One shortcoming that many portable Bluetooth speakers suffer from is a lack of low end response. I’ve tested a few that do pretty well, but up until now, I don’t think I’ve come across one capable of producing bass that will actually vibrate the floor. The Soundcast VG5 is a big, rugged portable speaker built around a vented, downward-firing 6-inch subwoofer. If you want powerful bass in your portable speaker, this is one that will literally shake the floor and walls.
Assembly and Setup
Wait, did I say assembly? Yes. The Soundcast VG5 arrived with the battery packaged separately. Installing it takes just a few minutes and involves removing four screws and a cover, inserting the battery into its housing, and connecting a cable.
I was a little shocked at how small that battery pack is. It’s a testament to Lithium-ion batteries, I suppose (although Soundcast also says it uses an energy-efficient ferrite motor design for the subwoofer that cuts down on battery use). This is going waaaay back, but my first serious boombox—a Technics SA-C05 that’s about the same size as the VG5—took a ton of batteries (eight D-cells if I recall correctly) and easily burned through those in an evening. Most portable Bluetooth speakers are essentially throwaway once their built-in battery inevitably dies (or at least they’re useless without an electrical outlet), but this one is replaceable.
A power adapter is included, and it fully charges the VG5 in a bit over four hours. Connectivity is Bluetooth or using a 3.5 mm AUX input.
Operation is via the capacitative panel on top of the speaker. This approach instead of physical buttons helps with water and dust resistance, while also making it easier to clean. For the most part, it worked well, but I found the volume adjustment controls could be finicky at times, requiring multiple attempts for an input to register. I prefer to use my smartphone for music control anyway, so this didn’t really bother me.
Rugged and (Sort of) Portable
The Soundcast VG5 carries an IP64 weather resistance rating, which means dust isn’t going to get in, and it’s safe from water splashes. I used it outdoors in both rain and snow without a problem. It’s also designed to be rugged, with plenty of rubberized surfaces to protect from knocks and bumps. The downside to the design is that the large swathes of black rubberized material really show off dust and dirt.
The VG5 is portable, but with a few caveats. First, it’s big and heavy. This is a speaker that stands nearly a foot and a half tall and weighs just under 12 pounds. There’s a handy carrying handle built into it, but this still isn’t a speaker you want to be lugging around for long. Battery life is also a potential limiter. Soundcast says it’s good for up to 10 hours of playback. However, the usual qualifiers about volume’s effect on battery life apply. I found the VG5 needs to be close to 40% volume for the bass to really kick in, and playing it at that level or louder depletes the battery more quickly. In my experience, six hours was more realistic in typical use.
Audio Performance: Bring the Bass
Two things you need to know about the Soundcast VG5: It can get loud, but above all, it’s all about the bass.
I’m not 100% certain of total power output of this speaker. Two different marketing documents state 60W + 10W, and 50W + 10W (it’s a bi-amp design), but whatever the actual total output is, it’s a lot. There is far more power on tap here than most portable wireless speakers offer. So it can get very loud.
But the real standout feature of the VG5 is its integrated subwoofer. This is a 6-inch long-throw woofer in a downward-firing configuration. The base of the VG5 is ported in all directions to let that subwoofer move air more effectively. And it is capable of moving a lot of air. In my office, hitting 50% volume I could feel the bass rumble through the hardwood floors. As I boosted the volume, pictures began to vibrate on the walls. I was able to use it on my test bench—which weighs several hundred pounds—but this speaker is probably best left on the floor or ground.
If you find your wireless speaker is disappointing when it comes to bass response, the Soundcast VG5 is going to rock your world.
However… That low end emphasis means the audio isn’t exactly balanced. There is a pair of 3-inch full-range drivers inside the housing and they do a pretty decent job with the midrange and high notes, but some songs fare better than others. Vocals and guitar can become muted and a little overwhelmed by the bass. Think “Beats” headphones effect, but in a speaker, and you have the general idea. Great for energetic, bass-heavy music, but maybe not the best choice for listening to more subtle tracks.
I preferred using the VG5 outdoors as opposed to in the house. It’s easily capable of the volume needed to power an outdoor gathering. In open space, the subwoofer is still able to produce authoritative bass, but it’s not quite as overpowering as it can be in an enclosed room. In fairness, Soundcast markets the VG5 as an outdoor speaker, so keep that in mind.
Soundcast VG5 Key Specs
• Ported, 6-inch long-throw woofer in downward-firing configuration
• Two 3-inch full-range drivers with high SPL Neodymium motor design, aluminum cones, and butyl rubber surrounds in 360-degree array
• Class-D bi-amp design with 60W + 10W output
• Bluetooth 4.2 with AAC and aptX codec support, 3.5mm AUX input
• Supports TWS pairing for two units
• Backlit capacitive touch controls
• IP64 weather resistant
• Battery life rated at up to 10 hours, Fuel Gauge LED Array
• 17 x 7.75 x 7.75-inches, weighs 11.7 pounds
Should You Buy It?
The Soundcast VG5 has a hefty $499 MSRP, which is on the high end for a Bluetooth speaker. You can currently pick one up on Amazon for $329, which is a considerable savings, but it’s still far from inexpensive.
From my perspective, the decision ultimately comes down to that subwoofer and the booming bass it produces.
There are plenty of Bluetooth speakers that are more rugged, including ones that can be outright tossed in a pool. There are also options that can output more balanced audio, in a much more portable form factor while also offering longer battery life—and for a lot less money. Most people would be better served by one of these, like the Ultimate Ears Megablast I reviewed in July.
But if you really miss the rumbling bass that only a subwoofer can deliver, you’re going to have a hard time finding another portable Bluetooth speaker that can match the performance of the Soundcast VG5.
Disclosure: Soundcast provided a VG5 speaker for evaluation but had no input into this review.