The SOEN Transit Bluetooth speaker is designed to be the very best speaker of its kind. Measuring just 32 cubic inches, it's intended to be taken anywhere, and it exudes class in packaging, accessories, design, features, convenience and sound. However, design constraints place limits on performance.
In this review, I'll be working from a specific perspective. The Transit is a beautifully designed, compact stereo Bluetooth portable speaker system. It measures just 3.8 x 6.6 x 1.3 inches. (9.7 x 16.9 x 3.3 cm). It weights just about a pound (463 g), about the same as an iPad Air. What you get for this is a very portable device with very good sound and looks, and it feels as if Apple had designed it.
The most important thing to know about this product is that you're paying for craftsmanship, miniaturization, looks, flexibility, and portability. The sound is head and shoulders above what you can get out of the iPhone speakers. You can throw it into a suitcase or backpack without worries because it has a magnetic speaker grill cover. It feels great, looks great, and you'll be proud to own it.
What you are not paying for, however, is the ultimate in desktop sound quality -- even though that's you might place it from time to time. This device has to trade size against sound quality, and there just isn't enough internal working volume to compete with traditional, larger desktop systems. If you want that, then a good pair of A/C powered, wired desktop speakers will do the job better.
I have a pair of Logitech X-140 speakers that sound considerably better. But here's the catch: the Logitech speakers together have about 10 times the working internal volume. Even though the pair only cost me US$32, there is no acoustic substitute for size, volume and physical stereo separation with the desktop systems.
In addition, the Logitech speakers have to be plugged into an A/C outlet, weigh 26 ounces each (738 g) and are pretty much not going anywhere. And so it makes little sense to me to note that for one-sixth the price, the Logitechs sound a lot better. These two kinds of speakers are designed for two different modes of operation.
The right context is mobility. That is, to compare against the miniature built-in speakers of the iPhone or iPad. And that naturally brings up a discussion of the features.
Rather than just make a customary list, it's worthwhile to enumerate them with some details.
Bluetooth. If you want stereo sound, you'll need to connect to a device that can transmit stereo over Bluetooth. That means support for Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP). Just about every Apple iOS device, except the original iPhone, supports A2DP. Of course, with the two 36 mm drivers so close to each other, stereo effects will be limited.
The Transit can pair with up to eight devices, but can only play back from one device at a time.
Power. The rechargeable Li-Ion battery in the Transit is claimed to be good for between 4 and 8 hours of continuous playback. To save power, it puts itself to sleep when not in use. The time to recharge is listed as two hours. The power switch LED lights up indifferent colors to indicate its status. The power adapter has an ingenious fold-flat design.
Fold-flat prongs are better for travel.
Microphone. The buit-in microphone means that if you get an incoming call on, say, an iPhone, you can use the Transit as a hands free speaker phone system.
Drivers. Aluminum domes are used and driven by Neodymium Transducers. These are especially designed for a compact device, and the design is proprietary.
Momentum Port. This is the opening above the power switch that allow the drivers to breathe and generate better bass.
Standard Micro USB charging. A 36-inch USB charging cable is included.
3.5 mm jack. You can bypass Bluetooth with an included 3.5 mm standard audio cable (36-in) and connect to any device that has a stereo output headphone jack. In testing, I couldn't tell the audio difference between a wired and a Bluetooth connection.
Retractable kickstand. This is one of the nicest features of the Transit. Push the ribbed bar to release a machined aluminum kickstand. It retracts with an authoritative click. The build quality of the Transit stands out here.
The kickstand is nicely engineered.
Materials. The Transit's outer surface is black Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) and brushed aluminum. Like a good iPhone case, it's rugged and grippy. Plus, there's magnetically held cover to protect the speaker grill. The brushed aluminum side with LED lit power switch and other ports is, well, a work of art.
The side control panel and grill closeup.
Out of Box Experience
Opening the package is a delight. A thick, outer cardboard sleeve protects the even thicker inner box. A small cloth tab suggests how to open the inner box. Inside is some serious padding and some items you won't find in most other products.
It's like opening an Apple product. Maybe better.
- A very clearly written quick start guide.
- A user guide protected in a clear plastic sleeve. The guide is written in English, Spanish and French. Each language section is 26 pages, and while the print is not large, it isn't that hard to read. This guide is exceptionally clear, well organized and easy to reference and read.
- A Thank You card in multiple languages with the signatures of the developers on the back.
- A cleverly designed 5 watt power adapter with USB port.
- Cables and magnetic protective cover as mentioned above.
The internal packaging and manuals are first-class.
Opening the box and deploying this device is a distinct pleasure. If you like that kind of class in a product's design and packaging, you'll be pleased. This is not a product for penny pinchers.
Using the Transit
The Transit sent to me had to sit for many weeks in my office before I could get to it, but it had plenty of residual charge to get me going right away without having to plug it in. It paired quickly and easily with my iMac, iPhone and Pad.
The Transit emits a cute drumbeat when it powers up and also when it attempts to pair. When pairing is complete, you'll hear a different, distinctive drum sound. There's no doubt when pairing is successful, and it's a nice touch.
The volume buttons are designed to be tapped once or twice to get the desired volume. I don't recommend holding the up or down buttons for long, or you'll blow past the target level.
In the process of testing, I moved the Transit around my office to make room for all the stuff on my desk, and that's where the Transit shines. Pick it up. Walk around. Position it where you need it. I was able to walk a solid 12 paces away from the iMac, and many intervening walls had no effect. However, as expected with Bluetooth, at 13 paces, the sound broke up. (Bluetooth range is 33 ft./10 meters)
As I moved the Transit around my office, I found (at least for me) that it pays not to get to close. If you want sheer loudness, turn up the gain and back off. I found that moving away from the Transit, say, about 2 meters, is a more pleasing experience. The sound fills your audio space better in my opinion.
I did not not conduct any definitive audio tests with a waveform generator or compare to other Bluetooth devices. Instead, I relied on my subjective judgment as an amateur audiophile.
As I mentioned above, I compared the audio to my Logitech desktop speakers, and, of course, the Transit cannot compete there. I also compared to my iPhone's speakers and used some favorite music that I judge to very, very stressful of any audio system in terms of dynamic range.
- "Tusk" by Fleetwood Mac
- "Resham Firiri" by Upendra Lal Sigh
- "Breakfast Machine" by Danny Elfman
At high volume, the Transit's high notes got a little mushy and tinny. Overall depth, richness and crispness was lost. A lack of product internal volume detracts from the depth of the sound. As I said, setting the Transit further away seemed to help, but I could definitely hear the limitations of a device like this compared to the Logitch.
As I mentioned in the preamble, this is to be expected, not because of the price, but because of the trade-off in size and performance. However, compared to the pathetic iPhone speakers, it was like night and day.
Schematic of the driver: transducer & dome detail.
At moderate volumes and with a different style of music, this device can sound pretty good. I tested with some vocals, and while there wasn't the thundering depth of a desktop speaker, the sound was pleasing and balanced.
I tested with Eric Tingstad's Badlands and Southwest albums as well as light jazz. The soft sounds of guitars, horns and orchestral vocals come through nicely and can create a pleasing experience for background music as you move the device around. Or lay on the beach. Or work in a lab. Or do a classroom or business demonstration with an iPad. These are places where the ultimate sound experience from bookshelf speakers is not required, but mobility is.
Comparing to the tiny (and tinny) speakers of my iPhone 5s and iPad 3 put everything in context. The reason why Apple focuses so much on the earphone experience is likely because listening to audio with the iPhone's or even iPad's speakers is not a great experience. With the Transit, you achieve a remarkable improvement in audio listened to by one or more in people in open space.
In other words, the portable sound experience is very good and uses some very advanced technology to cope with the product's small size and weight. That's all one can expect given the engineering constraints of 32 cubic inches.
It's a Wrap
I enjoyed testing this product because it felt good in so many ways. I think the customers will feel the same way. The experience, portability and convenience are terrific.
What are you paying for with the Transit? You're paying for a well-crafted product, presented with attention to detail and the best possible materials, fit and finish and audio technology. You're paying for extreme portability and the thoughtful details, quality and long-term satisfaction not found in $29, knockoff Bluetooth speakers that are so popular these days. You're paying for a great little device that can be used in casual, public use that can light up a room the way an iPad cannot.
However, you are not paying for a portable, battery powered speaker system that can blow away even decent desktop or bookshelf speakers.
For some perspective, if you'd like to take a serious step up and spend, say, $400, there is the Wren V5AP weighing in at a monster 6.6 pounds. Whether it's Macintoshes, optical equipment or cars, you generally get what you pay for. Understanding the underlying technology, engineering trades and intended usage grants insights into the end price and, in the end, genuine satisfaction.
In the case of the Transit, I think the right balance is there. I can recommend this product for those who have all the above perspectives in mind.