KitSound Boom Evolution Bluetooth Speaker Review

Here comes the Boom!

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

Recommended
KitSound Boom Evolution Bluetooth Speaker Review
SRP: £200.00

Introduction

One of the first pieces I did for AVForums when I became a reviewer was a group test of iPod docks. I chose six models for the test and had the option of literally dozens to choose from. Fast forward eighteen months and five out of six of them (one of the models had AirPlay) are now basically obsolete. The iPhone 5 sounded the death knell for the iPod dock, an industry that has been a nice little earner for a great many companies. The number of Apple products with the classic connectors is only going to decline over time but the trend is down from here. Lightning connector equipped docks are on the market but in nothing like the numbers of the older models - after all Apple has changed the connector once, are they going to again?

Obviously AirPlay has taken up some of the slack from conventional docks but the biggest winner in this has been Bluetooth. The reasons for this are two-fold. The first is that Bluetooth penetration (another great name for a band) is nigh on total. The range of devices that support it is considerable. Fit Bluetooth to an audio product and the range of devices that can make use of it is considerable. The second leads on from this and relates to the growth of Android as a platform. AirPlay is very slick but the range of phones and tablets that won’t do anything with it is very considerable.

The speaker you see here is a classic example of evolution and not simply because that's its name. Originally this product started life as the Kitsound BoomDock - a large, self-contained speaker system that featured the Apple dock connector on the top. It was a strong selling product but like all docks, Lightning has rendered it effectively obsolete. What you see here is the logical development - the Boom Evolution. The dock connector has been removed and the speaker is apt-x Bluetooth capable instead. On the inside, a number of parts of the design has been upgraded too. It says Evolution on the box but is this a case of survival of the fittest?

Design

Kitsound Boom Evolution

The Boom Evolution is derived from the BoomDock and shares the same basic design and layout as the older model. This means you get a relatively large rectangular speaker that mounts a pair of 3inch front mounted drivers which are backed up with a 6inch downward firing driver to give a bit of low end shove. This is a reasonably effective method of keeping the overall dimensions fairly sensitive as the lower panel represents the biggest single area of the chassis available so it is logical to place the driver there. The only visual clue to this is that the feet that are mounted to the underside are slightly taller than they might otherwise be in order to give the lower driver a little space to breathe.

Kitsound lists the output power as 90 watts but this seems to the cumulative figure from multiple amplifiers rather than the absolute value of one amp. The Evolution doesn’t seem to have any shortage of power though and the weight of the design suggests that there is clearly something other than a weeny chip amp in there.

In design terms, the main difference between the Boomdock and the Evolution is that the dock connector is no more (giving a much cleaner appearance to the unit as a whole) and replaced instead by an Apt-X Bluetooth module. Bluetooth continues to be seen as the poor relation to some other wireless transmission methods but the quality has slowly been ratcheting up over the years. Apt-X (not actually a Bluetooth transmission format in itself but a codec available to newer versions of Bluetooth) is capable of streaming a 16/44.1kHz signal without chopping, clipping or other degradation (although it is converted to Apt-X).

Kitsound Boom Evolution

In fact when the bald numbers of Apt-X and AirPlay are looked at side by side, you would be hard pressed to get a fag paper between them. The catch is that Apple doesn’t support Apt-X on their mobile devices and this means that if your ecosystem is solely iPhones and iPads and you are looking to stream lossless audio, something with AirPlay might be a better bet but equally, the iPhone 5/5c/5S and the Evolution working together won’t be chipping anything off compressed music with their existing Bluetooth hardware. Android is rather better served for Apt-X, as you might expect. As well as the Bluetooth connection, the Evolution is fitted with an RCA line in and line out and the kind souls at Kitsound also see fit to supply you with cables in the box.

The other area where the evolution has had a redesign is the control interface. The controls are now organised in a circle of buttons based around the volume control which has the volume indicator built into the centre. A very nice touch is that this arrangement is replicated exactly on the remote control so operation is identical. The overall effect is tidy and well thought out and the replication of the buttons is useful as they aren’t backlit so knowing where they are in darker rooms is fairly hand. As part of the Bluetooth protocol, the Evolution can skip tracks from the remote which is a useful touch.

The build and design of the Evolution is good for the asking price. As noted earlier, it feels impressively hefty and points of contact like the controls are solid and have a good overall feel to them. The remote is not quite as nice but still in keeping with anything at the asking price. The black lacquer on the review sample was consistent and had none of the ‘orange peel’ effect that can sometimes affect products with large flat surfaces. One benefit of the dock being knocked on the head is that the Evolution can be sited in smaller locations (because nothing needs to the stuck into the top of it) and more out of the way if needed.
It feels impressively hefty and points of contact like the controls are solid and have a good overall feel to them.

Setup

The Kitsound was used with my iPhone 4 and iPad 3 to test ‘cooking’ Bluetooth while the apt-x capable card in my Lenovo T530 was used for more rigorous testing. I put the Evolution on a Soundstyle rack in my listening room for much of the testing but also parked it on top of the small beer fridge in my lounge for a more real world (and effortlessly classy) session.

Material used included compressed audio including MP3 and Spotify from the Apple devices before trying lossless audio encoded as FLAC and ALAC (before being transcoded to Apt-X) and replayed via foobar. I also used the Evolution for more general web duties.

Sound Quality

Kitsound Boom Evolution

The review sample that arrived was absolutely brand spanking new so I used the line input to let it tick over with some material on loop before making any more judgements. Having left it for a day or so, I approached the Evolution once it had been run in. By and large, the experience was a positive one. Everything I tried to connect by Bluetooth was accepted straight off and the Evolution is perfectly happy reconnecting to multiple devices if it detects them in range.

The first impression I got from the Evolution is that there is no shortage of power. I first heard a sample at the IFA show where it was competing with the enormous Beats by Dre stand next door. That it was able compete at all suggested that there was no shortage of grunt and in the rather quieter surroundings of my listening room, the Evolution is more than able to fill it with a convincing and weighty sound. Maximum output is a notional 60 on the display and in the entire time I carried out listening with it, I never needed to exceed forty - and that was a very spirited rendition of Arcade Fire’s Reflektor. Unless you have a barn to fill, the Evolution isn’t going to struggle.

The second positive is more nuanced. Along with generating plenty of output, the Evolution has convincing width to the presentation that means you avoid having the sense of the performance beamed at you from a single point. With music that possesses a soundstage, there is a usefully broad and well defined performance that is surprising given that it emanates from such a comparatively small frontal area. The grilles on the Evolution are fixed so I’ve no way of telling if there is any angling to the drivers that gives this additional stereo width but whatever is going on in there is effective. Compared to a well set up pair of stereo speakers the Evolution can’t compete but there are more expensive (and larger) systems that this that don’t sound as spacious.

Kitsound Boom Evolution

The tonal balance of the Evolution is good too. During the test listening, I took some time out to see how well Mr Hinton had made some sense of the ramblings that go into the podcast. The Evolution revealed itself to be a very capable performer with speech and voices in general. There is a scale to vocals that is convincing and they sound genuinely believable. I’m not sure that something with the word ‘Boom’ in the product title is going to be a default choice for someone looking to use it for talk radio or other spoken word services but the Evolution is seriously impressive in this regard.

Having used the Kitsound across ‘ordinary’ Bluetooth and Apt-X Bluetooth, I will be honest and say that there isn’t the sort of differences that will leave you selling all your non Apt-X equipped devices. Using Seasick Steve’s Self Sufficient Man which thanks to Amazon’s auto rip service, I have as MP3, Ogg Vorbis (thanks to Spotify) and lossless FLAC. The differences between the smallest to the largest were noticeable but not the sort of thing that you might lose sleep over. The Evolution has been set up in a way that makes it fairly forgiving of compressed material but at the same time this does mean that it never really reaches a whole new plane of performance when you put lossless audio into it. This isn’t the end of the world as far as I’m concerned - I’m sure that most Evolutions will be fed a diet of compressed music and it would be foolish to design the product with a view to getting the best from a file size that it will rarely use.

The only minor note of caution I would sound with the Evolution concerns the bass response. By and large, the low end response is what helps the Kitsound give a big and confident performance. I did find that sitting it on a glass shelf meant that there was a bit too much output for the performance to sound entirely balanced with the EQ set to 0 for both bass and treble. Winding the bass down to -2 or -3 and giving a corresponding boost to the treble did even things out though and the fact that the Evolution allows for bass and treble settings to be altered on the remote means that this can literally be done on the fly. Putting the Evolution on a less reflective surface - in this case my beer fridge - did reduce this issue somewhat and suggests that the Kitsound is voiced for use on shelves and tables rather than something that offers more isolation.
The Evolution revealed itself to be a very capable performer with speech and voices in general.

Verdict

Pros

  • Big Spacious Sound
  • Solid build
  • Very competitive price

Cons

  • Bass can be unruly
  • Fairly large
  • Connectivity slightly limited

KitSound Boom Evolution Bluetooth Speaker Review

Sometimes I am a huge fan of sophisticated products. The custom digital filters in a Naim Streamer or the very complex voicing process that Guru put into the Junior are things that leave me bowled over. I am not a fan of unnecessary complexity though and here, the Boom Evolution is a wonderful example of a product that is relatively straightforward but thanks to logical design, solid build and general attention to detail, delivers an enjoyable and very listenable sound. For £200, the Evolution might lack some of the features that some more expensive speakers have like AirPlay or internet radio but it works brilliantly over Bluetooth and can surprise some pricier offerings with the performance that it offers. If you are looking to spend £200 on an all-in-one, this is a very strong candidate indeed.
Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Connectivity

.
.
.
.
6

Ease of Use

.
.
8

Sound Quality

.
.
8

Features

.
.
.
7

Value for Money

.
9

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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