Monday, August 11, 2008

When it comes to summer fun, there should be no strings attached.

When it comes to summer fun, there should be no strings attached.
Who doesn’t like the idea of spending a warm summer’s evening out on the deck, with the grill fired up and your favorite tunes filling the airwaves? While the idea is nice, the execution often leaves us a bit intimidated. Only the ambitious DIYer is excited by the thought of running speaker wire outdoors or configuring the second-zone function on his A/V receiver. A professional installer can set up a fantastic outdoor sound system, but that may come with a higher price tag than many of us can afford.
The good news is, Soundcast Systems has just made outdoor audio a whole lot easier…and more affordable.
This wireless audio system consists of two pieces: the iCast transmitter and the OutCast weatherproof speaker. The iCast is basically an iPod docking cradle with a built-in wireless transmitter. Just pop your iPod into the dock, and the audio signal is transmitted over the 2.4GHz frequency to the OutCast, a self-contained audio system that features a 100-watt amplifier, an 8-inch woofer, and four 3-inch high-frequency drivers.
When designing the OutCast, Soundcast remembered the first rule of wireless audio, oft forgotten: It’s nice if the product is actually wireless. The speaker houses a rechargeable NiMH battery pack on its underside that allows it to operate completely wire free; a detachable power cord is also included to power the unit and recharge the battery.
Outdoor speakers tend to be more industrial and utilitarian in the design department, and the OutCast follows suit. It looks like a giant humidifier, thanks to its tall, round cabinet that’s constructed of beige, water-resistant plastic. The speaker measures about 26 inches tall, has a diameter of 11 inches at its base, and weighs 28 pounds. The down-firing woofer resides in a sealed chamber near the bottom of the cabinet, while the four high-frequency drivers are located near the top, firing out to the sides in an omni-directional pattern.
The top panel features backlit, weather-resistant buttons for power, volume up/down, forward/reverse, play/pause, and mood lighting, as well as LEDs to indicate power and battery status. The Safety-Mood Lighting button turns on a blue light that emanates from the woofer chamber. Soundcast wisely includes plastic plugs to cover openings like the power port and auxiliary input, and the top panel sports a built-in handle to help you move the speaker.
I’ve auditioned a number of wireless audio products that proved challenging to set up, usually because the transmitter and receiver didn’t establish or keep the handshake they way they should. That wasn’t an issue here. In truth, the most challenging part of the setup process was figuring out how to position the OutCast’s battery pack in its compartment. The manual says it can only fit one way, but it neglects to mention which way that might be. Once I powered up the iCast and OutCast, the two products immediately established their handshake, indicated by a blue light on the top panel of each.