That’s right, id America has brought its own portable speaker to market called the TouchTone. This touch controls-featuring compact speaker is looking to compete up against some incredibly known brands in the audio world. And at $80, the TouchTone is asking for a piece of Ultimate Ears' ultra-compact and nicely balanced Mini Boom speaker, JBL's all-too familiar Flip speaker and many more that plague the shelves of electronic retail giants and the likes of Amazon and other online retailers.
But what does a case company have anything to do with audio gear? We asked the same exact question numerous times before, notably when Incase launched its line of headphones more than a year ago, we questioned the accessory brand's ability to put out decent sounding headphones. Needless to say, we were astounded by how amazing Incase's Sonic headphones actually turned out. So before we doubt another case company's ability to expand its line of products, we are giving id America's first ever speaker an honest shot as we go ears on with the new TouchTone portable Bluetooth wireless speaker. Be sure to head past the break for our full review!
id America isn't trying to impress everyone all too much with its TouchTone speaker. It simply wants to get its foot in the door, and hopefully expand and improve what could be a thriving new audio lineup. Speaking of an audio lineup, when we tested id America's Spark in-ear headphones a while back we thought they were amazing little performers for the price. That was even before the company supposedly improved the Spark model. And so we feel like there is someone at id America that cares about quality sound at an affordable price.
Now although it's true that as of the posting of this review id America is an advertising partner of ours, our review of the TouchTone is not affected by this circumstance in any way. Now that we've cleared the air with this friendly disclaimer, I want to point your attention over to the TouchTone.
But for now, id America's TouchTone promises what virtually every single company out there promises too, which is big powerful sound in a small package. And generally speaking we think id America has succeeded in doing just that, albeit not without lack of refinement and user friendly polish. Before we can to how it sounds, let's first go over what the TouchTone has to offer. At first glance, it's a rather dull looking and well rounded oval brick for a lack of a better description. It's a really solid, weighty little thing partially wrapped in a metal construction that features tiny perforations with fine precision, which up close is actually quite nice.
Available as of this review in white, black, red and green colors, the TouchTone's top and bottom portions are made of this really nice quality matte plastic. The TouchTone does not feel plasticky and actually has the build quality and material composition of a Sonos Play:1 – as weird as that may sound which is impressive to say the least. Overall though, the TouchTone hasn't got a memorable design embedded into its DNA and arguably it may also remind you of some other generic speaker design, but it suffices in that it's extremely utilitarian and well put together. It doesn't amaze you with its unique aesthetics like a UE Boom would, then again you're paying $80 for it so we don't expect a blow-your-socks-off styling anyway. It definitely works for what it is and does, and I actually like the TouchTone's wide and large wrap-around metal grille. It's a surprisingly great start for id America, I'll give them that.
id America's TouchTone packs two 2 watt audio drivers of an unspecified size inside a very compact enclosure that's so portable you can literally take it with you and forget about. Although it may not be as small or as streamlined as the $100 rubberized Mini Boom portable Bluetooth speaker by Ultimate Ears, it has the same solid feeling and weightiness to it that we really like. By size comparison alone, the TouchTone comes in slightly wider and taller than the Mini Boom.
Out of the TouchTone's slick sleeved box packaging, we find a proper set of goodies including a decent felt-like draw-string carrying pouch, a relatively short micro-USB to USB charging cable as well as a 3.5mm to 3.5mm audio auxiliary cable. However, another small accessory we like seeing being included with rechargeable portable speakers is missing sadly. A power brick isn't included, so you'll either charge from your USB port on your computer, or supply your own wall adapter if you want to charge quicker and more efficiently.
At the top there's this dome-shaped surface which is actually where the TouchTone gets its name as it's a touch-sensitive button control interface that is evocative of Logitech's Mini Boombox. When you turn the device on, the button interface lights up in white and continuously remain lit until the speaker is turns off. There's a circle surrounding the id America branding which lights up blue and much like an iPod clickwheel or a volume dial, acts as the speaker's volume controls that otherwise are left unmarked. Simply swiping around in a circular motion to the right or to the left adjusts the on-board volume. And it works flawlessly.
The TouchTone also works as a hands-free speakerphone with a built-in mic, and there's even an answer/end call button right on top of it. You'll also find a play/pause and skip forwards/backwards music playback control buttons atop the touch-sensitive interface. As for the touch-sensitivity, I find that swiping over a button works best instead of directly touching one which not always registers your input.
Bluetooth connectivity during our testing was reliable and the claimed 33-feet wireless streaming distance was bang on correct with no connection interference whatsoever even when stepped slightly farther away. However, the pairing process was much slower than what we're used to. It takes a few seconds to pair the TouchTone with a device that was connected to it initially compared to the near-instantaneous pairing performance of other Bluetooth speakers namely ones made by Jawbone and Ultimate Ears.
When you first turn on the TouchTone it'll emit a loud start-up chime which can get somewhat annoying and there is no way to lower the volume. But that's not all. In addition, the TouchTone features an unsettling, albeit suave human male voice that for some reason always likes to notify you that Bluetooth is turned on each and every time you turn on the speaker, even when you have it paired with your device prior. But worst of all, there are grammar mistakes and plain odd audible voice prompts. What is, is the fact that id America created a frustrating and very annoying voice prompt that isn't doing a very good job making a professional first impression.
When you turn the speaker on or activate Bluetooth pairing mode, the TouchTone will speak "Bluetooth has been on", and speak "is working" out loud when you press the mode button, which either turns on the TouchTone's auto incoming call answering feature or switches from Bluetooth connection to the auxiliary input. It all just seems unnecessary and unprofessionally executed. Nevertheless, the TouchTone's very few features still perform as expected which is quite impressive given the shaky nuisances. We hope id America puts the final polishing touches on these voice prompts pronto, which can be easily done with a firmware update.
The rear is home to the power button, pressing it for three seconds powers on the TouchTone speaker. As well as a 3.5mm auxiliary audio input for connecting all non-Bluetooth enabled audio sources, and lastly there's also a micro-USB charging port with an LED charging status indicator underneath it.
Underneath, the TouchTone is obviously fitted with a tacky rubbery surface for added traction. However, it doesn't do very much to keep the TouchTone stead and from vibrating forward little by little when turning up the volume during a bass-heavy track. Not that I'm complaining about excessive bass rattling, but it may translate into a jarring situation especially if you tend to blast bass-heavy music most of the time.
I’ve gotta be honest, I had my doubts about the TouchTone sounding good. I mean solely due to the fact that id America is a case company with absolutely no roots in the audio market. Low and behold, when comparing it up against the UE Mini Boom straight from the get go, the TouchTone has managed to impress me beyond my wildest expectations. The first thing that’s clearly significantly noticeable between the two speakers is just how good the TouchTone handles vocals.
The high-end is so fresh you can taste it. The clarity is really its strong point and something that you can immediately take a liking to compared to the UE Mini Boom and even Jawbone's overpriced and overhyped $200 Mini Jambox. However, not everything is perfect. The TouchTone isn’t well balanced, and it heavy on treble just like the JBL Flip. This means that mids and lows aren’t very pronounced, the bass being on the shallower end but still noticeable somewhere in the background when turning the volume up half way. It isn’t as close to the fuller-sounding low-end found on the UE Mini Boom, but it’s enough to leave a smooth, terrifically clear sounding audio signature that’s far more important when talking about such small and compact portable speakers. You can only do better going up into the Bose SoundLink Mini and UE Boom territory whilst still keeping the form factor down to a conveniently portable size.
Mids sadly sound flat, but filled with clarity. It’s missing on detailed midrange and low-end, so if you’re looking to play bass-heavy music you might want to look elsewhere. The bass on the TouchTone is unbelievably thumpier compared to the UE Mini Boom when turning up the volume though, and it still manages to control its high and mid clarity and whatever detail is left remarkably well. And here's the thing, as mentioned earlier, the TouchTone for some reason amplifies its bass responce by vibrating it through the surface which you can actually feel at higher volumes - and it's not a bad thing.
It's important to note that the mids and highs on the UE Mini Boom sound dark, six-feet under ground and plain recessed when compared to the TouchTone, and that’s what makes the TouchTone superior in terms of sonic performance. Acoustics do sound nicer on the TouchTone compared to the UE Mini Boom due to the clearer mids and brighter sound signature.
The TouchTone is as powerful as the JBL Flip, Charge and the Ultimate Ears UE Mini Boom while not distorting terribly at high volume levels which is quite impressive. But what really caught us by surprise is just how incredibly loud and powerful the TouchTone can get. And in fact, it's loud enough to easily fill an entire 2-3 bedroom apartment with sound, and that is extremely impressive for the price and size of the TouchTone. It is however true that some songs in particular will cause some distortion when setting the volume to the max, which is really too loud as it is. So we don’t think it will really an issue if you set the volume a notch less than the maximum setting.
The only trouble we have with the TouchTone is its measly 4-hour battery life and lackluster polished user experience. The UE Mini Boom scores on all fronts in terms of the these two requirements while the TouchTone lags behind even though it is slightly larger in size with more room for a larger battery capacity. Thankfully though, the TouchTone's sound performance to price ratio still merits high marks.
The bottom line is, the TouchTone as a speaker performs extremely well considering its size and price. For an $80 ultra-portable speaker to outperform two very established offerings such as Jawbone's Mini Jambox and Ultimate Ears' Mini Boom, we only find it fitting to highly recommend the TouchTone being that it performed remarkably well during our thorough speaker comparison testing in terms of sonic performance. But we can't shake the fact that it only offers 4 hours of battery life when others like it yield twice the juice, and for that reason alone we'd rank the TouchTone at an acceptable general recommendation. The TouchTone is a great little speaker with a good looking design and great, solid build quality.
If you like overly rich sounding audio and are willing to sacrifice clarity for better battery life with a sprinkle of user friendly refinement, the UE Mini Boom is the $100 speaker for you. But if you’re looking for a powerful portable speaker with superior clarity across the board and a decent low-end, the TouchTone is one great little option you should definitely consider when shopping around. It may not impress you with its annoyingly loud and inaccurate voice prompts, yet the TouchTone fights hard to show that it has what it takes to blow you away using what really matters. And that is great audio quality in a small and very portable package that isn't going to cost you an arm and a leg.