Summer 2013 is almost with us, and our thoughts are already turning to the beach, mountains, city or wherever we’re choosing to spend our holidays. An essential addition to your packing this year could be a portable bluetooth speaker – an update to the 80s boom box for sure. With the sheer volume of portable speakers hitting the market already this year, they’re going to be everywhere. Today, we take a look at Samsung’s premium effort – the retro-styled DA-F60 Portable Wireless Speaker with NFC.
The concept is simple – your smartphone or PCs speakers are okay, but sometimes, especially when you’re with friends and family out and about on picnics and holidays, there’s nothing better than sharing your music. Who needs a wire-tangle nightmare, when there are wireless (Bluetooth) speakers that can connect to your mobile devices in a second or two and kick out your tunes with much better quality?
That’s the insight that the CE manufacturers are racing to develop products against, and already there’s a plethora of products available to suit all budgets. A few weeks ago, we took a look at the iLuv MobiOut Wireless Speaker, which at around £70/$129 is at the lower end of the market, but performed very well. At the other end of the spectrum at the £249-£299 price point, you’ll find products from the likes of Bose (UK) and indeed, Samsung who announced the DA-F60 Portable Wireless Speaker with NFC back in January at CES 2013.
The premium attached to the DA-F60 delivers a number of features that you won’t find lower down the price range – firstly, in terms of aesthetics, Samsung have done a fantastic job with the design of the speaker. Clearly, retro is in, with a combination of patterned metals and plastics. The large metal volume button, which pops out when pressed gives the overall impression of an old radio from the 1970s. Clearly, the designers at Samsung have been spending a lot of time recently studying Dieter Rams and his work at Braun. A kick stand at the back of the speaker allows it to stand, easel-style, on any horizontal surface, but you can just as easily lay the speaker on its back if you need to.
The next feature you’ll have guessed from the product name – as you’ll find with most wireless speakers designed to work with smartphones, Bluetooth connections are the norm, and the DA-F60 is no different, with support for Bluetooth 3.0 ensuring compatibility with most modern Bluetooth devices around. But three little letters – NFC – add Near Field Communications to the mix, allowing compatible smartphones and tablets to pair with the speaker via a simple tap. In truth, it’s more of a “hold the phone next to the speaker for a few seconds” kind of thing, but at least you don’t have to fiddle around with Bluetooth settings every time you wish to use the speaker.
Like several of the top-end Bluetooth speakers, the DA-F60 utilises the aptX wireless audio codec, which delivers CD-quality audio similar to wired connections – according to the developers. You’ll need a playback device that also supports the standard – new phones like the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 do, alongside Apple Mac computers (but not iOS devices at this point like the iPhone or iPad). The codec works by filtering compressed artifacts out of mp3s and other lossy formats, converting the audio into PCM and then again into aptX before decoding at the speaker end. The resulting audio is delivered with much higher quality.
It’s not just about music though with the DA-F60 – if you’re hooked into Samsung’s ecosystem with a newer Samsung Smart TV, then the speaker also supports tge company’s SoundShare feature which will output TV audio on the speaker. For those of you who like to sit in the garden watching Wimbledon on the TV through the window, the days of jacking up your speakers to 11 are behind you. Not an essential feature, but a handy bonus – as is the ability to charge your phone from the rear USB port, in an emergency.
Open up the box (with new “By Royal Appointment” crest here in the UK) and you’ll find the speaker wrapped in a protective cover alongside a charger (the DA-F60 has a rechargeable battery, so no need to keep Duracell’s profits propped up) and an accompanying manual – nothing too fussy here. Charging will take a few hours (around 3 is recommended) for 12 hours of continuous playback, which isn’t a painful ratio at all. The battery indicator on the front of the speaker is smart enough to count down as the charge diminishes, with the following colours:
Off ………………….Full charge
Green ……………… 60% to 99% of full charge
Yellow ………………30% to 60% of full charge
Red …………………. 30% or less
Red blink ………… Charge needed
All of the speaker’s controls are located on the right hand side – a recessed power button at the bottom signals power on and off with a small jingle. Continuing up, a Bass button boosts the lower end of the sound output, although the passive bass radiator in the speaker offers plenty of bass to these ears – but each to their own. Above the Bass, a Function button switches output between Bluetooth, SoundShare and an auxiliary 3.5mm input jack located on the rear of the speaker – allowing non-Bluetooth devices to be connected easily. Above that button you’ll find a Mute button – straightforward enough, and then at the top, a flush-mounted volume dial pops out when recessed to crank up the volume when needed.
Much like Samsung’s recent DA-E670 and DA-E750 Wireless Audio Docks (but with a different aesthetic), Samsung’s designers have done a beautiful job with the DA-F60 Wireless Speaker – if you’re a fan of retro design, or just design in general, you’ll appreciate the clean lines and brilliant finish. A protective cover slides into the base of the speaker and wraps over the top when not in use, secured by a magnetic edge – again, very nicely done.
Fortunately, it sounds pretty good too! Considering the size of the speaker, the DA-F60’s output is very good indeed – sure, it’s not going to match your home cinema equipment, but you’re hardly going to lug those massive speakers to the beach, right? The speaker packs a decent punch in terms of volume – you may experience a tiny amount of distortion at full volume, but nothing that’ll take the edge of the party. With twin 10w drivers and the passive bass radiator which moves the air around the speaker, you’ll definitely experience bigger sound than you’d expect from the speaker – and a decent thump too.
The Samsung DA-F60 Portable Wireless Speaker with NFC is most certainly a premium option for mobile audio, but it’s clear that Samsung’s designers and developers have added a lot of polish to create a package that looks beautiful and sounds great.