If you’ve listened to a typical portable Bluetooth speaker, you probably immediately noticed one of the biggest shortcomings in the category: bass. It’s really tough to find one that provides deep, booming bass, especially if you don’t want to be spending $500 or more. The Cowin Ark takes a unique approach to tackling the problem and actually manages to deliver that elusive bass. Here’s how.
The problem with portable wireless speakers is that they have conflicting design priorities. We want them to be lightweight and portable, but we also want them to last as long as possible on a battery charge. That trade-off between size and battery life is one thing, but when you throw expectations for audio performance in the mix, it gets an awful lot tougher for speaker designers. Bass usually loses out–in a portable device there’s little room to cram in a big subwoofer, and driving it to levels where it can compete with a mini home stereo system would murder the battery.
The Cowin Ark throws out the rulebook and rethinks the classic design approach by breaking a Bluetooth speaker into two components.
The Cruze resembles a traditional portable Bluetooth speaker. It’s small (about 7.9 inches long) body houses two drivers and a passive radiator, and its rechargeable battery is good for about eight hours. Sound is respectable, especially in the middle and high ranges. With a 10W amp it produces a decent amount of volume but it’s a little lacking in the low end. The Cruze is the “business” component as well, the one you connect to via Bluetooth or a 3.5mm Aux input.
The Bass Station is a larger enclosure (about 12 inches wide) housing a downward-firing, ported 3.5-inch subwoofer driven by a 25W amplifier. It remains plugged in to power, but doesn’t operate independently. The Bass Station’s top surface is a wireless inductive recharger that can be used to charge Qi and PMA compatible smartphones. It also recharges the Cruze.
And that’s where things get interesting…
Set the Cruze on the Bass Station (it holds firmly in place with magnets) and “Magnatec technology” not only recharges the portable speaker, but it syncs the audio with the Bass Station and suddenly you’ve got a multi-driver speaker system complete with an impressively rumbling bass presence. You don’t have to physically connect the Cruze and Bass station for this to work (in my experience they’ll automatically sync from a few rooms apart). You can also use microUSB to recharge the Cruze, and, if you really love to feel the floor shake, you can bring multiple Bass Stations into the mix.
The look may be a bit shiny for some (the mirrored tops of the speaker units, in particular, are fingerprint magnets). At maximum volume with a bass-heavy song, some vibration and distortion can creep in. And, of course, the two-piece design means until it’s synced with the Bass Station the Cruze suffers the typical lack of low-end presence that plagues portable speakers, so you only get the full effect on your home turf. But for those who want solid sound at home with the option of portability, it works pretty well.
Cowin Ark is a successfully funded Kickstarter (it hit its goal in just three days) that will be selling for £210, which is around $300. At retail price, it will be costlier than most portable Bluetooth speakers, but then again few portable speakers can match its bass performance.
If you like the Cowin Ark, at time of writing there were still a few days left to pick one up through the Kickstarter campaign at prices discounted to as low as £120 (or roughly $168).
Disclosure: A Cowin Ark speaker was provided for review purposes.