Soundcast isn’t exactly the Coca-Cola of audio. Mention its name outside of tech circles, and you’re liable to get more references to the Atlanta hip-hop scene than an audio company – especially since one of its top wireless speakers is called the Outcast. However, since first hitting the electronics circuit in 2006, the company has garnered accolades and awards for its speaker designs which focus equally on durability and fidelity to create rugged Bluetooth speakers you might actually want to listen to.
The latest addition to the Soundcast family, the Melody, looks poised to bring the company further out of obscurity. Boasting a water-resistant, hard-shell frame, a 20-hour battery, and an omnidirectional carousel of drivers and passive radiators, the Melody is a formidable hi-fi speaker for the beach, a barbecue, or just about anywhere else you might go. The catch? The speaker’s steep price of $450 isn’t quite as friendly as its portly, handy-handled frame. Can the Melody deliver a performance to make it worth the splurge? Read on below to find out.
Out of the box
The Melody arrived in our offices in a large cardboard cube with a handle at the top surrounded by a backdrop photo of lush green grass. Opening the box revealed a circular instruction manual fashioned to look like the top of the Melody itself. Beneath that, a buffet of accessories including a small USB to mini-USB cable, a 3.5mm Aux cable, and 12-Volt adapters for both a wall outlet, and a car cigarette lighter.
The Melody sports an aesthetic that’s more rugged utility than chic elegance.
We pulled away the upper layer of foam to find the Melody beneath, layered in a shell of glossy white plastic. The Melody’s circular frame and heavy-duty handle at the top gave us a quick flashback to our childhood soccer days, specifically the family-sized Thermos of Tang that waited enticingly on the sidelines as we struggled to finish a 0-0 contest. In fact, if anything, it is the Melody’s looks that could be its undoing. While testing it out, we heard from onlookers that it looked like a rice cooker, thermos, humidifier, and “something you might expect to see in a nursing home, hiding behind a fake palm tree.” It’s too bad, too, because this is certainly a book that shouldn’t be judged by its cover.
The Melody weighs a hefty 9 lbs., and the thick metal speaker screen that wraps around the body felt solid as we gave it a quick knock. The buttons on the control center at the top were all guarded by a robust layer of rubber, ensuring safekeeping of the electronics from any would-be stormy disruptions.
Features and design
Though the Melody sports an aesthetic that’s more rugged utility than chic elegance (clouded by our own unshakable Thermos impression) its design is still pleasant enough to fit right in with a new kitchen appliance, or that stainless steel grill in the yard.
Aboard the diagonal face on the top rests a symmetrical array of control keys, including power, volume, song search, play, pause, and Bluetooth pairing. There are also two indicator LEDs, the right of which glows solid red when charging the speaker, and blinks red when power is low.
The left LED glows solid blue when your device is connected, and flashes quickly when searching for previously paired devices, or slowly when set to pair with a new device.
The light also glows green when you engage the Melody’s odd power boost feature. The feature allows for an additional five clicks of volume which start at the green flash. Why the volume doesn’t just go to the maximum level with no tomfoolery is beyond us. Our other gripe about the volume was that the system resets to a low default level every time the speaker powers down. Seeing as how the Melody is made for blasting sound in the great outdoors, we’d rather the volume stayed put – especially since the device shuts down after just a few minutes of being idle. (A terrific battery-saving feature, yet one we were occasionally annoyed by.)
Sonically, this speaker is your classic overachiever.
At the back side of the speaker is a grey rubber matte to support a smartphone or iPod, and beneath that, a rubberized cap which guards the system’s inputs, including a 3.5mm Aux input, and the mini-USB power input. The cap is connected by a small tether, which we noticed was a tad awkward to get back in its slot when we were ready to seal the speaker up for all-terrain use.
Beneath the metal screen encircling the base of the speaker rests a clever configuration of 8 drivers, including dual stereo pairs of full-range 3-inch drivers, separated by a circle of four passive radiators, all set in a weather-resistant, reflex enclosure. The source signal is run through Soundcast’s proprietary DSP software, and then amplified by its also-proprietary “Dynamic Power Amplification Technology.”
For its wireless connection, the Melody employs Bluetooth version 3.0 and includes the AptX codec to allow for CD quality streaming with AptX-compatible devices.
As its hefty price tag might suggest, the Melody is not your average plug-and-play outdoor device. Its hearty shell and rubberized armor matches up well with the other outdoor speakers we’ve tested, but sonically, this speaker is your classic overachiever. While its tubby little frame may look innocuous enough, the system’s 8-man assault team of drivers provides thick and full bass response, precise detail in the midrange and treble, and an impressive level of dynamic expression, all cast from a cylindrical cabinet to create an enjoyable audio experience from any angle.
While the Melody showed an aptitude for elite definition right from the start of our evaluation, the first real “Ah!” moment came when Radiohead’s “All I Need” from the In Rainbows LP popped up on shuffle. The Melody took to the fuzzy crunch of the main synth at the intro of the track like a duck to water, revealing an expansive display of detail, while also showcasing the timbres of the snare and kick drum brilliantly. Thom Yorke’s vocal was extremely lucid at the center, and the upper register ornaments of bells and triangles at the climax were clear and present. Perhaps most impressive was the dynamic sustain at the end of the tune, which allowed for an intimate moment of release before the next song.
The system’s 8-man assault team of drivers provides thick and full bass response, precise detail … and an impressive level of dynamic expression.
As we barreled through our music catalog, the Melody consistently showed its mettle, able to tackle delicate moments from our favorite acoustic tracks with precision, while delivering a pleasant punch well into the 100Hz zone that held its own even for hip-hop and electronic music. The bass could sprawl out at times, and the system’s 360 degree sound configuration didn’t lend itself to allow for much of a stereo effect, which was especially noticeable on more complex productions. Still, the rich, dry attack at the bottom end blended with the satiny upper register perfectly on most tracks, hitting the sweet spot of warmth and accuracy that we look for in a top-tier device.
The moment that perhaps solidified the Melody as a speaker we’d enjoy listening to on a daily basis came on the Ryan Adams track, “La Cienga Just Smiled.” The Melody brought forth the percussion with a master’s touch, setting out detailed renderings of each individual drum head, and showing a burst of dynamic space from the tracking room that brought the production to life. The acoustic guitars shined with clean attacks and brassy sustain, and every nuance and subtlety of the lead vocal washed forth effortlessly. You may not need that kind of definition from a speaker that you’re going to set out by the pool, but if you love really good sound, it’s pretty nice to have it at your disposal in any environment.
When it comes to audio performance, Soundcast’s new Melody pretty much lives up to its promise to be the all-weather speaker “others can only aspire to be.” The speaker delivers detail, power, warmth, and dynamic expression in all directions, making it one of the best listening experiences we’ve encountered in an outdoor device. If you’ve got the cash, the Melody is a no brainer for your next all-terrain sound solution.
- Brilliant detail and definition
- Warm, full bass
- Big battery for up to 20 hours of listening
- Rugged all-weather design
- Easy to tote around
- Volume control slightly annoying