Bluetooth Speakers Back-Country Tested - Fugoo Sport

BackcountryBluetooth_Photo_FugooSport

Fugoo Sport ($199)
Originally, I had wanted to include the Braven BRV-X ruggedized Bluetooth speaker in this review. I managed to get one in for a listen...but was quite disappointed in the sound and sent it back. Unfortunately that left me scrambling for a quick replacement. After a bit of web research I thought the Fugoo Sport looked promising and contacted their PR folks for a sample, which they very kindly expedited to arrive just before our departure.

Unfortunately, both Paul and I felt it was the poorest sounding speaker of the bunch we had on hand. It didn't get used much...until we started to have troubles keeping all of the gear charged. (No fault of the EnerPlex gear, just hard to keep so many gadgets topped off.) The Fugoo Sport has the longest battery life of all the gear tested (40 hours), so we did end up using it more as time went on. It went the whole trip without a re-charge.

One really great feature of the AK240 is the ten-band graphic equalizer, which also works on Bluetooth transmissions. It allowed me to EQ out the somewhat nasal sounding upper mid-range of the Fugoo, and made for some quite acceptable listening. Thing is, I really have to review the product's sound right out of the box, which wasn't all that good. And then a weird thing happened...

Upon returning to Bozeman, I found an email from the Fugoo PR folks telling me a new firmware version had been released significantly improving sound quality. Oy! Usually these things don't amount to much in my experience, but when I did the firmware update I found the sound substantially improved! I got really curious about what the upgrade included and called the PR folks to see if I could contact someone who really knew what's going on. They hooked me up with Gary Elsasser, CEO of Fugoo, and Prateek Bansal, Director of Software.

While the details are proprietary, there was a significant upgrade to the digital signal processing (DSP) software that included various dynamic (in this case meaning: self-adjustable while playing) compression, expansion, volume, and equalization functions. The published notes on the upgrade mostly talk about adjusting the overall loudness of the unit from various sources—which reads like an auto leveling circuit—but in discussion with Gary and Prateek it became obvious that quite a bit more was going on. My take-away impression was that they were both controlling volume and dynamic range for an optimal listening experience on a small device likely outdoors, and then secondarily EQ for Fletcher-Munson loudness control, and to limit bass excursions to prevent distortion. There are two modes now: Normal and Loud. The loud mode uses more dynamic range compression for use in noisy environments. But they weren't just doing dynamic range compression, they were also doing dynamic range expanding when needed.

What does that mean in the real world? Well, to my ears the Fugoo went from somewhat squawky sounding—maybe a medium-Q resonance around 600-700Hz—to very nicely even and well controlled. It seemed to be a little brighter sounding but with a little more bass extention than the UE Boom, which sounded a bit muffled in comparison. As an audiophile it is a bit disconcerting to have a product that's continually in the process of adjusting itself, but given the type of product this is, I really wouldn't want to be bothered fiddling to eek out a tiny bits of performance here or there. It's a boombox; if it can sit there and figure out how to give voice to the music without annoyances—and with good sound quality weighted by size and price against competitive products—then thats good in my book.

With the firmware upgraded Fugoo that's exactly what I got. To tell you the truth, I had no idea what they had done. The unit sounded very different and simply better. I had no sense that there was a bunch of DSP going on, it just sounds pretty good whatever I throw at it now.

BackcountryBluetooth_Photo_FugooCore

The heart of the Fugoo is the water-proof (to 1 meters) Core. Three different outer jackets are available: Style, Sport, and Tough.

Fugoo offers three versions of the product: Style ($199); Sport ($199); and Tough ($229). All three use the same inner speaker module called the "Core" with ever more durable outer enclosures. The Core itself contains two 29mm tweeters (on either long face), two 39mm mid-range drivers (one either end), and two 43mm x 54mm passive bass radiators (next to tweeter on long face). I reviewed the Sport version, but also had the Tough case on hand. It seemed a little overkill for me—the Sport case seemed very durable to me.

The Core uses the aptX codec for high quality Bluetooth streams; a 3.5mm stereo mini-jack is available for analog input. The unit also uses Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) 1.3, Hands-Free Profile (HFP) 1.6, Headset Profile (HSP) 1.2, and can be used as a speakerphone.

A number of strap and stand attachements are available.

Summary
The Fugoo is a natural competitor the the similarly priced and ruggedized Ultimate Ears UE Boom. Once I did the firmware upgrade I found both speakers somewhat similar in performance, but I did prefer the Fugoo for its slightly cleaner and more articulate sound. I felt the nod in form factor and styling probably goes to the Fugoo as well, and the 40 hour battery life is terrific for camping. I like this speaker.

Vacation Photo Interlude
BackcountryBluetooth_Photo_TyllFishing

I stopped casting long to a shady spot across the creek once I figured out the fish were about ten feet in front of me where the rush of water was. Then I'd just dangle the fly in front of them just above the water, making it jiggle about like a bug on the wing. The fish would, at times, literally jump out of the water and bite the hook, but mostly I'd drop the lure in and they'd hit it. Caught 5 Golden Trout in about 20 minutes once I got it figured out.

BackcountryBluetooth_Photo_TyllFishing2

They weren't very big though.

COMMENTS
Seth195208's picture

..for a couple of Montana boys. I got one for you. Try Gustavo Santaolalla. Just kidding!

veggieboy2001's picture

Thanks for sharing your motorcycle getaway (again).

As far as those paddle boards,it's supposed to be easier on your back than a kayak, and good for promoting balance. My wife & I will probably give it a try soon.

Impulse's picture

I remember reading the previous article but I don't remember if you ever shared what kinda headphone you take on a trip like that... Are you just enjoying the company too much for anything besides IEM (for riding?) or do you pack a rugged pair of small on ears or something like that?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Didn't take any headphones. Generally I don't listen to music while riding...just like to enjoy the scenery and moving through it. I do sometimes listen when road riding long distances on my FJR. In that case I'm currently using the HiFiMAN RE-400
Claritas's picture

Looks like you had a blast. "Selfie with bovines" -- love that title. Thanks for sharing.

zobel's picture

Looks the same as it did 32 years ago today when my wife and I had our wedding reception there. Yep its our anniversary today, so it was nice to see the place today. Thanks for the pics.

bronson's picture

your photos of the great outdoors, looks like you had a heap of fun :)

bronson's picture

your photos of the great outdoors, looks like you had a heap of fun :)

cel4145's picture

"In other words, really great sound is probably not in the cards for portable Bluetooth speakers; but reliably good performance with a variety of sources and in differing use environments is certainly within reach."

I did my own little test of <$150 range bluetooth speakers last fall, listening to half a dozen at home, and another dozen in stores in the where I could either pair the device with my phone or use the line in.

About half the way through the process, I realized was going about it wrong, trying to evaluate each speaker critically by standing right inf front of them. As you point out, they are meant to be used in a variety of environments, and in poor placement locations. Portable bluetooth speakers are meant for background music when the listener(s) are doing something else, not critical listening. We have headphones for that :)

oluv's picture

Interesting allegations about sound improvement of the Fugoo after the firmware update.

I also got a review unit recently with an older firmware. I did audio recordings as well as measurements with both the old firmware and then repeated everything with the recent firmware again.

Apart from a slight increase of overall loudness and also less distortion on top volume, I have not noticed any difference in sound. Neither from my audio recordings nor from the measurements. The Fugoo sounds still like it did before. It also measures quite well, with a bit of an upwards tilt towards treble, thus making the bass sound a bit conservatite although it reaches quite deep for a unit this size (down to 70Hz with still usable 60Hz).
Neither I noticed any loudness compensation, just bass reduction at higher levels. I did measurements at 45, 55, 65dB etc, and the curves are all parallel with bass reduction just starting to become visible in the 75dB measurement.

a comparison video which demonstrates the difference in loudness between old and new firmware:
http://youtu.be/VZZp40DtaRE

ibiza's picture

I work as a skipper at a boat charter business in Ibiza and I keep dropping expensive phones in the water. This year I've tried a couple of bluetooth devices (they also fall in the water) and they're awesome. I can even walk around the boat without fearing to drop the phone.

Downforce's picture

I purchased an open box FoxL Purist directly from Soundmatters for $119 (price is currently down to $99) based on a Stereophile review. Look for the outlet section under the "Shop" heading on their homepage, it is rather well hidden. Loved it and it sounded great for about 2 years, when it developed static and noise, even with no source plugged in via the 3.5mm input. The warranty for open box items is a brief 90 days. The battery life is claimed to be up to 12 hours, but mine never lasted that long. Also, while the power/charger and 3.5mm audio inputs are labeled, they look quite similar and are easy to confuse. Ensure you turn on the speaker (it lacks an Auto Off feature) and reduce the volume before connecting it, otherwise it will be very loud and could suffer damage.

kadege46's picture

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