radio commercials, and couldn’t wait to throw on the commercial-free eclectic pop of BBC 6 via our iPhone’s Tune-in radio app. While waking up to ‘The 6’ was quite enjoyable, we ran into a few issues. First, by no fault of the Sound Rise, the app occasionally began by playing remnants of the stream from the previous evening, and then snapping into place mid-song to the current live stream – not ideal. Second, with more fingers pointed at Sound Rise, the clock lost Bluetooth contact with our phone a few times, usually after the second snooze, forcing a switch to the digital alert tone we so desperately try to avoid.
Using the clock with our iTunes catalog or less dynamic apps like Pandora reaped better results, as the music never broke away mid song. We also really enjoyed the Sound Rise’s gentle crescendo as the music turns on, which was an extremely relaxing way to, well, rise, and most importantly, we never missed an alarm. That said, we still had the occasional Bluetooth dropout.
Of course, for those who simply can’t chance waking up to a digital tone, there’s always the choice of hardwiring directly via the Aux input, or using basic radio which takes the Bluetooth issue out of the equation.
After putting the clock into daily practice, it fell short of the kind of intuitive experience you get from a truly smart device in a few basic ways. For instance, the dimming function was nice, but the screen tended to be too dark in the day and too bright at night. An auto dimmer would be huge. And due to the clock’s prodigious use of multi-functional controls, we kept forgetting how to select basic functions like stopping radio playback, or setting a new radio station preset. We found ourselves wishing we could ‘ask Siri’ to handle basic functions. Integration of a digital controller app would dramatically raise this device’s game, and the step backward from the previous Sound Rise is a disappointment.
Soundfreaq’s new Sound Rise probably isn’t for everyone – controlling it can be a complicated affair and certainly presents a learning curve. Plus, those who aren’t dependent on an actual alarm clock may balk at the $70 price tag when their smartphone does the job for free. There are definitely some bugs in the system, and operation just isn’t as slick as the Siri-based world we’ve all grown accustomed to, so we can’t offer up a whole-hearted recommendation. Still, all things considered, the Sound Rise’s solid audio performance and multiple ways to play helped to make our mornings better; and for those without a go-to Bluetooth speaker, that alone may make this unit worth the price of admission.
- Solid, balanced audio
- Multiple audio sources
- Sleek design
- Controls can be confusing
- Occasional Bluetooth dropout
- No app integration