Hands on: Mass Fidelity Core

Where's that coming from? Mass Fidelity's Core tricks you, then floors you

Big-venue sound technology comes home to bring 3-D sound to this compact wireless speaker.

Small portable speakers are fast becoming a crowded bunch, and with ‘me too!’ multi-room sound systems coming to market in droves this year, sorting through them is getting increasingly difficult. Mass Fidelity, a startup from Toronto, Canada, figures it can cut through the clutter and by offering a Bluetooth speaker that’s nimble enough to fit in a duffle bag, yet loud enough to keep a dance floor packed and partying.

It’s a familiar refrain from companies looking to stake a claim in the speaker arms race, though Mass Fidelity can brim with a little confidence after a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign landed the startup $1.3 million. Embracing part of where the mass audio market is headed, while carving out its own niche, the Core is a speaker that could straddle the line between enthusiastic music consumers and unapologetic audiophiles.

Big-venue tech comes home

Digital Trends got a firsthand listen to what this little speaker-box-that-could is all about. Upon walking into a room with so-so acoustics and a sparse crowd of early backers and other media, the resonance was palpable. In those initial moments, it wasn’t obvious where the music was coming from. Even more surprising was the size of the Core itself. It’s not tiny, but it’s far from huge. It’s smaller than a Sonos Play:3, but a little bigger than a Play:1.

In fact, Sonos figures prominently here, since it’s considered the perennial benchmark for wireless speakers. Where Sonos uses its own technology for networking and audio fidelity, Mass Fidelity uses Wave Field Synthesis (WFS), a technology that uses computing power to physically distribute audio spatially. It’s not a new form of tech, as it goes back to the late 80s, but it has been so expensive that, until now, it’s been relegated mostly to stadiums, airports and other large venues.

Mass Fidelity Core back ports
Ted Kritsonis/Digital Trends
Ted Kritsonis/Digital Trends

Mass Fidelity co-founder Neil D’Souza likens the Core to the illusion of a live concert hall, where there is audible stereo separation and instruments sound distinct from one another.

“A pair of stereo speakers is essentially also a created sound, so stereo imaging is created by that manufacturer’s definition of what they were going to send to the left speaker and what they were going to send to the right speaker,” explains D’Souza in an interview. “In this situation, you’ve got a box that’s sending out sounds in all directions, creating an image, but not requiring you to sit in that spot to hear the left or right speaker — you hear that image as you move around the room, so it’s less sensitive to where you sit in the room.”

While WFS could theoretically also do surround-sound, D’Souza says that’s still some time away because the computing power and functional programming needed to make it happen wouldn’t yet be possible in something like the Core. The essence of how WFS works and the way the Core was designed inside and out also precludes the company from claiming that it can do 360-degree sound, like others have done. The point here is that the sound isn’t supposed to sound like it’s coming from one specific direction.

He’s not far off based on what I was hearing. The speaker filled a reasonably large room that could fit at least 100 people with ease, and it sounded remarkably clean even from the opposite side of the room. Audiophiles will probably pine for that type of experience, but D’Souza expects casual listeners to open up their senses, too.

The ins and outs

Indeed, much of the Core is designed to cater to that audience anyway. On the back of the unit is a plug for the power supply, USB charging port for mobile devices, auxiliary, optical and control (for home automation) inputs, plus an output for a subwoofer.

At first, it wasn’t obvious where the music was coming from.

The internal battery is rated at about 12 hours of playback, pushing the value proposition of portability the company wants to project. D’Souza figures this is the kind of speaker you can take on a vacation or camping trip.

Under the hood, it has five custom drivers powered by a 120-watt amp and a frequency response that can reportedly go to 44Hz on its own. It has no Wi-Fi capability, relying exclusively on Bluetooth to connect. A part of the top is touch-sensitive for playback control gestures, plus NFC for quick pairing with compatible devices.

Not another Sonos copy-cat

You may be surprise to learns there’s no dedicated app to control the Core, despite the fact you can network up to nine of them together using a proprietary 5GHz protocol. In other words, it’s not like Sonos, where you can control which music plays on which speakers, or group them together using the app. Instead, the Core has a broadcast button on the top that prompts it to connect with another Core speaker. Which one you press and are paired with on your mobile device determines which is the master and which is the slave. To move from one speaker to the next, however, you need to select it through your Bluetooth settings.

“Why do you need an app if you’re not in the room to listen in the first place?” says D’Souza “We don’t have an app because we don’t believe you have to go into an app to actually listen to your music. Over Bluetooth, you can absolutely play any audio from your phone.”

Mass Fidelity Core bookshelf

He goes on to note that despite the app being Sonos’ “biggest selling feature”, there is functionality within it that “90% of people would never use, or would never be used 90% of the time.” He considers the multi-room features on the app to be clever, but considers them more a novelty than a must-have for most users.

“If we can’t convince someone to go from a Sonos to a Core, it will probably be because of the app, not the sound quality. We hang our hats on audio,” he says. “The multi-room feature is something we included because we could, but mostly because the market is also heading in that direction. We’re an audio company, they’re a technology company, and we both do what we do really well.”

Conclusion

Mass Fidelity will be launching the Core in June for $600. No retailers have been revealed, but D’Souza did say that big-name brick-and-mortar and online vendors were expected to have it in stock at that time.

In addition, the company will launch a subwoofer, likely in August, which will work with the Core. A pre-production unit was also demoed with the Core, and really added to the bass. When the Core is connected to the sub, it retunes itself and hands off all the bass work to the woofer. When that happens, the Core can play even louder, since a wealth of its power goes to pushing its bass driver. No word yet on when that subwoofer will cost, but Core fans may find it the ultimate accessory.

Did Mass Fidelity build a better Bluetooth speaker? From what we heard, we’re inclined to say yes. What remains to be seen is whether the expanded 3-D sound stage is enough to carve Mass Fidelity a considerable slice of the market segment, especially with so many others clamoring for a taste of their own.

Highs

  • Small, portable design
  • Excellent sound quality, even in a larger room
  • Plenty connection options
  • Up to nine Cores can be connected together
  • Internal battery rated up to 12 hours

Lows

  • Pricey compared to other Bluetooth speakers
  • No dedicated app to control multi-room scenarios
  • Battery life at higher volumes untested
Home Theater

Yamaha’s MusicCast Vinyl 500 turntable spreads analog joy throughout your home

It can be tough to listen to your favorite analog tunes anywhere besides the room where your turntable is located. With its MusicCast Vinyl 500 turntable, Yamaha allows you to stream your tunes throughout your home.
Home Theater

These awesome A/V receivers will swarm you with surround sound at any budget

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to shopping for a receiver, so we assembled our favorites for 2018, at multiple price points and all loaded with features, from Dolby Atmos to 4K HDR, and much more.
Home Theater

Still listening on tinny TV speakers? Try one of our favorite soundbars

You no longer have to sacrifice sound for size when selecting home audio equipment. Check out our picks for the best soundbars, whether you're looking for budget options, pure power, smarts, or tons of features.
Home Theater

Polk Audio’s Command Bar joins Alexa’s multiroom music party

Polk's Command Bar is a home theater soundbar with Alexa built in. But with a new update, it can also be grouped with Amazon's Echo products and other third-party speakers for a multi-room experience.
Home Theater

What’s new on Amazon Prime Video (February 2019)

Amazon Prime Video adds new titles each month that are available for free to all Prime members. Check out our list to find all the content hitting Amazon Prime Video in January and February, from new original series to classic films.
Home Theater

What are HDMI ARC and eARC? Here’s how they can simplify your home theater

HDMI ARC is one of the coolest TV features at your disposal. But if you're like most folks, you have no idea how it works, if you even know what it is at all. Here's our primer on HDMI ARC, as well as the next generation technology, eARC.
Features

Netflix’s latest price increase heralds the end of streaming’s golden age

Netflix’s recent price rise is just the latest in a string of signs that streaming’s golden age is nearly over. As more services enter the fray, content will be further partitioned, signaling the end of streaming’s good old days.
Home Theater

Looking to cut cable? Here’s everything you need to know about Pluto TV

Pluto TV offers plenty of entertainment in a fashion similar to live internet TV services, only at no cost — you don’t even need to register. Too good to be true? Here’s everything you need to know.
Home Theater

Want to mirror your smartphone or tablet onto your TV? Here's how

A vast arsenal of devices exists to allow sending anything on your mobile device to your TV. Our in-depth guide shows you how to mirror content from your smartphone or tablet to the big screen from virtually any device available.
Deals

Need a smart speaker? Amazon knocks $50 off Sonos Beam soundbar with Alexa

If you're looking to add some oomph to your home audio setup, then through February 3, the Alexa-enabled Sonos Beam is on sale for $50 off, bringing this excellent smart sound bar down to just $349 on Amazon.
Home Theater

Walmart abandons its plans for a streaming Netflix killer

Rumored plans for a Walmart owned, Vudu-labeled Netflix streaming killer have been shelved according to a new report from CNBC. The billions it would have needed to invest in order to compete apparently gave the mega retailer cold feet.
Home Theater

Dolby’s secret recording studio app may soon exit stealth mode

In secret testing since June, Dolby's stealth recording and social network app may soon be ready to make an appearance. Dolby 234 blends unique noise-canceling tech with Instagram-like audio filters.
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.
Home Theater

Plex is the latest player to contemplate the subscription streaming game

With massive reach thanks to its client app being supported virtually every media device on the planet, Plex is now looking at the future of its media curation platform. A future that may include free and subscription services.