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FRANKENSPIEL FS-X Bluetooth loudspeaker review

The little Frankenspiel FS-X loudspeaker currently on KickStarter is a fascinating combination of latest technologies. It uses a Balanced Mode Radiator (BMR) loudspeaker drive unit, driven by a battery friendly, high efficiency amplifier. It is cordless too, working on internal re-chargeable batteries: you send it a signal via Bluetooth from your mobile, or any device equipped with Bluetooth like a home computer.The FS-X will sit anywhere in a room or outside and play – no mains lead necessary. Just put it down, press the On button and boogie!   
    The FS-X is a small cube, measuring 85mm wide, 85mm high and 90mm deep. A perforated metal grille covers its single, flat diaphragm BMR unit that comes from Cotswold Sound Systems of the UK, who can trace back to NXT technology and Celestion loudspeakers in the U.K. The internal lithium-ion battery gives 50 hours playing time, the manufacturer's say. The case is made from a durable black plastic and will withstand a shower or two, if caught outside – and it's dust resistant. There are two connection methods, by Bluetooth radio link or through a normal wired analogue link that connects through a standard 3.5mm jack of the sort found on every portable these days.    

    Using the FS-X proved simple; there are virtually no controls. Press the rear On button and it lights first blue, then green after a few seconds, meaning ready to play. The unit is paired to a Bluetooth equipped player by holding the button down until two bleeps are emitted; our sample connected to an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy Note 3 phone, Mac Mini computer and Astell&Kern AK120 portable high resolution player, without difficulty.
    One can be used for single channel sound or two in stereo, via standard and universal A2DP Bluetooth protocol, or when wired for use on a computer desk, say. In mono mode, the speaker receives the  stereo signal and mix-down to single driver output for excellent sound field. Our review sample was mono; stereo is not yet available.
   Charging is via a mini-USB connector on the rear, through a supplied cable terminated by a standard USB A plug that draws power either from a computer or a mains USB power unit (which could be a fast charger if desired, where the normal charge time reduces from the normal 2+ hours, to less than an hour).
    Under measurement the BMR drive unit had even output from 200Hz up to 16kHz our analysis shows. There's a bit of lift around 2kHz and that raises clarity and intelligibility a little. This is a very good result for a small loudspeaker with a single drive unit. More bass can be had by dialing in a bit of boost on a 'phone's graphic equaliser, when running wired; such effects may not be supported via Bluetooth.

   

The headphone output of a typical phone (0.3V) produced 82dB sound pressure level at one metre from a wired connection, which is quite loud. An iPad Mini, with 1V headphone output, drove the unit to a very loud 90dB at one metre, so plenty of volume is available.
    Via Bluetooth full level gave 93dB and in use there was always volume to spare I found: my Astell&Kern AK120 high resolution player ran at 40 (75 max) on its volume control, whilst a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 ran at around 7 (10max) for high volume. Frankenspiel claim a maximum volume of 100dB at 0.5 metres. 
    With heavy Rock and Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker's 'Refugee' (24/96) playing from my Astell&Kern AK120 high resolution digital player, the FS-X sounded larger than life. As measurement shows, it delivers clear vocals, Tom Petty sneering out "kicked you around some" with disdain. On a desk surface, that lifts bass a little, the drum was tight and well defined; it had some punch behind it.
    In our office listeners were bemused by this tiny cube that seemingly produced a big sound out of space – no connection in sight: it seemed to be producing a rabbit from a hat! The BMR is smooth, clear and punchy, a step ahead of conventional drivers – and this is obvious in use.   
    Diana Krall fairly jumped from this little speaker, singing Narrow Daylight (24/96). Every word rang out as clear as a bell, whilst the accompanying piano had both body and an engaging range of dynamic contrast, giving it expression. Guitar notes cut out sharply, due to the speakers' strong treble.
    With Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus (24/192) voices in the choir were well separated and individually distinct, where with small speakers this sort of complex performance commonly sinks into messiness, even turgidity.
   A quick note here: we played CD and high resolution digital, but Bluetooth does not fully support high resolution data; Bluetooth transmitters down-sample and compress (approx 5:1) to reduce data rate. However, a 24bit source is still a cleaner starting point than CD or, especially, MP3, allowing us to hear the speaker rather than the recording.
   The advanced BMR drive unit in the FS-X sets it apart from so many small loudspeakers. With great clarity and projection, plus plenty of power, this little portable loudspeaker is impressive.


PRICE £70

 

AVAILABILITY - go to KICKSTARTER



MEASURED PERFORMANCE


Frequency response measured relatively flat for a small loudspeaker, our Clio measurement system, pink noise analysis, shows. The small case limits bass extension, but the FS-X reaches down to 200Hz and this is good for its dimensions. If bass is boosted on the player, as if often can be by using an equaliser, the FS-X has the ability to respond with stronger bass. A small mid-range peak at 2kHz enhances the speaker's intelligibility with vocals. Apart from this, frequency response is smooth and it extends upwards well to 15kHz, so there's plenty of clear treble to support cymbals and give a sense of air to a performance.

   The FS-X delivered 93dB Sound Pressure Level at one metre, using full volume on an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 via Bluetooth, so it plays very loud from portable devices.

   Via its analogue input it delivered 90dB at one metre from 1V input  –  the headphone output of an Apple iPad Mini – as shown by our SPL shot below. Maximum volume is 100dB at 0.5 metres the manufacturers claim. Our measurements support this, since a CD player (2V) will produce 96dB through the FS-X at one metre and this equates to 100dB at 0.5 metre.

  The little Frankenspiel FS-X measured well in all areas – it is well engineered.


 

FREQUENCY RESPONSE

 

SOUND PRESSURE LEVEL (at 1metre from an iPad)

 

 
Comments (1)
FS-X Speaker Review
1Friday, 02 May 2014 11:25
Brian
Appreciate your comments on the FS-X which I have backed. The readings, as confirmed by you, show smooth response from 200Hz to 15Khz.

Frankenspiel claims that the -6dB frequency response is 80Hz - 20KHz. I don't see that in your readings.

Since the 80Hz-200Hz region is important to give music the punch, would like to know your findings on this part of the frequency range with the FS-X.

Hi-Fi World
A 'speaker so small cannot do 80Hz-200Hz at the same level as the midband. That is why the review suggests that if you want bass punch, best to use an equaliser; the FS-X has enough headroom to cope with bass boost. All small loudspeakers don't do deep bass, but the FS-X was punchy and fast – and fun all the same.

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