Fugoo Tough review

This outdoor speaker has a whole wardrobe of 'jackets' to help weather the elements

Virtually everything-proof, and mountable anywhere, the Fugoo is built to be a music-loving outdoorsmen’s best friend.
Virtually everything-proof, and mountable anywhere, the Fugoo is built to be a music-loving outdoorsmen’s best friend.
Virtually everything-proof, and mountable anywhere, the Fugoo is built to be a music-loving outdoorsmen’s best friend.

Highs

  • Multi-directional output
  • Impressive sound quality with good balance
  • Solid Bluetooth integration, including Siri and Google Now
  • Excellent battery life

Lows

  • “Loud” setting not suitable for indoor use
  • Not all connected devices show battery life
  • Changing “jackets” is a hassle

Go into any big box electronics store, walk through the audio or mobile accessories aisles, and prepare to be bowled over by Bluetooth speakers. What started as a percolating entry point has turned into a full-blown fight for any flat surface a portable speaker can rest on. Now familiar names like Beats, Bose, Sony, Samsung, Logitech, Jawbone and Jabra (among many, many others) are coming to market with them. Then there’s Fugoo, a relatively unknown upstart looking to not only compete, but also sound better than the rest.

Fugoo’s pedigree comes from its founders. Some of them came from companies like Harmon Kardon, JBL and Toshiba, and now they’re decided to push out yet another Bluetooth speaker backed by the same marketing line we’ve heard a million times already: big sound from a small package. Why would they do that?

Fugoo’s creators believe their speaker is different, and they’re right. Silly name aside, it’s one speaker, available with different ‘skins’ to suit the user’s purpose, and built to be mounted nearly anywhere. Priced at $200, the Fugoo has some stiff competition in the sound quality department, but if it sounds good enough, its utility features might just send it over the top.

Out of the box

There’s a subtlety to the packaging and placement of the Fugoo that implies it’s more than just something you lay down on a table. After opening the clear top, we noticed the speaker was screwed in place from below, a clear nod to the fact that it is, indeed, mountable. Under that flap were the included accessories, made up of a charger with USB cable, a 3.5mm line-in cable for Aux-In connections and a cloth carrying case. There are also two screws in between the case and line-in cable that we then screwed into the bottom holes of the unit.

Fugoo’s creators believe their speaker is different, and they’re right.

We liked that the cables came in turquoise, making them both stylish and very easy to identify among a growing mess of charging cables. No instruction manual comes inside (we downloaded it from the website), but there is a small pamphlet that helped familiarize us with the button layout and other unique features of the speaker. It was here that we noted we could change the “jacket”, or essentially the cover that wraps around the speaker. Those mounting holes also accommodate accessories including a bike mount, strap mount, and multi-mount. We received the speaker with the “Sport” jacket, and, frankly, we couldn’t help but feel like we had just unearthed the GoPro of Bluetooth speakers. We also received the “Tough” jacket as well (pictured above).

Features and design

Decked out in black and turquoise, the Sport naturally exudes a sense of the outdoors, like a trip to the beach or a lazy Sunday by the pool. The jacket is made up of a mix of a polyester-like material, soft rubber and hardened plastic, though the core inside has a waterproof seal protecting the internal components. On the top are three buttons that are basically the ‘O’ action button we’ve become familiar with, flanked by two volume controls keys. One side features power and Bluetooth buttons, while the other harbors a microUSB charging port and Aux-In jack.

We looked to see if there were any rubberized covers or gaskets to plug the two ports, but there were none. Even with those exposed, the Sport is still waterproof, dustproof and snowproof. Fugoo designed the speaker to drain water through slits on either end at the bottom in an effort to keep any of it from settling on the unit itself. In between the slits and holes is a removable plate that covers the mount.

The speaker itself weighs just over a pound and measures just shy of eight inches long, making it easy to throw in a backpack or bag to take wherever you need to go.

Under the hood, the Sport has six acoustic drivers made up of two tweeters, two woofers and two passive radiators. Fugoo says the drivers face in all directions with an 8-degree upward tilt for better spatial dispersion to fill a larger area with sound. There’s a microphone built-in for hands-free calls, along with full support for Siri and Google Now. The Fugoo supports Bluetooth 4.0 and AVRCP 1.5, enabling control from a connected device or the optional dedicated Fugoo remote.

Fugoo Tough shells

A built-in Digital Signal Processor (DSP) helps cut out wind and background noise, while the microphone has some echo cancellation to make it viable as a speakerphone. We were immediately skeptical about Fugoo’s claim of 40 hours of battery life, but would soon find we had underestimated that claim.

Setup

Getting the Sport up and running doesn’t take long because there’s virtually nothing to piece together. Pairing it is as simple as holding down the Bluetooth button, where a voice (that actually sounds like a human being) confirms the connection. We got a kick out of the voice prompts that were always preceded or followed by a quick riff of chill music. It was a subtle cue that drew the attention of anyone around us close enough to hear it. The Sport told us when there was a Bluetooth connection, and then that it was turned off once we plugged in a line-in cable.

Changing jackets seemed easy in the diagram but our first time out was a bit frustrating.

We could check battery status by clicking the power button once, switch between Bluetooth connections by clicking the Bluetooth button once and even clear all paired devices by holding it down. The top buttons had various uses, depending on what we were doing. Aside from the basic playback controls, we could talk to Siri or Google Now by holding down the O button. The buttons also worked when talking to someone on speakerphone. Fugoo smartly included all these details in the pamphlet from the box, rather than hiding them in the downloadable manual.

The fact that the Sport’s jacket could be taken off ostensibly means that we could put on the “Tough” jacket if we wanted to protect the speaker against a beating of unnatural proportions. Otherwise, the Sport is already fairly durable on its own. Changing jackets seemed easy in the diagram but our first time out was a bit frustrating.

Charging the battery from empty took a few hours, so this isn’t a quick race to get back to playing tunes when it needs the juice. Still, we were able to get a 50% charge after an hour or so.

The microUSB port also serves the purpose of funneling firmware updates to the Sport, which we readily did once the latest one became available. That update added a slew of features, with one of the most notable being an uptick in volume with a “Loud Mode” that is primarily for outdoor use.

Audio Performance

Our expectations were measured going in, since portable speakers are generally limited by their very size. Once we started playing music on the Sport from a connected smartphone, we were blown away. The two extra drivers proved their worth in helping distinguish the highs, mids and lows, where even more complex recordings, like that of a live smooth jazz band or songs like Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain” and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall”, came through surprisingly well.

Fugoo Tough blue case

Playing Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick”, we actually noted better stereo separation than some affordable 2-channel speaker systems we’ve heard before. In fact, we found it to be better than the computer speakers we had been using, too. The bass never felt overblown or too underwhelming, with steady treble that held off from distorting once we cranked up the volume.

Fugoo says its Core-X technology is the secret sauce that makes all this work, transmitting music files through the speaker to the DSP without degradation. They reckon that other wireless speakers convert to analog too early, letting interference seep in and muddy the original file. We’re not sure whether that’s exactly how it is, but the results at least indicate that there might be something to it. The fact there is no actual “front” or “back” to the speaker says something about the wide spatial output that fills a small room better than similar speakers facing only one direction.

No matter what we played or where we played it, the Sport was a pleasure to have around.

No matter what we played or where we played it, the Sport was a pleasure to have around. At less than full volume, we were able to actually surpass the 40-hour mark and reach close to 50 on one charge. We didn’t have to charge it for almost a week. Still, pumping up the volume definitely cut battery life to 30 hours or less.

What we would’ve liked is a separate bass setting for tracks that could’ve used a bit of an extra kick, especially for hip hop and electronica tracks. There is a battery indicator on iOS devices (iOS 6 and higher) but not on Android, unfortunately. As is, we had to go to the Sport and click the power button to see where we were at. Even then, there are only seven intervals, assessing battery life in quarters, rather than a specific percentage.

The Loud setting worked well enough outdoors, but we refrained from using it indoors due to obvious distortion. In an outdoor environment where ambient noise and voice chatter might muffle the slight crackling, it’s a bit of a mess inside where all those imperfections are far more audible. The voice prompts may also not be everyone’s cup of tea, and Fugoo rightly addressed that in the firmware update, letting users turn them off or at least lower their volume.

We managed to customize audio performance just a little closer to our liking by using equalizer apps on iOS and Android for a sonic boost. We liked using Siri and Google Now to change tracks or ask for weather info that we could hear loud and clear. If there was a way to initiate it purely through voice by talking to the Sport, Fugoo would have a killer feature on its hands. As a speakerphone, it fit in well at our desk or even with a small group huddled around a desk in a conference call.

Conclusion

As an unknown entering a crowded audio category, Fugoo put together a solid speaker that carries impressively good sound in a small footprint. That it’s waterproof and somewhat customizable makes it all the more versatile. Its overall look might imply that it’s a summertime activity speaker, but it’s equally at home at a ski lodge or cottage. It’s also not common to find a speaker at this size that also has accessory and mount support, fledgling as it may be.

We’re not sure if Fugoo will succeed in creating a unique brand following with its speakers, but at a $200 price point, the Sport more manages to hold its own against established competitors offering products in the same price range. Though its sound quality doesn’t match up to some of our favorites such as the Braven BRV-1 or BRV-X, the Fugoo’s overall utility will make it a popular choice among those with an active lifestyle.

Highs

  • Multi-directional output
  • Impressive sound quality with good balance
  • Solid Bluetooth integration, including Siri and Google Now
  • Excellent battery life

Lows

  • “Loud” setting not suitable for indoor use
  • Not all connected devices show battery life
  • Changing “jackets” is a hassle
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