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speeCup Use and Conclusion

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speeCup_auxThere are two things I care about in a wireless speaker - how well it works, and how much it looks like a cup. The speeCup nailed both. But, let's get down to specifics.

The speeCup has no line-in so the only way to connect to the speaker is by Bluetooth. If this doesn't terrify you like non-dairy creamer terrifies me, I'm fairly certain you've never used Bluetooth before. I've not had a lot of luck with Bluetooth in the past and having to fight with it just to listen to music in my car didn't sound like something I was interested in doing. But, my job is reviewing equipment and I decided to give it a chance.

The normal Bluetooth progression is:
  • Turn on device.
  • Pair device with your phone.
  • Enjoy music. Think, "Hey, this Bluetooth thing is pretty sweet!"
  • Get a call and lose pairing.
  • Spend 20 minutes cycling the device and your phone on and off trying to get them to talk to each other.
  • Curse the Bluetooth gods for reneging on their promise to bring you wireless sonic bliss.
  • Give up and grab your headphones.

It's an emotional roller-coaster to be sure, and one I've been on many, many times. I've used Bluetooth headphones, headsets, "docks", and even boombox-type systems. The universal experience has been flaky at best and headbangingly awful at worst. I'm explaining all this so that you understand just how surprised I was at how well the speeCup worked.

First of all, there was no pairing code. With just about every Bluetooth device I've used, you needed to input a code. It's a hassle like having to hunt for the sugar every morning because your kids think right where they are standing when they are done with something is the place it should go. Not a dealbreaker, for sure, but a hassle. Like most Bluetooth devices, the speeCup connected immediately the first time. It so happened that I had two Bluetooth devices in for review at the same time so I started switching between the two. The speeCup transitioned perfectly. The other device, not so much. In my time using the speeCup, I lost pairing once. I didn't even have to power off the device. I just put the speeCup into pairing mode and my phone picked it right up.

Line Out

Like a cup of coffee delivered by a swimsuit model, I was pretty surprised to see that the speeCup had a line out. Line in? Sure. But a line out has tons of implications and considerably increases the functionality of speeCup. I honestly would have rated the speeCup much lower on the value if it weren't for this one feature. As a device as a whole, the feature doesn't make much sense. It's like having a meat grinding attachment for your Mr. Coffee - sure, you might like it but who thought it was a good idea as it adds considerably to the price?

speeCup_all

That thing on the back right is a dampener to stop vibrations for larger cup holders

Using a 3.5mm port, you can connect your phone or device to the speeCup by Bluetooth and then connect the speeCup to something else by the line out. This makes the speeCup not just a portable Bluetooth battery-powered speaker, but a Bluetooth dock. With the 3.5mm port, however, you are limited to the internal DACs of the speeCup. I connected the speeCup up to the Yamaha CS-A5000 processor as well as a few other devices. The most telling comparison was when I connected the speeCup directly to a boombox system that was also Bluetooth compatible. It was clear from the direct comparison that the DACs in the speeCup weren't very good. The bass was dampened, the highs were much more veiled, and the overall presentation sounded like someone had thrown a blanket over the speakers. But "not very good" is considerably better than "nothing" and having a portable speaker that doubles as a Bluetooth dock is pretty cool.

speeCup_top

Control and Battery

speeCup_all2There are a number of ways to control the speeCup. The most direct method is the control ring on top. Pressing on it will stop/start your music or answer/hang up a call. Volume is controlled by twisting the ring one way or the other and there are skip forward/back buttons. If you are using an iPhone or an Android device, you can press the button in the center to instigate voice mode. The speeCup is both Siri and S Voice compatible and has a built-in mic and noise canceling functions. I used it in my car while driving and had no more problems with it than I've had with any other headset. I often use my phone in speaker mode when driving so that I can keep my hands on the wheel. Universally people told me that the speeCup voice quality was better than my Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

The last control option is gesture. Yes, gesture. By waving your hand left or right over the top of the speeCup, you can skip forward or back a track or answer or hang up a call. At least, that was the theory. While I've read user reports that suggest there is a bit of a learning curve on the gestures, I could never get it to work properly. If I had a white object, like a Styrofoam coffee cup, and used that instead of my hand, I had more luck. But waving a coffee cup above a speaker in a coffee cup to control it? That's Inception level weirdness and I wouldn't want to end the world with some sort of coffee-related mass-extinction event (rain of meteor-sized coffee beans maybe?). Also, there was no indication (via lights) that the gesture control was off or on making it hard to know if my problems were related to its state or if it simply wasn't registering my gestures. When I finally got one to register, I was lucky to get one in ten following gestures to do anything.

speeCup_bottom     speeCup_plugs

The speeCup has a reputed 20 hour battery life. That's pretty amazing. I really liked that they included a cigarette lighter charger and a cable. It made it clear it was meant to be used in your car. What was strange, however, was the warning on the manual:

Do not expose your in an environment temperature above +55 deg C (+131 deg F). If the product is operated in cold temperatures, the battery capacity is reduced. Use it in room temperature for maximum battery capacity.

Umm, what? So it is to be used in cold temperatures? I live in Florida. There are about three days a year where a car parked outside WON'T get to 131f on the inside. So I have to take it with me everywhere and can't just leave it in the car? While I'm sure this is just a limitation of the lithium-ion battery, it really took me aback.

Sound Quality

In the end, you really want to know about the sound. The speeCup has an up-facing driver that fires into a convex plate just under the control panel. There is a bass port on the back just above the power and line-out ports for additional bass. There really aren't any specs released for the speeCup and there is probably a reason for that - the thing doesn't sound very good. If bass were caffeine, the speeCup would be decaffeinated. If treble were cream, the speeCup would be non-fat soy. If the midrange was freshness, the speeCup would have been sitting on the burner, forgotten, for the last four hours.

speeCup_driver

To translate - little bass, distorted high end, and a midrange that, while perfectly acceptable in a pinch, isn't anything to write home about. The volume is plenty enough to fill a car but not so much to be heard over a hard rain while at speed. Or even at a standstill (when it rains here in Florida, you know you've been rained on). But, it is a speaker in a cup. What exactly do you expect it to sound like? Other than better, of course.

Conclusion

The speeCup is a very interesting animal. It's a rollercoaster of features and performance. I love the line-out (even if it isn't the best quality of sound) and how well the Bluetooth works (because it actually WORKS for once). The sound quality isn't great and the gesture controls would be a gimmick if they actually worked. The control ring is too touchy but functional. The battery life is phenomenal but the warning against leaving it in your car is like being handed a cup of coffee and told not to let the cup touch your lips. At $130, the speeCup isn't cheap, but considering the number of features, I can see why people will want it. My wife loves it because she drives an older car with no Aux-in. The speeCup lets her listen to podcasts (not mine, of course) and answer the phone while driving. For podcasts, the speeCup sound quality is good enough. I like the line-out so that I can hook it up to my system for visitors to use to stream their tunes. If I had to give the speeCup a title it would be Jack of all Trades, Master of None. Except Bluetooth. It's got Bluetooth down.

speeCup Portable Bluetooth Speaker

MSRP $129.95

speeCup_in_holder

www.speecup.com

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
MetricRating
Audio PerformanceStarStar
Network Features/PerformanceStarStarStarStarStar
Build QualityStarStarStarStar
Ergonomics & UsabilityStarStarStar
Ease of Setup/Programming/IntegrationStarStarStarStar
FeaturesStarStarStarStarStar
Fit and FinishStarStarStarStar
PerformanceStarStarStar
ValueStarStarStar
About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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