This article first appeared in HWM April 2012.
You would think that by now the docking station market would be completely saturated, but every other week we continue to discover new products designed for the iPhone and iPod. The SFQ-03 Sound Stack is one such docking station from Soundfreaq, aiming to change the game in its market category. Our first encounter with Soundfreaq's audio products was with the SFQ-01 Sound Platform, a more compact and simpler audio docking station that pleasantly surprised us.
The SFQ-03 Sound Stack builds upon its past reputation and seeks to get a jump on the competition by offering compatibility with a wide variety of devices. Cradle docking is possible with the iPod, iPhone and more interestingly the larger and bulkier iPad. When plugged in, you can also charge your iOS device. A universal USB port is provided as well in case you need to juice other products (unfortunately no audio playback support is offered on its USB connection).
Bluetooth playback expands the functionality of the docking station. The Sound Stack can not only be paired with Apple products, but also with other devices such as Android smartphones. The Sound Stack’s AAC Lossless Transfer however means preferential treatment is still meted out to Apple. This feature for iOS music player on iPhone, iPad and iPod touch delivers audio tracks in their native format without degradation of quality over wireless connections.
In terms of hardware, the Sound Stack features a 2.2-speaker configuration. In layman's terms, you get two full-range drivers, accompanied by two active sub-woofers that are designed to sit in a push-pull arrangement. The equipment is put to good use as the docking station really delivers when it comes to performance. A vibrant mid-range and good highs makes it suitable for a wide variety of music. Especially impressive was the way the speakers reproduced the menace and bite of Radiohead’s Climbing Up The Walls during our listening tests.
At the same time, the dual active sub-woofers ensure users can expect tight and snappy lower frequencies. Flea’s nimble bass work on Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Ethiopia was done complete justice. However when tested out with techno and trance, we found the lower registers could have done with a bit more oomph and impact.
Wireless playback delivers the same quality of sound across the audio spectrum when using an iOS device, which is a huge plus in favor of the Sound Stack. For a boxy dock, the speakers also cast an impressive soundstage. Left and right channels can be clearly distinguished and Soundfreaq's UQ3 DSP enhancement option is available to boost the width of the audio projected ( widens the soundstage and creates a more spacious sound). The provision of 3.5mm audio jack and a digital optical port lets you use the Sound Stack with televisions and other devices.
All in all, the Soundfreaq SFQ-03 Sound Stack is an impressive product. Not only does it deliver good performance, but it's also fitted with an impressive array of features that expand its usability. The Sound Stack definitely justifies its S$500 price-tag, but only if you are an Apple user, thanks to the docking option to suport the older slew of iOS devices as well as AAC Lossless transfer. Unfortunately, these features are denied to Android users and they would be better served searching for alternatives if it is their primary device. On the bright side, with the Bluetooth connectivity, the audio dock is compatible with even the latest crop of iPhone and iPad devices not utilizing the old 30-pin docking connection.
Last but not least, the SFQ-03 is available in very interesting designs in addition to its default black color - Chiq Freaq and Flower Freaq editions. They cost quite a bit more, but are nonetheless interesting designer options that make for an interesting conversational piece.